Frank Strong’s, “Is fuzzy definition of PR a case of lousy PR?” and Heidi Cohen’s, “What is PR (aka Public Relations)?” got me thinking; what exactly is PR? Almost every professional, professor, blogger, etc, will give a different perspective.
PRSA’s brief stab at defining the field reads, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.” Strong argues that this definition doesn’t suffice and that until PR is accurately defined it “will be used as a callous characterization-the lipstick to the proverbial pig.” In my opinion, a field that cannot be entirely defined speaks to its creative side, to the magnitude of work it entails. In actuality, a debate for definition may just strengthen the field rather than harm it.
Cohen’s blog post lists 31 definitions of PR, each of them being about two sentences in length, some as long as a paragraph. The majority of them speak to PRSA’s “standard” definition of building mutually beneficial relationships with key audiences but some do stray from the pack.
For example, Deborah Weinstein of Strategic Objectives definition includes, “the art and science of sharing genuine, credible, relevant news and information to grow,”. Cohen then asks her readers to respond with their own definitions, now this is what the field needs; a forum of different perspectives that fosters growth and creativity.
Today, I think we are right where we need to be in terms of a “standard” definition. A brief, somewhat broad, and encapsulating definition is for the best because no matter what, no one will agree, which I might I add, is never a bad thing. Hearing different viewpoints gives us a chance to look at practice in a whole new light.
Let’s all agree to disagree; PRSA’s definition doesn’t work for all of us, because we each have our own definition. This is what makes PR unique and we should embrace the discourse. How many other fields’ definitions can be so hotly contested? Strong is right, bringing validity to the field is important but debate on what PR is, is even more important. The days of press agentry are long gone; the way we build relationships with key audiences differs greatly, so let’s embrace it, its 2011 and PR is far from defined.
University of Minnesota