Do Public Relations Professionals Even Know What PR Is?

Do Public Relations Professionals Even Know What PR Is?


By: Beth Harte

I was originally going to write a post about a business owner who has recently written two blog posts in the New York Times about what is wrong with PR (You know who I am referring to. If not, click through the some of the links included in this post to find out. I do not want to give him anymore “publicity”).

I promised Kellye Crane that I would write a post about what’s wrong with said person’s ideas of PR, but then I read a post by Heidi Cohen, 31 Public Relations Definitions, and was once again reminded that there is a larger issue within our industry.

It is not the first time we will be having this conversation, nor will it be the last. Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson discussed the issue of defining PR in regards to the relationship between PR marketing back in January 2010. (If you haven’t listened to this podcast, I promise it will be worth your time. Included in the debate is Shel Holtz, Neville Hobson, Valeria MaltoniBill SledzikDeirdre BreakenridgeMitch Joel and me.)

What The Heck Is PR?

31 DefinitionsReally! 31.

Does anyone else see anything wrong with that?

Heidi asked me to send her my definition of PR, but didn’t exactly say how it would be used (now I know why!). Trying to be a diligent PR professional, I did what I always do—I referred to my collection of PR textbooks that I have accumulated throughout the years to see how they had defined PR within their pages. I also referred to the books my students are currently using this semester for our “Issues in PR” class (does anyone else see the irony?).

Here’s what I shared:

“Public relations is a management function that establishes and maintains two-way, mutual relationships and communications between an organization and the publics and stakeholders (i.e. those who have a stake, such as employees, shareholders, etc.) that often determine their success or failure. PR management includes on-going research, analysis, planning, and evaluation in order to understand, develop and nurture strategic relationships. Areas of PR specialization include Investor Relations, Lobbying, Public Affairs (Government & Community), Publicity & Media/Blogger Relations, Employee Relations, International Relations and Crisis Management. Often, PR and Publicity are used synonymously, which leads to a misunderstanding of the field of PR.”

Since this definition was culled from PR textbooks, does it make it the most correct or does it make it the least correct given that theory and reality aren’t always the same? Is it okay to provide a definition of PR based on one’s own opinion and experience?

PR is Publicity, Right?

When I read the 31 definitions, I did a mental check for each: PR or Publicity. It seemed that the publicity checks added up rather quickly. Are we caught up publicity spin? If so, why have we allowed it to happen? Is it because it is what our employers and clients want? Is there less perceived value in establishing and maintaining mutual relationships and on-going research and planning?

A Call to Arms

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to take back public relations. If we do not, there will be an on-going misperception of what “real” public relations  is as a management function and more people will have a legitimate reason to ask “what is wrong with PR?”

If we can’t answer that question among ourselves, who will answer it for us? I am not so sure I am willing to accept that answer.


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