Jan 23, 2012 / by Heidi Sullivan

Late last year, PRSA announced a new initiative to redefine public relations with a more modern definition through their Public Relations Defined campaign. The definition hasn’t been revised since the 1980s, and with the rapidly changing media landscape, it may just be time to think about how our profession has changed. Using crowdsourcing techniques, PRSA has announced three candidate definitions and is asking for feedback in the comments section of this hyperlinked post – final responses due today.

Beyond responding in the comments, I’ve reached out to some of the PR experts that I respect the most and asked them, “How would YOU define public relations?” The answers are compelling – and as varied and unique as the professionals that work in PR:

“I don’t think public relations needs a definition. It’s relating to the public, for chrissakes. If PRSA wants to do something outstanding, they should demystify and simplify. A PR pro is responsible for helping an organization successfully communicate with all its audiences. No definition they draft and distribute and stamp their approval on will ever change or inspire or affect what public relations professionals actually do.”

– Jason Falls, Founder & Editor, Social Media Explorer & Exploring Social Media, Author, No Bullshit Social Media

“I think the definitions are all wrong. They seem to be trying to bolster a reason for its existence and glamorize it–or as Newt might say “make it a grandiose statement”. (Ooof!)

What is PR:  It’s the ultimate communications tool between the practitioner and the end user (usually a person who buys or tries something). The power of being able to shape opinions, the ability to ensure messages are complete and uncomplicated, the ideal of crafting content that actually helps someone understand a concept…this is PR. And it’s not getting the press swayed either; since the press can be swayed by anyone who gives them a good quote!

Finally, what is PR?

    1. An ability to get people nationwide clarmoring for your wares, turning a local father ‘n’ son shop into a national, never neglected, constantly referenced, known everywhere, megabrand.
    2. Making someone famous, infamous or notorious for whatever she does, no matter what it is.
    3. Sending our clients’ stock price through the roof (we do not supply the Cohibas).
    4. Getting social concerns in front of our neighbors and House representatives alike.
    5. Making a “gold” album shoot up the charts or get something to “break” Hollywood style.
    6. Setting the record straight.
    7. Incapacitating the competition and cannibalizing the bastards.”

– Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM PR, Author, 2011: TrendspottingPunk Marketing and others, Blogger & Founder, Bad Pitch Blog

“Public relations is the glue that bonds cultures, companies and customers together through a collection of shared stories and experiences that reflect the entity’s character, purpose and business objectives.”

– Barbara Rozgonyi, Principal, CoryWest Media, Publisher, WiredPRWorks

“I define public relations as the practice that helps companies, people and brands express themselves in the best possible way.  It is about helping them communicate – directly, and with and through intermediaries – to advance their objectives.”

– Bob Geller, President, Fusion Public Relations, Blogger, Flack’s Revenge

“Public relations is a responsibility of an entire organization to listen, learn and connect with their publics to create value, word-of-mouth and impact business results”

(“Plenty of explanation to wrap around my definition, but ultimately, PR has transformed into….

  • business process vs. marketing function
  • two-way vs. one-way conversations
  • impacting business results vs. delivering advertising equivalencies”)

– Matt Batt, Principal, Pipeline

Which responses resonate with you? How would YOU define public relations?

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About Heidi Sullivan

One of PRWeek’s 40 under 40 in 2012, Heidi Sullivan is Senior Vice President of Digital Content for Cision and a self-proclaimed social media metrics nerd. She leads the company’s digital and broadcast content teams, the global research team for Cision’s media database, Cision’s social media community team and the company’s content marketing strategy. You can find her on Twitter @hksully.