So what exactly is public relations? It seems like that is a question professionals have been trying to answer for nearly 100 years. An effort by industry professionals aptly titled Public Relations Defined has attempted to do just that. Some feel they may have missed the mark.
From the New York Times, Stuart Elliott writes: “The initiative, known as Public Relations Defined, began in November and drew widespread interest, along with not a small amount of sniping, snide commentary and second-guessing.
“The complaints grew loud enough to produce a response from an executive of the organization that was leading the effort, David C. Rickey, who described the criticism thusly: â€œNothing more clearly illustrates the reason why the profession hasnâ€™t arrived at a â€˜de factoâ€™ definition in more than a century of existence.â€
The Public Relations Society of America, who led the effort, defines it as such: “The formal practice of what is now commonly referred to as â€œpublic relationsâ€ dates to the early 20th century. In the relatively brief period leading up to today, public relations has been defined in many different ways, the definition often evolving alongside public relationsâ€™ changing roles and technological advances. The earliest definitions emphasized press agentry and publicity, while more modern definitions incorporate the concepts of â€œengagementâ€ and â€œrelationship building.â€
“In 2011/12, PRSA led an international effort to modernize the definition of public relations and replace a definition adopted in 1982 by the PRSA National Assembly. Learn more here. Under the “Public Relations Defined” banner, PRSA initiated a crowdsourcing campaign and public vote that produced the following definition:
â€œPublic relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.â€
Wow, I have to agree that it sounds a bit underwhelming. But it’s better than the motto previously adopted by the group in 1982: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.â€