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Cautiously Optimistic

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Posts Tagged ‘rhetoric

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

Relationships vs. Rhetoric in Public Relations

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Relationships vs. Rhetoric - two sides of the same coin? Image Courtesy of iStockPhotoOne of the more interesting classes I have taken in my pursuit of a master’s degree in public relations has been a look at the theoretical underpinnings of the industry.

Normally we don’t think of what we do as having a basis in theory. You can’t just pick up a theory and hold it toward the light. It’s an abstract concept. But it is helpful to ponder some of the competing ideas that try to explain what public relations is, why people and organizations engage in it, and why it works (or doesn’t work).

In that class, we spent a great deal of time discussing whether “relationships” are at the heart of public relations, or whether “rhetoric” is the basis of all that we do.

I was reminded of that discussion by a recent article by John Trader in PR Daily, which listed the “5 key traits of a successful PR professional.”

The article outlined the following must-have traits for anyone wanting to “make it” in public relations:

  • Thick skin;
  • Resiliency;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Creativity; and
  • Relationship building.

In my experience, all five of these traits really are “must-haves,” but the final item intrigued me. There it was, plain as day: support for “relationships” as the bedrock of PR success. But reading deeper in the article, Trader described “relationship building” as the ability to “bridge communication chasms through quality conversations.”

That’s the point at which my PR professors would say “A-ha! And what are quality conversations made of? Rhetoric. The ability to communicate with others in such way as to persuade them of the rightness of your position, while being open to being persuaded if their arguments have greater merit.”

That is what a “quality conversation” is. Anything else is just a monologue.

As public relations practitioners continue to learn how to use social media to create and improve relationships with their publics, using the tools of effective rhetoric, it might be safe to say that instead of being in conflict with each other, relationships and rhetoric are actually the two sides of the same coin.

Follow me on Twitter at @charlesprimm.

Written by Charles Primm

February 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm