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Cautiously Optimistic

Social media for better communication and a better life

A New Definition of Public Relations

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The Public Relations Society of America recently announced on its “PRSAY” blog that it had updated its official definition of “public relations.”

PRSA didn’t make this decision by executive fiat; it put the issue to a public vote. The top three definitions were posted to the PRSA website and votes were tallied over a two-week period.

The winning definition:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

As I have discussed before, there has been a struggle among PR professors as to what public relations is “really all about.” Some believe that the core of PR is rhetoric, the classical exchange of persuasive arguments, while others believe the fundamental organizing principle is the cultivation and management of relationships.

Each side of this argument can take heart from the newly-announced modern definition of PR. Rhetoricians can point to the phrase “strategic communication process” to make their case, since rhetoric is something that never stops. It’s an ongoing process of persuasion and counter-persuasion in the public square.

Meanwhile, relationship proponents can cheer because the word “relationships” is front and center in the new definition. And for those who know their PR scholarship, professor James Grunig of the University of Maryland has to be smiling at the inclusion of the words “mutually beneficial,” echoing his groundbreaking work on the two-way symmetrical model of PR.

Social media has a crucial role to play in the future development of both persuasive communication and the management of relationships. As Shel Holtz recently wrote in PR Daily, social media is changing the way that PR practitioners persuade their organization’s publics. For example, the tried-and-true news release is fading in importance, replaced by the well-timed Tweet or Facebook post. And social media itself is bringing together organizations and their publics in a human, one-on-one way as never before.

The old definition of PR had stood since 1982. With each year bringing new ways to connect and communicate, I suspect it won’t take thirty years to do this all over again. We will have no choice.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

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Written by Charles Primm

March 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm

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