What is Public Relations? PRSA Defines the Practice and Profession

PR job meme

When I told my parents I wanted to pursue a degree from the Mayborn School of Journalism, they worried I was choosing a career as a poor or unemployed writer. But when I told my parents that my future career would be in public relations, they blankly stared back at me because they had no idea what work PR practitioners do.

The “What People Think I Do – PR Consultant” meme demonstrates the confusion people have about the public relations profession.

As I discussed in a previous post, the PR industry has struggled with removing the stigma against the profession. Part of the problem was the definition for the industry. Assigned in 1982, the official definition according to the Public Relations Society of America read:

“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

In the past 10 years, PRSA tried twice unsuccessfully to change the definition. After a PR Defined campaign that PRSA started in November and concluded with a public vote in early 2012, the official definition of public relations reads:

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

With the rise of corporate media in today’s highly technological world, brand journalism is an increasingly popular term used to describe a major part of what PR practitioners do today: “corporate storytelling through compelling and relevant content.” The term isn’t popular with everyone and widely accepted though. Tom Foremski, creator and full-time journalist blogger of Silicon Valley Watcher, poses this potential introduction as an example of why he thinks the term is ridiculous:

“Hi, I’m a journalist from the Wall Street Journal.” vs. “Hi, I’m a journalist from Hugo Boss.”

Whether or not brand journalism is an inflated term describing public relations, PR Daily contributor Dorothy Crenshaw points out that the term’s practice is not contentious. She offers some guidelines for all communicators to be better storytellers:

  • Storytelling for the long haul – build the brand with high-quality content instead of things that result in only a “quick hit.”
  • Quality content from credibility from expertise – using legitimate and relevant experts results in credibility, which is an indispensible quality of quality content.
  • Show and tell, heavy on the show – to quote Nike, “Just Do It.”
  • Highly polished doesn’t equal high quality – jargon and a lack of sincerity are hallmarks of bad storytelling.
  • We Want YOU, inspired into action – this is what truly compelling and well targeted content does.

PR Newswire joined the conversation during the 2012 PRSA International Conference in October 2012 and posed this question to its Twitter and Facebook followers: “How do YOU define modern PR?” Using the hash tag #PRis, the newswire service company received a lot of insight from the responses it received and compiled 100 of those responses in a fun infographic.

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