What is PR? An Updated Definition for Public Relations

Helping key audiences & stakeholders better understand the role of PR and its value to the public & business community by developing a modern definition for public relations.

Ask any public relations professional to name the question they get most often and, inevitably, it comes down to “What is PR?”

You can hardly go into any new business meeting or grab coffee with a friend without hearing the question. For a profession in which businesses spend billions of dollars on our services, there is remarkably little understanding of what we do.

Recent discussions, blog posts, tweets and mainstream articles paint the following picture:

  • Public relations professionals (and, thus, the audiences we serve) continue to struggle with this question;
  • Existing definitions are not sufficient; and
  • No one definition is considered the de facto industry definition.

My guess is you can relate to this, based on your own experiences.

PRSA has been listening to and engaging in many of these conversations, and after careful consideration, we have come to the conclusion it’s time to do something.

‘Public Relations Defined’
Starting today, PRSA is embarking on an international effort, in collaboration with multiple industry partners, to modernize the definition of public relations. In a small way, we seek to rebrand the profession.

We’re calling it: “Public Relations Defined.” You can learn about the initiative here and submit your definition here.

The goal is simple: to develop a modern definition for the new era of public relations. Our aim is to help key audiences and stakeholders better understand the role of public relations and its value to the public and business community.

We do not wish to demolish what has served the profession well, but to make improvements that place the definition in line with the modern value public relations offers.

By way of example, PRSA’s own definition of public relations (“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”) has not been updated since 1982. It is clearly in need of an update to better reflect the modern role and value of public relations.

The “Public Relations Defined” initiative is a continuation of PRSA’s industry-leading “Business Case for Public Relations™” campaign, which launched in 2009 to help the business community better understand the value of public relations.

To be sure, many have tried to find a common definition. It’s not easy. And we need your help.

Developing a New Definition
Here’s where you come in: fill in the definition submission form here. It contains input points where you can define public relations within the following sentence structure:

Public relations [DOES WHAT] with/for [WHO] to [DO WHAT] for [WHAT PURPOSE].

This sentence structure was developed in collaboration with nearly a dozen trade associations and professional organizations that met in September at PRSA’s New York headquarters to discuss the future of public relations.

You can also add your own definition, keywords, ideas — whatever it may be — in the comments below. We’ll use this feedback to develop a crowdsourced word cloud that we will periodically update on our new “Public Relations Defined” blog. We will use the input of many to find the next definition of public relations.

I hope you’ll be among those professionals whose voice and experience comprises the modern definition of public relations. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and chat about the project online using the hashtag #PRDefined.

Public Relations Defined
Submit Your Definition of Public Relations Here

Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, is chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.

About the author

Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, Fellow PRSA

Rosanna M. Fiske, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Wells Fargo & Company, Florida. Fiske was PRSA's Chair and CEO in 2011.


  • This was actually a topic of conversation at Thanksgiving this weekend. I was discussing some of my career aspirations with one of our dinner guests, and he was saying how he doesn’t understand what public relations is exactly. Honestly, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Goodness, I have no idea!” Ha! So I basically rambled on and on giving examples of work done in the PR, such as branding and working with media for the exposure of a client’s particular service or product. I recently read this article on PRSA about Penn State and its communication issues and a particular quote by Phil de Haan, a professor of public relations courses, said that “PR professionals are boundary spanners, bridging the gap between an organization and its publics.” I think that describes public relations somewhat sufficiently. This quote guided me to my own personal definition of public relations:  

    Public Relations:  A service in which through effective communication, an organization’s purpose is strategically expressed to an audience in order to build connections within and between individuals of both the audience and organization.

  • Dear Rosana M. Fiske,

    I am ready to take part in your
    efforts, revising the definition of the Public Relations. 10 years ago I made a
    PR-definitions research. On the base of this research, I revised, rewrote the
    CERP PR-definition, which was accepted by the General Assembly Meeting of CERP
    (European Public Relations Confederation). 

    “Public relations is the conscious organization of communication.

    PR is a management function.

    The task of PR is: To achieve mutual understanding and to establish a
    beneficial relationship, between the organization and its publics and
    environment, through two-way communication.”

    Best regards

    Thomas Barat (Former Vice President
    of CERP)

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