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All things related to effective Hispanic marketing, Hispanic advertising and Hispanic public relations.

Monday, March 05, 2012

New definition of public relations a missed opportunity

Last week, the Public Relations Society of America revealed its official, new definition of public relations after initiating a public input and public voting process.  The end result (receiving 46% of the vote) was the following definition:

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

While I’m not writing to expressly criticize PRSA as an organization or the definition process, I do think the industry organization missed a huge opportunity.   
First, while certainly a marked improvement over its 1982 definition, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other,” the new definition is not much different than the one in the book Cutlip and Center's Effective Public Relations (which is used as a study guide for attaining APR) that I’ve seen since becoming a member 12 years ago.  That definition is that public relations is, “the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success and failure depends.”
I had concerns with that definition, which brings me to my second point: the new definition is still not in layman’s terms and full of jargon, which is something we as an industry advise our clients to avoid in their communication.  Not that we define an industry just by what others outside the industry think, but it sure would be nice to finally and clearly explain to my family what I do.
Third, we often complain that senior management doesn’t take us seriously enough or doesn’t give us a seat at the decision-making table.  The Society, to its credit, has responded though the inclusion of public relations courses with some MBA programs.  But, it’s curious to me that the words, “management function” from Cutlip’s definition (or anything remotely close to that) are missing.  Just saying “strategic communication” doesn’t cut it in my estimation or help the profession get a seat at the decision-making table.
Fourth, what I believe is still difficult about public relations (and thus a reason it’s difficult often to justify or have C-level people understands its true value) is measuring it.  Yes, there are some tactical ways to do this for sure.  But, I do feel that this opportunity we had define the profession would have been more fruitful has we put forth something that is more tangible and thus more measurable.
Instead, we are left with a definition that seems to be little more than a copy edited version of the Cutlip definition.  I think that’s part of the reason the definition and the Society have been criticized.  Like me, many of us were encouraged and excited at the fact our industry was finally going to be properly and modernly defined.  That excitement has waned with the release of something we’ve pretty much already seen and still doesn’t say much. 
Surely, whatever the Society came up with was going to receive some level of criticism but I would have rather it been on the fact that we were being to bold or too revolutionary.

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