How Would You Define PR?

Public Relations Definition

On a recent episode of The Marketing Squad podcast, I riffed with Nathan and Brandon on a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) campaign to define “public relations.”

The #PRdefined campaign asked PR, marketing and communications professionals to contribute to the definition. After more than 900 submissions, PRSA generated a word cloud to extract the 20 most common words submitted for inclusion in the definition. Here are the top 20:

  • organization” (present in 388 submissions)
  • “public” (373)
  • “communication” (280)
  • “relationship(s)” (260)
  • “stakeholders” (172)
  • “create” (170)
  • “mutual” (158)
  • “understand” (153)
  • “build” (152)
  • “audiences” (147)
  • “inform” (144)
  • “management” (124)
  • “brand” (119)
  • “company” (116)
  • “business” (112)
  • “people” (100)
  • “engages” (94)
  • “client” (92)
  • “awareness” (88)
  • “maintain” (81)
PRSA will now use a “subjective consultation process” to develop three draft definitions from the data. The draft definitions will be submitted for a public vote on the PRSA website.

Define PR Without Saying “Public” or “Relate”

I’m not a fan of labels. Still, they exist for a reason: People need shortcuts. The shorthand of labels lets us define ourselves succinctly to the world and lets the world identify and recall us. If you don’t choose your label…hone it, cultivate it…others will ascribe one to you.

The public relations industry — and public relations professionals — are no different. And the definition attached to the label does matter…sorta. Perceptions of the PR industry are shaped by the behaviors of its members, for better or worse, but how we define ourselves helps frame those perceptions by providing context.

PR has changed dramatically in recent years. I couldn’t tell you what “public relations” meant in 1990 or 2000 (most PR professionals couldn’t either, let alone the general public). But I know whatever definition we used 20, 10 or 5 years ago is obsolete today. Self-publishing tools (blogs, YouTube, etc.) and social networking have turned concepts like “brand,” “message,” and “media” on their heads.

It’s no wonder the 20 words above have a generic, lowest common denominator feel to them. Do you get the sense we’ll end up with “Public relations helps organizations and individuals relate to the public?”

Your Turn: What’s Your Definition of PR?

Think you can define PR? I’d love to hear your definition. Let’s spur a little discussion about this, shall we?