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Final Call for New Definitions of PR — #PRDefined Initiative

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‘Tis the season, but we’re not talking about the amount of time left on a holiday sale.

On Nov. 21, PRSA opened the “Public Relations Defined” conversation, in which we, along with our global partners, are helping to guide the profession in a collaborative effort to develop a modern definition of public relations; one that will be owned by any public relations professional who cares to express his or her thoughts on how a modern definition of public relations should read.

With the submission period closing at 11:59 p.m. EST Friday (Dec. 2), you have less than three days remaining to have your voice heard. How would you define public relations in the modern, digital age?

Submit Your Definition of Public Relations Here

A review of the latest snapshot word cloud, which visually represents the more than 700 definitions submitted thus far, shows that the words “organization” (present in 222 submissions), “public” (201), “communication” (163) and “relationships” (123) appear most.

As you might imagine, “Public Relations Defined” (hashtag: #PRDefined) has generated an interesting and spirited debate within the profession.

On the CIPR Conversation blog, Philip Sheldrake writes that a proper modern definition of public relations should focus more on the “why” and less on the “how.” Meanwhile, Crenshaw Communications CEO Dorothy Crenshaw voices her support, saying, “There has never been a time of faster change — or greater relevance — for our industry. And shouldn’t ‘better PR for PR’ start with us?”

Writing on her blog, Jane Wilson MCIPR, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, sets out why the CIPR officially joined the 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.”

If you have a moment, take a look at additional commentary and discussion that’s been written about this initiative.

We’ve also received a few questions regarding the structure and timing of the initiative, and I wanted to take the opportunity to address those.

As far as timing the launch for the Monday before Thanksgiving, that was partly out of our hands. We offered an exclusive on the announcement to New York Times columnist Stuart Elliott, and in doing so, ceded some control over the timing of its public introduction. We also wanted to be respectful of our partners’ role in this effort and ensure they had the proper time to inform their members of the initiative’s purpose and scope.

We are grateful to Mr. Elliott and The Times for breaking the story in the paper’s Nov. 21 edition, giving it greater exposure than it might have otherwise received.

The Thanksgiving holiday also was less of a concern because the initiative is global in scope. In fact, we saw terrific input and feedback from the U.K., Canada and other countries over the Thanksgiving holiday. We hope for great participation from all corners of the profession throughout the rest of the week and beyond as the debate around the definition of public relations continues to unfold.

As far as using a submission field, which some see as limiting their creativity, PRSA’s Definition of Public Relations Task Force, along with the industry organizations we have partnered with on this initiative, felt it best to adopt a structure similar to those of well-regarded definitions of marketing and advertising.

An equally important consideration was practicality. In order for this process to be as open and collaborative as possible, we need to keep things relatively simple, with some parameters, so that we can accurately and objectively collect and analyze the data. What’s more, some of the greatest criticism of existing public relations definitions is that they are too long, chock-full of words (strategic, management function, two-way, symmetrical, mutually beneficial, science, etc.) that over-complicate things and impede comprehension.

Frankly, it would be great if we could limit the definition to 140 characters! But that’s not for me to decide; it’s for you to decide.

So, what are you waiting for? There are only three days left to have your say. Don’t miss out. Submit your definition of public relations here before the Dec. 2 deadline.

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.


  • I’d like to think that our profession is not actually filled with practitioners who are incapable of explaining their role and the value of what they do without an authorized script. I don’t think teachers, lawyers, engineers, salespeople or librarians need coaching or crowdsourcing to define themselves and their calling. If we do, then that  would certainly reinforce the stereotype of PR people as vacuous and dispensible. Another reinforcement of that unfair perception is that the leaders of our profession would perpetrate some silly PR stunt on the people who ought to be most able to spot silly PR stunts. 

    • Thanks for your feedback, Jim. I’m sorry that you don’t see the value in this initiative, particularly in its ability to help public relations professionals (and more generally, others who use our services) deeply think about what it is that defines our role and value in the modern, digital age of business.

      Far from a “PR stunt” the “Public Relations Defined” initiative was developed as a global initiative to help foster a better understanding of what it is that comprises the essence of public relations, and through an open and collaborative process, to take the industry’s terrific knowledge and insight and distill that down into a universal, dictionary-like definition.

      After all, would you not agree that for far too long, the profession has been playing with a veritable matchbox of definitions, each one fitting a particular group’s own needs or wants? Shouldn’t public relations, just like the other respected professions you cite, have one unique, universal definition that expertly distills what we do in a concise and understood manner? I’d argue that public relations has been unable to provide this for far too long, and our profession has suffered in some ways because of that.

      That is the true value, I believe, in this initiative. But I certainly respect and appreciate your feedback and opinion.

      Keith Trivitt

  • I think that the field of public relations is a constantly changing profession. There has been many changes throughout the years. It has come from paper to computer, word of mouth to facebook, and newspapers to twitter. The PR field has evolved into a 24/7 career that encompasses all forms of media. At this time I think it will be a difficult task to define public relations, because in five-ten years there will have to be a new definition. Practitionors in this feild do every thing from journalism, advertising, marketing, and media relations just to name a few. My suggestion would be a definition that would include the fact that there are strategies created to socially and psychologically: build, promote, and protect a brand in the best interest of the client. 

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