Public Relations Defined

By Matter

Earlier this year, I blogged about who public relations professionals are, the many different roles we fill and my ongoing challenge to explain to family and friends what I actually day in and day out. It seems my relatives, though, aren’t the only ones struggling to understand the definition and purpose of public relations.

You may have heard by now that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) recently launched an initiative to “modernize the definition of public relations and increase its value.” The initiative, aptly named ‘Public Relations Defined,’ aims to re-define public relations with input from those of us in the industry.

As it turns out, PRSA last formally updated its definition of public relations in 1982. More recently, a new definition was proposed but never officially adopted:

Public Relations is the professional discipline that ethically fosters mutually beneficial relationships among social entities.


Pretty vague, if you ask me.

I’m not sure the heart and soul of PR has changed dramatically over the years, but the ways we communicate and execute successful campaigns sure have evolved. And with ever-changing technology, social media and the 24-hour news cycle, that evolution is continuing at a rapid pace. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites not only provide new ways to communicate with reporters, consumers and other audiences and stakeholders, but their effective use is nearly required. Video news releases are in; faxed press releases are out. Public relations is now mobile, social, visual. It’s out of the box.

So, how do we incorporate all that public relations is and all that we do as public relations professionals into one clear and concise definition? Will the industry come up with a definition that will finally help us answer that nagging question about what do for a living? (Please, before I head home for the holidays and face the masses would be great!) Last week, PRSA released a “snapshot” of what the Public Relations Defined initiative has gathered so far. You can find the list of top words generated from the submissions here. Front-runners include, “organization,” “public,” “communication” and “relationships.”

What would you add? How do you define public relations? If you want to contribute your two cents to PRSA, today is the last day to submit ideas at Otherwise, stay tuned to the PRSA website next week, when the draft definitions will be published and voting begins.