Defining public relations: It’s not teaching, people.

This week, the Twitterverse has been exploding with different definitions of public relations, sparked as a response to Sunday’s New York Times article “Redefining Public Relations in the Age of Social Media.” PRSA announced its latest initiative — to develop a modern definition of public relations. Apparently, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” just doesn’t cut it any more.

I understand the initiative, creatively dubbed “Public Relations Defined.” Sometimes I wish I chose a career path that people just “get.” If you tell someone you’re a teacher or an accountant, they nod and smile. They know what that means and what you’ll do. They value the profession because they understand it. It’s tangible. When you tell someone you’re studying public relations, you undoubtedly get a blank stare, followed by a skeptical “So, what are you going to do with that?”

Imagine a world where public relations is clearly defined, where its value is inherently understood. A world where we don’t have to fight for a seat in the C-suite or where our ROI of relationship building is enough to justifying keeping a PR staff on payroll. What a world that would be.

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So, why can’t we simply develop a definition of public relations? After all, we’re trained to develop key messages that our target audiences will understand. Perhaps it’s because our role isn’t as concrete or tangible as a teacher or accountant. It’s fluid and it’s constantly changing — which is simply the nature of our profession.

A truly comprehensive definition of public relations would include all of our roles and duties: an individual who deals with media relations, customer relations, employee relations, and stakeholder relations, who is skilled in writing, copy editing, strategic planning, media pitching, SEO, social media management, content production and promotion, who can also take photos, make videos, develop message strategies, write speeches, plan events, promote events, and manage crises, all while upholding the values of transparency and openness.

…And that definition might cover one third of our responsibilities.

Public relations isn’t easy to define. Put simply, we create relationships — two-way, symbiotic relationships. We create relationships by addressing consumer concerns on Twitter. We create relationships by producing unbranded educational material that is of use to our audience. We create relationships by connecting key stakeholders over an issue. We create relationships everyday, through digital and traditional media, through virtual and real-world conversations.

What is your definition of “public relations?” What do you think are the key words to include?


About Abby Ecker

PR pro and healthy living blogger in the First State
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1 Response to Defining public relations: It’s not teaching, people.

  1. Great post! You’re right about how public relations is not easy to define, leading many to not really realize how important public relations is compared to other professions that are out there. The redefining of public relations will hopefully lead the way in ensuring people get a better understanding of what we do. We can’t expect people to fully understand even with this new campaign but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

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