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A Modern Definition of Public Relations

Gerard Corbett

prdefinition.prsa.org — March 01, 2012 — Following 1,447 votes, hundreds of submissions, abundant commentary and nearly a year of research, we are pleased to announce the winning modern definition of public relations. Based on a public vote, held Feb. 13–26, of three candidate definitions, the profession’s choice for the modern definition of PR is:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Listed as Definition No. 2 in the public vote, it received 671 votes, or 46.4 percent, of 1,447 total votes.

Simple and straightforward, this definition focuses on the basic concept of public relations — as a communication process, one that is strategic in nature and emphasizing “mutually beneficial relationships.” “Process” is preferable to “management function,” which can evoke ideas of control and top-down, one-way communications. “Relationships” relates to public relations’ role in helping to bring together organizations and individuals with their key stakeholders. “Publics” is preferable to “stakeholders,” as the former relates to the very “public” nature of public relations, whereas “stakeholders” has connotations of publicly-traded companies.

You can read more about this exciting announcement in Friday’s New York Times advertising column.

As promised, PRSA will adopt the winning reference definition to replace the 1982 definition of public relations.

An analysis of the public vote provides some interesting detail. The data can be found here.

Voters were unequivocal in their belief that any modern definition of public relations should not include the word “ethics.” When asked whether the word “ethics” should be included in the winning definition, 60.3 percent of those who voted said No. Furthermore, an aggregate of 57.3 percent of voters indicated “No” to including the word “ethics” in any modern definition of public relations.

While PRSA firmly believes in the value of ethical public relations practices, as espoused in our Code of Ethics and numerous advocacy initiatives, we respect the profession’s wishes that ethics not be explicitly included in a modern definition. In all likelihood, though, we will eventually include ethics in a values statement about the definition of public relations, as it relates to PRSA and our members’ values.

A review of the final word cloud from 927 definitions submitted during the initial crowdsourcing phase shows that the winning definition closely reflects the profession’s perspective of what should comprise a modern concept of public relations. Several key words found in that word cloud are included in the winning definition:

    • “Public”
    • “Organization”
    • “Communication”
    • “Relationship”
    • “Builds”
    • “Mutual”

But don’t take our word for it. We’ve created a Resources page where you can review the data, along with meeting notes from each of the Definition of PR Summits that PRSA hosted and other relevant materials.

Read complete article here.