PRSA’s PR Definitions: So Now What?

by PR Coach on February 16, 2012

PRSA Definition is designed by committee

PRSA's PR definition is designed by committee, resulting in a camel instead of a racehorse

Three responses dominate PRSA’s effort to modernize the definition of public relations: angst, apathy and anger/annoyance. Which camp are you in?

I’m in the annoyance camp. I think PRSA’s campaign to crowdsource a new definition was well-intended. Predictably, the three final choices feel like they were designed by committee. Instead of designing a racehorse, we get to choose from three camels.

The envelope please. The final PRSA nominees are:

  1. Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.
  2. Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
  3. Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.

Underwhelmed? Me too.

Four Issues with PRSA’s PR Definitions

My biggest issues with these PR definitions are:

  • Jargon: Could we pick colder, more unwelcoming words then “management function”, “mutually beneficial”, “publics”, “process of engagement”? Come on people. We’re writers and communicators.
  • Passive: Any 1st year PR prof will tell you to use action words to energize your writing. How about “Public relations manages, researches, communicates and collaborates to build strong public relationships“?
  • Not user or audience-friendly: Try remembering and spitting out any of these three in the elevator or with your mother-in-law!
  • Lacks passion: Worst of all, these three choices lack passion. Just like a general, a CEO or a candidate for the Oval Office, if you can’t communicate passionately, you’re destined for failure.

I know, it’s easy to be critical but these definitions need critique. That’s what you do when you care.

By the way, you can read PRSA’s response to critics here and my original suggested definition there.

Okay smart guy. What would you do? Well, I’d take the winning statement or definition and challenge PR pros and others on Twitter to come up with a “tagline” that really communicates what PR is.

Imagine the possibilities. Just for fun, what if we “borrowed” some of the world’s best taglines? (Thanks to Forbes list of “Best-Ever Advertising Taglines“) The front-running tag lines could include:

  • PR: The ultimate driving machine
  • PR: Just do it
  • PR: Don’t leave home without it
  • PR: We try harder
  • PR: Got milk?
  • There Are Some Things Money Can’t Buy. For Everything Else, There’s PR.
  • PR: Think different
  • The Few. The Proud. The PR.
  • PR: You deserve a break today
  • PR is forever.

You think we had a conversation getting to this point? Open this PR Pandora’s box and watch the sparks fly as we pick a PR tagline. And maybe that’s what’s missing. Where is the passion in these PR definitions?

It’s still a good effort despite the shortcomings. It was an honest attempt by PRSA and we’ll still be further ahead with a newer definition of PR. Besides, we’ll never satisfy all the people all the time.

In the meantime, please vote here before Feb 26th so we can move ahead. Despite my humorous suggestions, we will always find our own words to describe our personal visions and definition of PR. Perhaps that’s the beauty and the art of public relations.

Judging by the pace of change in the past two or three years, we’ll soon be searching for a new, updated definition.

What do you think? Satisfied? Could you use any of these definitions and communicate your passion for PR? Got a tagline that you’d love to share? Glad to hear from you in the comments below.

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Author: Jeff Domansky

Photo credit: alles-schlumpf

More reading on PRSA’s PR Definition

And The Winner Is – a New PR Definition  [Pollack PR Marketing Group Blog]
Redefining Public Relations: continued…again [my 2 cents]
PRSA defends the candidate definitions of ‘public relations’ [PR Daily]
New PR Definitions and a Great Conversation
 [The PR Coach]