Defining Public Relations – The Big Futile Debate

So, there has been a lot of debate recently on how to define “Public Relations” given the recent decision by the PRSA to find “A Modern Definition of Public Relations”

According to the PRSA, “[Public Relations Defined] is an initiative to modernize the definition of public relations. Through an open and collaborative effort, PRSA and its industry partners are providing a platform for public relations, marketing and communications professionals to add their voice to a new definition of public relations.’

Out of the thousands of submissions of suggested definitions, the PRSA has narrowed it down to three contenders for people to vote on:

1)      Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.

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

3)      Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.

Now forgive me for stating the obvious, but when they suggested a “Modern” definition (aka: relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past), I was expecting some form of modern – “Digital Era-GenerationY-Facebooky- #TweetTweet-ConsumerBrand-Mass-Two-Way-Communication” – type of definition.

Or at least something with a little digital zing to it!

However, instead we got three re-hashed versions of traditional definitions, basically stating the same things that have always been said about PR, aka:

“Public Relations is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics” (CIPR – UK)

“Public Relations is the management function that identifies, establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends” (Cutlip et al.)

Etc, etc, etc…..

Now, there is no way that I am going to attempt my own definition of PR in the Digital age, or even traditional PR for that matter, and the simple reason being because PR as an industry is too broad in scope to define or concisely contain into one neatly tied up definition with a little red ribbon on it.

However, it is precisely this immense depth and scope that makes PR fundamentally such a wonderful industry to work in! New trends and “modern” communication possibilities emerge all the time; something which has happened throughout history with hieroglyphics and carrier pigeons etc…. But, specifically in the past century or so with the birth of radio, television, internet and mobile technology, modern communication methods have all coincided with the birth and development of PR as a serious profession.

This, with no shadow of a doubt will continue through these current “modern” times and way into the future, meaning that as technology and communication methods develop, so will PR along with the rest of the Communications industry, meaning any “modern” definition will be defunct in a few years or so anyway. It is therefore due to this constant flux and endless potential that efforts to define PR as one single authoritative definition are futile.

Now, I am by no means saying that the above suggested definitions of PR are bad, because in fact they are very good in their essence of capturing the importance of planning and organisation, engagement of stakeholders, and relationship building in PR activities. However, I am merely stating that if the intention from the outset of the PRSA really was to come up with some NEW SPARKLY MODERN definition of PR, why are we still stuck with three definitions stating exactly the same thing?

So, I beg the question, has anybody got any POSTMODERN DEFINITIONS of PR up their sleeve?  


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