Defining Public Relations in 2012

NEWS FLASH – The definition of public relations has changed.  Not get the memo?  Here’s the story.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) initiated a stirring discussion in November when it kicked off a contest to (re)define public relations.  Among the many comments, concerns, and complaints shared – the list was finally narrowed down to three options in December:

  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.”

Before we go on – think about each.  Which do you prefer?  Why?

Now drum roll please…

After collecting comments and votes on the three finalists, PRSA announced that option two was the winner in January with 671, or 46.4 percent, of the votes.  (New York Times covered all of this activity earlier in March)

For a “historical” reference, I dusted off a text book that was last updated in 2000 and it notes that in November 1982 PRSA formally adopted an “Official Statement on Public Relations.”  This statement included the following definition – “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.” (You can review the full statement here)

The text book also offered the following, more detailed, definitions:

One from Public Relations News – Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understand and acceptance

Another from public relations scholar and professional leader, the late Dr. Rex F. Harlow – Public Relations is the distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research, and sound and ethical communication as its principal tools

What are your thoughts?  How do you define what you do?

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