A PeRfect definition

Jeff Morosoff, Asst. Professor of Public Relations, Hofstra University

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

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) announced its new definition of public relations last week (above). It replaces the definition PRSA came up with 30 years ago: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.” In my opinion, the 2012 version is perfect.

More than 46 percent of 1,447 voters selected the definition from three finalists, which had been whittled down from 927 suggestions. The other two were poor by comparison. They were: “Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships,” (where’s the strategy statement? And what answers the “w” question, “who?”) and “Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals” (I thought the wording here was really awkward). I agree with PRSA’s own assessment of the new definition:

“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.”

I have been critical of PRSA’s size and membership fees in the past. After its Long Island chapter folded in the late 1980’s, my colleagues and I formed Public Relations Professionals of Long Island (PRPLI). Just 22 years young, PRPLI has thrived as an alternative local organization. Now I’m faculty advisor to PRSSA, PRSA’s student wing, and I can see more clearly the value of belonging to a national group of PR professionals. I’ll never abandon my commitment to PRPLI (I happily remain on its board) but I like the work PRSA does, more so since they’ve successfully re-crafting the definition of what we do. Your thoughts?

P.S. Speaking of PRSSA, there’s only four weeks until the regional conference, hosted by Hofstra’s chapter. Register today!


8 responses

  1. I was so excited when I read this was the definition that won. I read it to my roommate and she said that it honestly helped her understand what PR actually is (as opposed to my long winded ramblings). It’s concise and understandable, which is exactly what PR should do in the first place. The less words you use to get the point across, the better.

  2. I think that the new definition is perfect, it is straight and to the point. This makes sense that it is straight and to the point because when you are trying to get your message across to the public that is your goal.The other definition’s are too wordy and leave out important aspects of what public relations should mean.

  3. Abby Littleton | Reply

    I completely forgot to vote for this as well! I think the new definition is a lot better than the old one. This is probably the one I would have voted for.

  4. I like that the new definition has the word “strategic” because PR is only as good as the strategy that public relations can bring to the table. The new definition has a better ring to it and it expresses the exchange between parties, better than the old one.

  5. Brie Schachtel | Reply

    The is a perfect definition and a great improvement over the old one. Plus mutually beneficial relationships sounds a lot smoother than adapt mutually to each other.

  6. I love the new definition! I think it is a vast improvement of the definition from 30 years ago.

    I also find it very interesting that the new definition was chosen by a voting process. It is nice to know that the people who’s professional the definition is describing got to vote and voice their opinions. Good idea PRSA!

  7. Laura Finkelstein | Reply

    I am just glad that it is finally voted on and straightened out exactly what public relations is and does. I agree, the new definition really is the perfect short and sweet definition of what PR means. It tells everyone exactly what PR without being con-diluted, and as you always say, “say as much as you can in the fewest words possible.” They nailed it.

  8. Oh, I forgot to vote for this ! I am very happy this definition won, and I think the reason this definition won over the others is clear.

    I really like this definition because I feel like it rolls of the tongue easily enough to explain to my friends and family. It is the perfect combination of succinct and informative.

    The fact that the definition of PR has changed from just 30 years ago is very telling about the growth of the PR industry. I am excited to see how the definition of Public Relations changes again throughout the course of my time as PR professional.

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