Gordon Young's Draft Leader: Why even the PR profession has asked...what is PR?

Gordon Young, editor of The Drum, offers his insight and opinion on various matters relating to media and marketing.

I don’t want to bore readers by talking about how exciting these current times are. However, last week I came across more compelling evidence that underlined just how fundamental the changes sweeping the modern marketing business are.

In the US the Public Relations Society of America are engaged in an angst-ridden initiative to define what is now meant by PR.

Not so long ago such a process would have provoked ridicule. The profession was clearly centred on media relations, but also offered public affairs, internal comms and event management.

But thanks to the rise of social media and digital marketing the definition is no longer as straightforward according to the PRSA. And in fairness, many clients are more interested in winning the support of the blogosphere, for example, than the attention of a newspaper news desk.

To assist them in their ‘defining PR’ mission, they engaged in social media best practice and sought the wisdom of the crowd. They have now come up with three options for a new definition of their profession, which are currently being voted on by members.

Definition 1:

Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communication and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results.

Definition 2:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains beneficial relationships between organisations and their key publics.

Definition 3

Public relations is the engagement between organisation and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realise strategic goals.

Perhaps the biggest insight these definitions offer is the fact that you if you changed the words ‘public relations’ for the likes of advertising, design, digital marketing – or almost any communication discipline – they would still work.

The USP public relations once had was media relations. However, it seems to be acknowledging that this point of difference has faded. It provides stark evidence that the convenient silos in which our marketing services disciplines once operated have been ruptured and the labels used to describe them are no longer relevant.

Perhaps the marketing services sector as a whole should initiative a similar redefining exercise, to at least agree a new name that sums up what they collectively do. I have a suggestion. How about ‘public relations’?

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Gordon Young

I helped found The Drum 25 years ago.

All by Gordon