PRSA Response to PR Definition Criticism

By: Guest | February 15, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by David C. Rickey, chair of the PRSA PR Defined Task Force, in response to Redefining Public Relations by Gini Dietrich.

The discussion and debate around the Public Relations Society of America collaborative “Public Relations Defined” initiative, in which PRSA and 12 allied professional organizations have given public relations and other communications professionals a platform to shape a modern definition of public relations, has been robust, spirited and, perhaps most of all, strongly opinionated — all good things for the profession.

With the release of the three final candidate definitions for public voting, and with the winning definition to be adopted by PRSA, more strong opinions now are being expressed.

We certainly anticipated a diversity of opinions and our fair share of criticism, and public relations professionals never disappoint with their passion.

While the objections to the finished product are not overwhelming, there are certain themes of dissatisfaction we have noticed among detractors.

1. You hate them.

  • “Sweet mother of confusing sh*t.”
  • “They all ‘suck.’”
  • “I’ll vote for #4 (none of the above).”
  • “None of these even come close to hitting the mark.”
  • “We did a better job on my blog.”

In response to these criticisms, we would simply respond: Of course it is; they do; you can; they don’t; and you did.

Nothing more clearly illustrates the reason why the profession hasn’t arrived at a “de facto” definition in more than a century of existence. If someone came up with a definition everyone loved at some point over the past 112 years, would we be having this conversation?

A cursory look at the individuals in PRSA leadership positions at the District, Chapter, and Sections levels shows only about 15 percent of them have the words “public relations” or “PR” in their title or company name, which also speaks to the difficulty of coming up with a single definition that describes the entirety of every role and function within the profession.

2. You can’t stand lingo and jargon.

We didn’t just make this stuff up. It was very important to the Task Force the definitions be true to the research, whether we liked it or not. A crowd-sourced approach seemed to be an appropriate methodology, given the affect social media is having on our profession, and the increased participation in their favorite brands and companies that people expect today.

Rather than PRSA dictating what its members saw as a modern definition, we wanted the profession’s contributions to drive the conversation and result.

The top 20 words which were included in definitions suggested by the professionals who participated in the effort were:

  • Organization
  • Public
  • Communication
  • Relationship(s)
  • Stakeholders
  • Create
  • Mutual
  • Understand
  • Build
  • Audiences
  • Inform
  • Management
  • Brand
  • Company
  • Business
  • People
  • Engages
  • Client
  • Awareness
  • Benefit

Jargon-y? Perhaps. But right or wrong, these are the words public relations professionals like you and me felt best described what it is we all do for a living. And while you may hate the word “publics,” would you have preferred “stakeholders?”

3.     They won’t change the profession’s image. 

That’s true. But this initiative was never about changing the profession’s image.

What will change public relations’ image, though, are some of the other outcomes PRSA is focused on achieving.

Things such as encouraging ethical conduct on the part of public relations professionals.

Creating a more diverse profession.

Developing measurement and evaluation techniques that are widely understood, accepted, and implemented.

Demonstrating the public good served by the profession.

And helping current and future business leaders understand and appreciate the vital role of reputation management in their marketing mix.

4.     They aren’t particularly “modern.”

Many in the profession have suggested the definition of public relations didn’t need modernizing at all; that, the principles applied in the days of Bernays and Barnum still apply today.

Those folks should take comfort, then, that the three definitions resulting from the PRSA “Public Relations Defined” process are reminiscent of some of the most-well respected and widely adopted definitions of the profession that currently exist.

James E. Grunig, Ph.D., professor emeritus of public relations at the University of Maryland and author of 250 articles, books, chapters, papers, and reports, says,

Public relations is the management of communication between an organization and its publics. Its purpose is to cultivate relationships among organizations and publics.

And Scott Cutlip, Allen Center, and Glen Broom, in their seminal public relations text book, “Effective Public Relations,” state,

Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.

Regardless of what you think of the final candidate definitions, you can rest easy no one is forcing you to adopt the “winning” definition. PRSA will, and if you’d like to do the same, great; if not, that’s fine too.

Finally, let’s remember that we will be judged by our performance and our results, not by how we define ourselves.

David C. Rickey, APR, is PRSA secretary and the chair of its PR Defined Task Force.

  • dariasteigman

    Thank you, David Rickey. I’m not a PR person, so I leave others to quarrel over the definitions. But I appreciate that you’ve laid out the challenge and how PRSA arrived at where it is in this process–and acknowledged that any solution will be at best imperfect.

    The first rule in good communications (PR?) is to be honest and acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly. So kudos!

  • David: PRSA’s crowd source methodology was to have the community fill in the blanks on a sentence that was already three-quarters complete. That’s a leading question and suggest to me the researchers started with a prejudicial definition. That is not research and I find it absolutely mind-numbing that PRSA publicly agrees – as you’ve stated above — that these proposed definitions are sub-optimal, yet has resolved to stay the course.

    Scholarly citations are useful for a literary review, but a poor substitute for a thesis: Grunig, Wilcox, Kent, Taylor, Hugh Rank (my personal favorite) et al., are indeed all great scholars, but academia trails the profession. Example: show me their social media contributions. They hardly exist, yet social media is not new anymore, yet it’s an enormous part of a PR professionals focus.

    The comments of (to the contrary constructive) criticism aren’t coming from “detractors” they are coming from PRSA’s own community. This is a textbook crisis communications situation like The GAP or the Komen Foundation. Clearly, there are enough voices to cause this committee to pause, reflect and reconsider the path forward.

    Shaughnessy is wrong (again) — PR has changed and so too should the definition.

    • FollowtheLawyer

      @Frank_Strong What’s wrong with thought leadership through Mad Libs?

    • drickey

      @Frank_Strong Frank — I appreciate your interest in this project and your passion. All of us here want to further the profession to which we’ve dedicated ourselves. As I said, we’ll be judged by our performance, and not by how we define ourselves.

      We did employ the brains of some of the top leaders in our field as we wanted counsel on how it was best to synthesize 1,000 different suggestions into three definitions. The 12 organizations cooperating with PRSA on this project noted that the “standard” dictionary definitions of marketing and advertising contained the same basic elements: they [DO WHAT] with/for [WHOM] to [DO WHAT] for [WHAT PURPOSE], and we collectively agreed that those elements should be present in a modern definition of public relations. I don’t see that as prejudicial in the manner that you do.

      The genesis of the project did have some parameters, but every post had a comment field where individuals could (and did) suggest definitions that didn’t fit the form. And every single submission was reviewed and considered. I would also respectfully disagree with your assertion that we feel the definitions are sub-optimal; that’s a different interpretation of my post. My point was, whatever definitions we put forward, we are never going to make 100% of the professionals happy; that there is some criticism is no surprise. That’s the nature of the beast, and we accepted that fact as we embarked on this democratic project. As with any democracy, opinions vary and are many. At the end, what triumphs is the majority decision, which is exactly what we’ve done with this crowdsourcing initiative.

      I’ll gladly acknowledge some of the criticisms are coming from PRSA’s own diverse community of more than 32,000 members, which unfortunately doesn’t include you. As Gini likes to tell her critics, and I’m paraphrasing, “Thanks for your feedback. How would you like to be involved?”

      • Dave, I did let my membership lapse…when I was handed orders for a year-long deployment overseas, which I am still on at this very moment. Didn’t make sense to me to shell out $300 for a membership of little use while away from my home and job. I’d point out that with a little digging, you’d find my fingerprints quite a few measures of support and participation. In public, a quick Google search will show I’m fairly active in PRSA’s content on social media – often among the first one to advocate for PRSA when the Times or the Economist publish twisted views about PR.

        As for the interpretation of your post — you cited comments from another post on this very blog and offered a response to them — I’ve denoted both below with your comments (in parenthesis).

        Sweet mother of confusing sh*t.” (Of course it is.)“They all ‘suck.’” (they do)“I’ll vote for #4 (none of the above).” (you can)“None of these even come close to hitting the mark.” (they don’t)“We did a better job on my blog.” (they don’t.)

        There is little room for interpretation and since you chair the committee and published this post in an official capacity, it’s reasonable to conclude you are expressing the viewpoint of the organization.

        But these things are small things – and a diversion from the issue at hand: a sizable number of people are dismissive of the proposed definitions – and that is dangerous. Words matter. The only question is whether or not PRSA is listening.

        • drickey

          @Frank_Strong While we may disagree on this, I do appreciate your service to our country, and I mean that sincerely. I hear you and understand that a number of people are dismissive of the proposed definitions. But a larger number of people contributed their proposed definitions to the process and have felt good enough about the definitions as they exist to vote on them.

          The definitions we put forward accurately reflect the larger group’s views. The research is sound. Does that make them wrong, because you disagree with them? At the end of the day, you’re asking us to jettison their views for yours. I’m just not sure how that solves the problem. After all, who’s to say that they won’t disagree with your preferred definition, or anyone else’s?

          It’s also worth noting that we put in place a two-week period for public comment on the candidate definitions, for the express purpose of allowing people to air criticisms like those being expressed here. Many, many people offered comments, and many of them were as simple as saying, I like this one, or I like that one.

          What’s more, this is PRSA’s definition, which we invited the profession to help us develop. In no way does that mean the discussion ends here. Frankly, we don’t want it to, and I’m sure it won’t. We simple hope that people will use our definition as a starting point, and put into the unique context of what they do and how they do it.

        • @drickey Service is a privilege, but thank you all the same. You’re mistaken if you think I’m the sole voice opposed to these definitions. I’m but one small voice. Look at the comments on this blog. Consider the fact PRSA went on the defense with this very post…you have a groundswell.

          Leadership sometimes means choosing the hard right over the easy wrong. If you are serious about continuing the discussion, I’d challenge PRSA to pull out all the stops.

          1. Publish all the notes, interviews and data you’ve compiled.

          2. Invite bloggers from all ranks – make it big – 20 of them – to post on ComPRehension. 50-50 for and against.

          3. Conduct a survey, open to the public, as to whether or not these proposed definitions are worth pursuing.

          It’s not dramatic to say the future of PR is on the line. This definition will either be a rallying cry, or it will continue to see the words “PR” dropped from many more job titles.

      • @drickey@Frank_Strong I think it’s very dangerous to think that this new definition only matters to members of the profession. You already know what you do – it’s the rest of us who need the clarification. I look at @AshlynBrewer ‘s comment to this post, where she says she deliberately doesn’t use the term “public relations” when she talk about her own work. And she’s a Millennial, so I can bet she knows many, many people who feel the same way. This is the future of your profession and your association. This is your future PRSA member. What happens when she’s ready to join? What happens if she googles “association for strategic communicators” instead of “association for public relations”?. Your future is staring you in the face, please don’t run away from it. Evolve with it.

        • @maddiegrant @drickey@AshlynBrewer An outstanding point. I agree wholeheartedly.

  • DoctorJones

    Slow clap for that response, David. Well played.

  • I think most, if not all, of us agree that we should be judged by our performance and results. But the definition is an issue, because no one seems to understand exactly what “PR” is; after all, isn’t that why the Task Force was set up in the first place?

    @Frank_Strong has pretty much said everything I would, so I won’t duplicate his excellent comments. Personally, I very much appreciate what PRSA is trying to do. However, I don’t see evidence of the more contemporary facets that make up our work (“community,” “stories,” to give just two examples).

    I’ve been, and am, a huge advocate for PRSA (I am also an IABC member and former officer at the local and international levels). PRSA embraced me when I was not a member, and has made efforts to bring me into its fold, and I’ve seen it do the same with several practitioners who work more on the new media side. If several of us are telling you that the exercise, at its current point, isn’t working, isn’t it worth considering going back to the drawing board?

  • David – get @Frank_Strong on your committee and give him the position of PR Common Sense Holder, because clearly he gets what the issue is while you seem to be intent on continuing to ignore it.

  • I’m a PR outsider. I like your response, but I’m not sure you’ve resolved the issue. Jargon sucks. Publics is a ridiculous word. Do you mean audiences? What’s the difference?

    Open it up for contributions from scratch and at least TRY to put it in 6th grade USA TODAY non-jargon language. Even if you don’t use it- do it because it’s worth learning to be clear, and unclear statements from an org who represents communicators is a bad example.

  • FollowtheLawyer

    So essentially you’re saying PR is a Rorschach blot. Then what’s the point of this exercise?

  • So let me get this straight.

    1. You’re fine with people hating the definitions – but that speaks to the “difficulty of coming up with a single definition that describes the entirety of every role and function within the profession”? Is that what you were attempting to do? Go big or go home, as they say. You had a goal to modernize the definition – not describe every role and function. Do you really, truly think the final definitions achieved the goal? If they don’t – start over. there’s nothing wrong with that.

    2. Just because a bunch of jargoony words were crowdsourced doesn’t mean you needed to use them all in the same definition. In fact, what if you had said “no jargon allowed”? Or even had people NOT in the profession suggest definitions – and I don’t mean any old people, but people who can write? A poet, a playwright, a short story writer, a marketer, a journalist? The English language is a beautiful thing. You should know this – you’re a communicator by trade.

    3. The profession’s image is BAD. Dire straits, if you ask me. Spin is out – truth is in. This initiative might not have been about changing the image of the profession – but maybe it should have been. The new definition definitely doesn’t speak to any of those other things you mention as being important.

    4. This one makes no sense. The new definition is not modern, but that’s ok? Then what was the point of this whole exercise?

    And then there’s this. “Regardless of what you think of the final candidate definitions, you can rest easy no one is forcing you to adopt the “winning” definition. PRSA will, and if you’d like to do the same, great; if not, that’s fine too.” Wow. If that’s not a “F you” then I don’t know what is.

    This whole thing strikes me as a “not seeing the forest for the trees” situation at its finest. I think this is a HUGE opportunity to take the bull by the horns, to say OK, we didn’t get to the definition we wanted to get to, because the final definitions simply do not meet the stated goal which is to modernize the old definition of PR. So let’s go back to the drawing board. Let’s look at that definition, and figure out what’s wrong with it in the first place.

    “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.” Does “the organization” need redefining? “The publics” DEFINITELY does. What about the idea of mutual adaptation? Is that still what PR does? If not, then how has it changed?

    Whatever you do, just don’t treat your digital community like idiots. Because one day in the not so distant future you’ll turn around and none of them will be there anymore. And you’ll have no reason to exist, then, will you.

    • @maddiegrant How about the facilitation of humanizing a brand or entity through conversational mediums and traditional media outlets?

    • @maddiegrant BOOM! Awesome points, Maddie.

  • jamienotter

    WOW! I’m not a PR person, but I have some things to say.

    Definitions matter. They are powerful, and they’re hard. But the days where glorious definitions were centrally created I think are over. True, that used to be the association’s job. We gathered the experts in the smoke filled room and came out with something better than the “rank and file” could. And people listened. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way any more. “Crowd-sourcing” funneled through a task force isn’t the answer either.

    The PR community doesn’t need a single definition (from the perspective of this outsider anyway). You need a dialogue on meaning. On what matters. On what’s important. You need a really powerful conversation about why this industry and this profession should be a part of our collective future (because nobody’s spot is guaranteed). Not crowd-sourced, but decentralized, emergent, organic. Let the brilliance of your community reveal itself. Let the smart people wrestle with the conflict of a top-down-biased industry in a decentralized world. A community that separates itself from its “publics” in a mechanical way. That stuff needs attention. But enough with the task forces. Not on something important like this.

  • Fiskey

    Frank — I appreciate your interest in this project and your passion. All of us here want to further the profession to which we’ve dedicated ourselves. As I said, we’ll be judged by our performance, and not by how we define ourselves.

    We did employ the brains of some of the top leaders in our field as we wanted counsel on how it was best to synthesize 1,000 different suggestions into three definitions. The 12 organizations cooperating with PRSA on this project noted that the “standard” dictionary definitions of marketing and advertising contained the same basic elements: they [DO WHAT] with/for [WHOM] to [DO WHAT] for [WHAT PURPOSE], and we collectively agreed that those elements should be present in a modern definition of public relations. I don’t see that as prejudicial in the manner that you do. The genesis of the project did have some parameters, but every post had a comment field where individuals could (and did) suggest definitions that didn’t fit the form. And every single submission was reviewed and considered.

    I would also respectfully disagree with your assertion that we feel the definitions are sub-optimal; that’s a different interpretation of my post. My point was, whatever definitions we put forward, we are never going to make 100% of the professionals happy; that there is some criticism is no surprise. That’s the nature of the beast, and we accepted that fact as we embarked on this democratic project.

    As with any democracy, opinions vary and are many. At the end, what triumphs is the majority decision, which is exactly what we’ve done with this crowdsourcing initiative.

    I’ll gladly acknowledge some of the criticisms are coming from PRSA’s own diverse community of more than 32,000 members, which unfortunately doesn’t include you. As Gini likes to tell her critics, and I’m paraphrasing, “Thanks for your feedback. How would you like to be involved?”

  • Fiskey

    I believe Dave, like many of us who have worked on this initiative, was trying to convey that in the age of crowdsourcing and social media, we’re going to encounter criticism, and that’s a good thing. No matter what we come up with, there will never be 100% consensus. I find myself disagreeing with dictionary definitions of the most mundane of words when working with my kids on their homework. That said, it is a starting point that was conceived with democratic collaboration. We’ve invited everyone to the proverbial table. We’ve asked for input and feedback every step of the way. We’ve considered every single comment that was entered. And, what we’ve provided as the final options reflect all of that work. It’s a bit different than when our ancestors came up with dictionary definitions a few hundred years back or even how Webster’s goes about doing it still today. This has been a collaboration through and through.

    • @Fiskey So why stop collaborating now? Why not keep collaborating until the goal is reached?

  • I don’t understand. Rickey agrees that every single criticism has merit and explains how they have merit but PRSA is still continuing with this exercise despite several professionals with tons of experience telling him that the definition is the wrong way to go. This defies logic.

    Should this even be a priority initiative of the PRSA? Improving ethics seems to be the more overwhelming goal that needs to be achieved.

    If we, as public relations professionals, expect people to understand what we do and what its purpose is, a definition should not make people’s eyes glaze over and 1) not make them want to learn more and 2) make them keep the same stereotypes associated with public relations. If you had a 30-second elevator ride to explain public relations to somebody, what would you include? To me, that would result in a much better explanation of what our profession is all about.

    • Oh, and if PRSA adopts a definition that professionals don’t feel represents their view of the profession, doesn’t the PRSA run the risk of alienating the very people they are supposed to advocate for and becoming an organization that loses clout, and members?

      • @Anthony_Rodriguez Yep, losing the right to represent members of their profession… a big risk to take, IMHO. I still think they would be absolutely justified to stand by the definition they choose – if they actually took a stand and explained why they were choosing this at the risk of losing members. I could respect that a lot. But instead saying “we know you hate it, and we know it doesn’t do the job of modernizing but you can all suck it?” not entirely sure that’s the best plan of action.

    • drickey


      Hi Anthony, I think you misinterpreted my intent. My intent was to say, we expected the criticism. We also expected expressions of support, which we’ve received.

      In terms of ethics as a PRSA priority, since you mentioned it, PRSA hosted in September its annual “Ethics Awareness Month,” which seeks to inform and educate the public relations profession about ongoing issues and concerns regarding ethics. PRSA wrote a series of commentaries and blog posts, held discussions, hosted webinars and developed other events that helped public relations professionals, as well as the clients they serve and the public they interact with, better understand the evolving issues surrounding public relations ethics and how their work can meet the profession’s high ethical standards.

      The 2011 “Ethics Awareness Month” also featured a weekly Tweet chat series, the first of which PRSA and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations co-hosted. This helped expand the discussion to an international level and provide better understanding of the global nature of public relations ethics.

      The ethical use of interns was another major issue we tackled in 2011. We released a Professional Standards Advisory in February, in which we made clear our belief that it is unethical not to provide some type of compensation to interns, whether monetary or college credit.

      These efforts complemented and extended the impact of PRSA’s advocacy efforts, through which PRSA used a series of ethical transgressions on the part of the profession as teachable moments to demonstrate what constitutes ethical practice (and what doesn’t), and reinforce the importance of ethical communications practices. In fact, I’d challenge you to find another U.S. public relations organization who commented publicly on the Facebook/Burson whisper campaign, on public relations firms representing dictatorial regimes, on the use of fake news sites, or on any of the other issues that PRSA tackled last year.

  • Jhennezzey

    I believe the definition is quite simple. In short, when asked to define my role in Public Relations my answer has always been, “I aggressively engineer perception”.

  • I am one of those who said, “we did it better on my blog” a year ago — nearly exactly. I crowdsourced globally for four weeks on this definition — did an entire series on What Is PR and then attempted to conclude with a definition. Did we succeed? To an extent, we did. This exercise is practically doomed from the get go; however, it must occur (as it is) because the alternative is the archaic 80yo definition PRSA is using now.

    I just went back to the three choices PRSA is providing in the voting. Tried to copy them here so people can see them again…sorry, that didn’t work.

    With the wonderfully expansive list of key words (of which “publics” is not one of them, but “audience” is) above, why are the three choices so similar in nature? There really is no choice; these are only words repositioned.

    I’m disappointed with the choices most of all. There really could be three more distinct options based on the tag cloud list above. I do applaud this undertaking and the fact that PRSA took this process longer than just over Thanksgiving when no one really knew it was happening.

    • drickey

      @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Hi Jayme, hopefully, having attempted to do the same thing that we’re now doing, you can empathize with the difficulty of developing a single definition that everyone can agree on. And, I truly didn’t and don’t mean to be dismissive of your effort in any way, but let’s talk about your proposed definition. A few people liked it, and a few people commented but didn’t endorse it either way. I didn’t comment, so shame on me, but I personally don’t like it, and couldn’t see using it to explain to my boss what it is he’s paying me to do. (Doesn’t mean it “sucks,” though, and even if I thought that, I wouldn’t say it.)

      That’s my point. Not everyone will like our definition, just like not everyone likes yours. Doesn’t make ours right and yours wrong, or yours wrong and ours right. Just makes them different, based how you perceive what it is you do, and how the group of individuals participating in our process perceive what it is they do.

      • @drickey Thanks for responding. As said in my comment above down low, I do applaud your efforts as I went through it on a smaller scale myself.

        My outcome, whether you like it or not, was crowdsourced and an attempt to include, consider, and broaden the definition in simpler terms taking into consideration what all of us do every day.

        What I did was facilitate a process; I didn’t come up with that conclusion on my own nor would I ever assume I can be the one to define PR for the masses. In addition, my effort with many, many others prior to that post was intense, in-depth, debative, and challenging. The process had to end somewhere, and that’s where it landed.

        That’s it. Good luck.

        • AdamHarrisBerkowitz

          @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing @drickey “What I did was facilitate a process; I didn’t come up with that conclusion on my own nor would I ever assume I can be the one to define PR for the masses.” Yes, but that’s EXACTLY WHAT PRSA DID. Except with exponentially more respondents. I’m not sure, if you were a third party, you would see your objection to PRSA’s efforts and your endorsement of your nearly identical efforts to be congruent.

        • @AdamHarrisBerkowitz @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing@drickey PRSA has a far greater responsibility for getting it right (because they do represent the masses) than a handful of bloggers, however esteemed, are in developing their own opinions and publishing them on their own site. THAT is the point.

        • AdamHarrisBerkowitz

          @Frank_Strong @AdamHarrisBerkowitz @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing@drickey Oh, OK. That I get. It just seemed like @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing was criticizing the process itself, despite its being identical to her process, which seems rather odd. But, no, it appears the process was acceptable, but the result are not, if I understand correctly? In terms of the process of garnering input itself, how would it have differed in an ideal world?

          So, for instance, if you were PRSA, how would you have gone about this? If it wouldn’t have been crowdsourcing (both PRSA and Soulati’s approach), do you think the reactions of this crowd would be mitigated? Do you think others would be more inflamed?

        • @AdamHarrisBerkowitz @drickey Let’s be clear. I have never objected to PRSA’s efforts; I object to the outcome within these three definitions as a result. The process? I ask that it be taken to more levels to vet wider and further and longer.

        • @AdamHarrisBerkowitz @Frank_Strong It’s the result for me. The resources PRSA has amongst its members and global business partners provides an amazing forum for this exercise. It launched the effort the way it needed to.

          With the objection to the three final candidates to define our profession, it seems to me they should take it back to that process and refresh and refine some more.

          Will everyone be happy? No. But, can everyone be satisfied with a core definition they can tweak according to the new approach of delivering public relations? I hope so.

          Again, for the record. This is a huge undertaking; I’m not a critic of that by PRSA.

        • AdamHarrisBerkowitz

          @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing@Frank_Strong OK, got it. Thanks for the clarification. I didn’t mean the engagement to be hostile, it was just rather unclear to me.

        • @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing @AdamHarrisBerkowitz@drickey Likewise, I am highly critical of the process. Fill in the blanks is hardly a proper method for crowd sourcing. Doing something because that’s what everyone else did previously is not a strategy for modernization. The process should be conducted in multiple stages including intensive research surveys and qualitative interviews — all publicly accessible. Updates should be provided along the way to stimulate dialogue and feedback. I was releived when PRSA delayed the announcement — I thought “great, they are going to fix this the right way.” I’d expect an outcome should be debated, perhaps even hotly, but a definition should be defensible. These options are not — and they don’t even come close to the high expectations PRSA set when they announced this project — a modern definition. It’s merely a regurgitation of the old with a couple of$10 words for emphasis.

  • Hi everyone,

    Some great comments here. I’ve asked David to come back and respond, so hopefully he will soon!

    – Lisa

    • drickey

      @Lisa Gerber Sorry, Lisa. Trying to keep the Alabama legislature happy and responding in between.Thanks for your patience and understanding.

      • @drickey HI Dave, thanks so much and no need to apologize, I just wanted everyone to be aware we weren’t ignoring them. 🙂 I appreciate your taking the time.


  • AshlynBrewer

    When I graduated from college in 2010, I was excited to work in “public relations.” Now, only two years later, I almost exclusively use words like “strategic communications” and “reputation management” because those terms seem to communicate the strategic part of what we do better. PR does have an image problem — it DOES need to be redefined, or we risk losing the term all together.

    This post makes it sound you’re giving up on the vision of finding a common ground definition that gets us excited to use the term again. Don’t! Don’t lose sight of the vision because you want to stick too closely to the process. The vision was right, the process just didn’t generate the desired results. Go back to the drawing board!

  • I was asked for my post, By Jove We’ve Defined PR, by someone in this stream (via Twitter), so thought I’d come by and share it for anyone wanting to see the culmination of some really hard work by member in this community, too.

    For those who don’t want to see how this came to fruition, here’s what we, collectively (not just me) came up with:

    Public Relations helps people say the right things to the right audiences at the right time and in the right way.

    Thanks, Gini. @Anthony_Rodriguez

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  • DeborahInComms

    I’m not sure this is helpful but it is funny (at least I think so, remember I’m British) and may help to deal with Gini’s “what do I say at a cocktail party when people ask me what I do” dilemma

    By the way – I love the idea that Gini goes to cocktail parties – over here we’re so poor we just drink at home…(according to today’s Times anyway).

  • FollowtheLawyer

    In a way, this process and the resulting cacophony is itself the definition of PR. Any of the official and unofficial candidates discussed in this thread would work.

    We’re in the business of telling stories, and it’s our job to help divergent audiences find the same meaning and truth, no matter what words or methods we use to convey them.

    If we can’t settle on a single definition, perhaps that’s because it’s neither possible nor desirable.

  • PaulRobertsPAR

    RANT WARNING…okay, you want a well thought out reason why PR needs to be redefined, check in with @Frank_Strong – he says it best.

    You want alternative suggestions, they are easy to fine, here is a good place to start @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing

    There are lots of well thought out and articulate opinions about why, PR should be re-defined, what is wrong with the current process and what should be done next. This isn’t one of those. This is raw emotion from a PR guy that has been in the industry almost 20 years, has had little use for PRSA and now finds himself embarrassed by this entire process.

    There are lots and lots of PR people that don’t know this conversation is happening and there are even more that don’t care. I’m now in the don’t care category.

    I agree that PR should be redefined. I agree that redefining PR is difficult. I agreed that this is a good and noble cause. But, as of right now, I’m officially out. No matter the final outcome, I will not get behind any definition the PRSA comes up with. I don’t need it. I don’t want it and I will not accept it. You don’t speak for me. I only wish I were ever a paying member of PRSA, so I could publicly demand my money back.

    • See that’s what worries me about this process Paul: everyone’s going to check out. And then we have this ridiculous definition that season PR vets say they don’t understand. Even the UK’s CIPR has checked out – and last November, they were singing about partnering with PRSA on this redefining project ( Guess for CIPR co-adoption of the new definitions wasn’t “mutually beneficial.” **If no one adopts a definition, then by definition, it’s not a definition.** 100% consensus? Of course not. But I’d bet they don’t have a simple majority — because people took one look at those proposed definitions, rolled their eyes and checked out. I still remember reading that NY Times article when they announced this thing. I was thrilled. Thought, “Yeah, go get ’em. Finally, someone providing some credible industry leadership.” Then this…this tragic…manifestation. Good grief; what a disaster! All this effort and no better for it. There’s an opportunity here. But it’s just slipping away.

      • PaulRobertsPAR

        @Frank_Strong I hear you. Walking away from this doesn’t feel right, but until it is taken up by a different organization, I have no confidence. I’ll keep watching and am willing to be involved, but just not in the current form.

  • GalaxyKannanGtp

    When will this come to an end??? when will there a solution to this search????

    Bensie Dorien

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  • Trace_Cohen

    It’s kind of interesting that PR professionals who are supposed to be the go to for level-headedness and clarity in times of crisis like this, are the ones kind of freaking out. I’m guilty of it as well, I was the one that voted for #4. So their is definitely an added level of respect for writing such a tempered article in light of all of this.

    With that said, I’m going to look at this as if you were my client. From the looks of it you are trying to launch a new product and want us, your PR counsel, to tell the world that it’s red and shinny but in reality it’s blue and lackluster. I think we can all say this has happened at some point to our displeasure and we have all dealt with it accordingly. We can either go along with it and pitch the media or fire the client for ethical reasons because it’s not the truth. At the end of the day it’s just another announcement and there will be many more to come.

    In the case of PR, I honestly don’t think you can define it right now because it’s going through a transition with social media that puts PR professionals in the drivers seat. We are relying less on the media (only part of what we do) and engaging directly with our customers/communities in meaningful and honest discussions. The underlying issue though that you bring up in you last sentence is performance and results – something that we don’t take credit for or publicly display. We work behind the scenes mostly as we are in the bridge building business and connect our clients to the world.

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  • arthury

    @ginidietrich @Frank_Strong @maddiegrant @Anthony_Rodriguez @DannyBrown @PaulRobertsPAR @Shonali @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing We know our Public Relations Defined project has caused angst and even some indignation among communication professionals. We tried to approach the project with fresh thinking, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. But, that’s how innovation happens, and how we learn to do better in the future.

    We’ve read the articles, blog posts and comments like these, which have made it clear to us the discussion mustn’t stop with the vote on three candidate definitions that currently exist. PRSA is going to keep its Public Relations Defined blog up after the winning definition is announced, with the hope that we can continue to engage professionals, including those who’ve commented in this forum and elsewhere, in a discussion about the definition of public relations.

    Consider this your invitation and your opportunity to come up with something better. We’ll provide any and all data from the first go-round. Our minds are open. If we can collectively move closer to a consensus definition of public relations, PRSA will support it. You can read more about our plans for moving forward here:

    • @arthury

      Whoo hoo!!!! That is awesome news! Thank you!

    • @arthury @ginidietrich @Frank_Strong @maddiegrant @Anthony_Rodriguez @DannyBrown @PaulRobertsPAR @Shonali CONGRATULATIONS! I’m in. Thank you for listening.

    • @arthury @ginidietrich @Frank_Strong @maddiegrant @Anthony_Rodriguez @DannyBrown @PaulRobertsPAR @Shonali@Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing It’s certainly much much improved from saying, “Regardless of what you think…” I hope PRSA is sincere — that this is a starting point — not an endpoint. I sincerely believe that PR is in fact definable, and we can gain consensus.

    • @arthury This, THIS is why I think so highly of you and PRSA. Thank you. You rock. @ginidietrich @Frank_Strong @maddiegrant @Anthony_Rodriguez @DannyBrown @PaulRobertsPAR @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing

    • ginidietrich

      @arthury Arthur, THIS is the perfect example of the types of things we counsel clients to do. Listen, really listen, and consider additional options. Sometimes it helps with a new product or service. Other times it helps perfect the customer experience. In this case, it helps move an industry forward. Thank you.

    • PaulRobertsPAR

      @arthury @ginidietrich @Frank_Strong @maddiegrant @Anthony_Rodriguez @DannyBrown @Shonali @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing

      Thank you for the comment. I appreciate the acknowledgement that the process has been met with – let’s say – less than universal enthusiasm.

      While I want to be optimistic that this project will get back on track, I’m having a very difficult time getting beyond the line…

      “For those reasons, we’re going to move ahead with the voting, and we’re going to adopt the winning definition — at least for the time being.”

      It’s like a politician saying a tax increase is temporary. Reality is, once it’s done it’s done. Being willing to allow us to continue to discuss after the decision have been made is nice, but let me ask straight out how many people would you need to hear from to agree to start the process over from scratch? 100, 1000, 10,000?

      Seriously, if 10,000 PR / Comms people ask, what do you say about staring over without the Mad Libs restriction?

      And before you ask, no I’m not now nor have I ever been a PRSA member. And, no I didn’t supply an entry in the contest. As admit that the process isn’t without fault, I too admit that I was as involved as I could have been. For that I’m sorry.

      • @PaulRobertsPAR Personally, I’m ok with that. I think if the definition is incrementally better than before (which I know is debatable) and satisfies some of the original participants, then it’s ok to close that first loop and not just leave them all hanging. But it seems pretty clear (not just from these discussions but from the deafening silence in support of the definition) that that’s just closing the loop on step 1, which the important work might be yet to come. I think the fact that the PRSA is not just “allowing” more discussion but actively hosting it and providing all of the source materials to look at and inviting people in a different way to weigh in is the crucial, and right, decision here.

        • PaulRobertsPAR

          @maddiegrant Thanks for the reply. I do get that. Yours is a very fair way of looking at this. I’m just not convinced. I hope I’m here a few months from now saying that I was wrong and that they had the best of intentions from the get go. But, I’m not there yet. If I’m proven wrong, I’ll be the first to admit and I’ll be thrilled to be wrong.

      • arthury

         @PaulRobertsPAR I’m not sure we’ve thought that far in advance, but would it be fair to say that it should take more than just the number of folks in this forum? Also, is it more important to have the “right” people endorse it, or have a larger number endorse it? And, just what does that endorsement look like?
        Should we go back to the professional organizations with it? To PRSA’s Chapters, as some have suggested? I think we’d like the group’s opinions on those issues, and maybe we kick off the next phase of this project by making some foundational assumptions. Remember, our intent all along was never to dictate, but to facilitate, and that’s what we’ll be doing moving forward.

        • PaulRobertsPAR

           @arthury All good questions and probably questions that should be answers before finalizing a vote on the three finalists. Where you and I will probably disagree (which is okay) is the involvement of the PRSA Chapters. You probably should have some interest in their opinions and I’m more interested in the large group of PR folks that are not members, but are long-time PR pros. Maybe that is for selfish reasons as I’m in that group. 
          I’d err on the side of having a large over the ‘right’ people in part because I don’t know why you consider to be the ‘right’ people.
          Just so there isn’t any doubt. Let me know what I can do to help. I’m all in.

        • arthury

           @PaulRobertsPAR Paul, we’re going to complete the process we began, as Dave Rickey noted in his blog post on PRSAY (I believe you commented there, as well). As he noted, though, we no longer view this as the end of the discussion, but as a chance to move forward from it. If we can arrive at a better definition through the continued work of individuals such as yourself, and a broad majority coalesces around that definition, then PRSA will support it.
          BTW, we don’t disagree at all on the involvement of public realtions folks from all walks of the profession, which should and will include PRSA members. That was the whole point of crowdsourcing in the first place. I will say, though, your comment about “long-time PR pros” made me laugh. Some folks who were cricical of our initial effort accused us of involving too many “long-time” PR pros, and not enough new pros. As you and I discussed via Twitter, #youjustcan’tmakeeveryonehappy.

        • arthury

           @PaulRobertsPAR By the way, I’m on vacation out of the country next week, just so you know that I’ve not bailed on the discussion. I’m sure my colleage, Keith Trivitt, will be picking up where I’ve left off. If I’m not back in a week, though, don’t come looking for me … : )

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  • Hello Spinsucks: It looks like they took down my post. I’m trying it again with no mention of Dave Rickey. The important point is that PR people should be interviewing critics like David Carr, Andrew Cohen and Gene Weingarten instead of talking among themselves. Those three writers have millions of people in their audience.
    This discussion of the meaning of PR excludes any input by reporters. None was sought. There’s no doubt many in the press are angry at PR. We have covered PR 43 years via our website, newsletter and magazine and have never seen such a gulf between PR people and the press. Instead of trying to define PR, PR groups should be meeting with severe critics of it in the press. David Carr of the NYT has just said (Jan. 29, 2012) that he is fed up with “slop” delivered to him by PR “underlings.” CBS-TV on-air editor Andrew Cohen said in 2008 that PR having an ethics code is like a group of burglars having a code against stealing. He said what PR people do is trying to “turn milk cows into race horses and turkeys into eagles. Gene Weingarten, columnist for the Washington Post, in 2007 called PR people “pathetic dillweeds.” Annoyed at the mountains of e-mail, releases and phone calls he gets from PR people, he tried calling some of them up and asking questions. All he got was juniors who couldn’t answer anything. (Use second & month for the user name and password to access). PR people, besides angering reporters, are the least trusted people in any company or institutions. They are the corporate “snitches” ready to pounce on anyone who says a negative word about the employer. At major companies and institutions, their every word on the phone or in e-mails is monitored by lawyers. Corporate “PR” has all but disappeared and almost totally resides in the agencies these days which talk to reporters. Check out this gag policy by Viacom: The PR Society and the Rockefeller Foundation paid $150,000 for research that conducted live interviews with 2,000 Americans. Published in 1999 after five years of work (including two years on the interviews), the study found “PR specialist” to rank 43rd in visibility on a list of 45 sources. The Society did nothing about this finding except to try to hide it and forget it. It never printed the table in the monthly Tactics nor anywhere. Only when PR groups and PR individuals face the above facts and actually talk to reporters will something be done about the image of PR. Rickey points out that only 15% of Society district, chapter and section leaders use “PR” as part of their titles. Only six of the 50 largest U.S. PR firms as tracked by use “PR” in their titles. Less than five of the 150 blue chip corporate “communications” executives in (PR) Seminar use “PR” in their titles. This 65-year-old group of communications heads at big companies itself dropped “PR” from its title three years ago. There are ten books about PR with “Spin” in the titles. Who is going to put the PR Humpty Dumpty together again? Actions by PR people, including contact with critics such as Carr, Cohen and Weingarten would be a start. –Jack O’Dwyer

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