How Do You Define PR?

Lucy Allen
Published on November 30, 2011
By Lucy Allen

Holiday season is upon us and, with it comes the extended family get-together. For many PR professionals, that means answering the question: ‘So what exactly is it you do again?’ After more than a 100 years, the PR industry is still not widely understood. In fact, even those in the industry aren’t agreed on a single definition. PR Defined is an initiative led by the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) to update the definition of PR. Interestingly, the process itself is a reflection of the way PR has changed. Instead of assigning the task of creating a definition to a small group, PR Defined is a public collaborative process in which opinions are being solicited from anyone who cares to contribute. Brands today go through a similar process to define their own messages. Their starting point is usually a listening tool to identify what people are saying about their brand and what is resonating. Search data is also a powerful means of understanding what people in your target audience really care about. And any message that’s developed has to live and breathe in the public domain, which inevitably means it is continually adapting and evolving. But this is where reality and aspiration diverge. Messages, like definitions, can’t live in a permanent state of flux. The whole point of organized communications is that people are aligned – frequency and consistency across many voices is a vital element of being heard. How do we achieve this consistency and impact when the dialog around us is changing every minute? This careful balancing act is what defines PR now. A PR professional’s core talent is being able to understand (through intuition and research) what is relevant and top-of-mind and adapt his message accordingly, while staying true to the core values he is trying to communicate. In practice, this means being responsive to breaking news; delivering content that your target market cares about that day; using video and graphics because your audience responds better to visual content than to text; and creating material that entertains as well as informs because the alternative is to be ignored. The reason PR people exist is not to spin the facts or twist the truth. Rather, our job is to help companies communicate in a way that will actually resonate with their community in any given moment. So, I put forward this simple definition: PR is the art and science of effective communication. But, like all good PR pros, I will adapt my definition for around the family dinner table. On that occasion, I will probably just revert to the only explanation that seems to work: “Oh, it’s a bit like advertising only different.” If only it were that simple. So, what's your definition of PR? Tell us here or submit your suggestion this week at the PR Defined site.

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