Advocacy Thought Leadership

CIPR CEO: Why We Joined the ‘Public Relations Defined’ Initiative

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Jane Wilson MCIPR, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which represents public relations professionals in the United Kingdom, on why the CIPR has officially joined the “Public Relations Defined” initiative. CIPR became the 11th global partner of the international advocacy campaign that aims to modernize the definition of public relations.

I am delighted that PRSA has invited the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) to be a partner in the “Public Relations Defined” initiative. By inviting PR professionals to share their insights and perspective on what defines the modern practice of public relations, a process which has already produced some excellent contributions, PRSA is facilitating a timely debate.

The CIPR has recently completed a process of engaging with our members around the U.K. using focus groups and scenario planning, to identify the key elements for a secure future for the profession in the decade ahead. Among the recommendations based on this research is that PR needs better definitions.

Anecdotally, we know that despite a range of strong and durable definitions, including the CIPR’s own, there is little consensus among PR professionals about the way to describe the nature and purpose of our activity. Consensus would better enable those who engage with public relations to gain a consistent idea of the value of the practice and what it can achieve. It would enable PR to be more proactive, to demonstrate that it is intrinsic throughout an organization, to help those organizations develop a culture of relationship building and customer care that enables the achievement of strategic objectives.

A strong, accurate definition will help establish the organizational “place” of PR. Jay O’Connor, CIPR’s 2010 president, extended the CIPR definition by stressing the role that public relations must play at board level, helping to explore, define, plan and execute strategy. She particularly underlined its role with respect to reputational risk and opportunity, and good governance. In my view, this also needs to be taken in to account when we seek to improve understanding of public relations.

You could argue that this process betrays a lack of confidence in the definitions that already exist, or even that the process of looking again at the definitions is wasted time. In my view this is wrong. A process that draws in the widest possible range of submissions has a greater chance of producing a definition that connects more professionals to the debate about what we do and why.

That debate is stronger now than ever before.

Public relations is rapidly evolving, perhaps more so in the last five years than at any time in its history. Our challenge as a profession is to stay relevant and ensure our principles are understood in a rapidly changing environment. In five years time it seems highly unlikely that anyone will consider PR to be synonymous with media relations, if indeed this view is not already obsolete.

“Organization,” “communication,” “public,” “relationship,” “audiences,” “understand,” “stakeholders” and “mutual” are the words currently dominating the #PRDefined word cloud. As you might expect, “spin” is not on there, but it is an enduring myth about the nature and purpose of PR, symptomatic of lazy thinking and a lack of understanding of the value and purpose of public relations.

What does this mean for the CIPR definition? It does not mean that we will necessarily change what we have at the moment to reflect a possible new PRSA definition. But the very valuable discussion, together with our recent research, will enable us to take a view of the CIPR’s definition. It could be that a range of international definitions emerges with a consensus around key themes.

In my view, CIPR members own their definition and the CIPR itself should facilitate its evolution, which is our aim in joining the PRSA initiative. I believe the process of redefining PR will engage professionals in fresh thinking about what we do and why, as well as helping build a stronger consensus and laying to rest the myths of PR as tactical communications.

The deadline to submit your definition of public relations is Dec. 2, with the PRSA team collecting all of the data and submissions and generating three proposed definitions — which the CIPR will help shape. These proposals will go up for public vote on the PRSA website in early December.

Jane Wilson MCIPR is CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).


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