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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!

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