PR Defined Again: View from the Valley

Published on December 02, 2011

In a recent blog post, LEWIS PR's Lucy Allen posed the question, "How do you define PR?" A good friend of mine, who himself is a PR professional-turned-journalist, once told me that a family member defined PR as “the art of saying ‘no comment’ in 500 words or more.”We laughed, but at the core of that statement is an issue that every PR person has had to deal with. It is the fact that there is a clear lack of understanding in society about what we do. And somehow it has led to a negative perception of the role. PR ‘flacks” mislead or ‘spin’ the story, thereby selling worthless products to hapless audiences. With the added image of three-martini lunches and flirty, blonde-filled media networking parties, it is no wonder that well-meaning friends of mine have admiringly compared my job to that of a millionaire matchmaker, or a clever and charming used car salesman. Like every PR person I know, I have struggled at times to be confident of my own value to society. After all, I am not curing cancer, or developing an alternative energy source that will save our environment. But here’s what I see… We live in a society that is overwhelmed with information. Ever increasing amounts of data abound; a Google search for “environmentally friendly car,” for example, returns about 21,900,000 results in 0.16 seconds. According to IDC, last year (2010) the amount of digital information created in the world exceeded a Zettabyte  for the first time. That’s a trillion gigabytes. I didn’t know there was a word for that. Every second of the day, we are struggling to process, sort and prioritize information. But in just the same way that the internet has Google to help filter and prioritize information, PR people help constituencies see through the mountains of data to the benefits that they seek. We help build communities around themes, connecting like-minded people with the ideas and issues they support. We help companies see beyond their own hype, and communicate the real value of their offerings to the people who need it the most. And here in Silicon Valley, we often help little known companies bring their ideas and values to the broader world. It might be a cooler, slicker widget for mass consumption, sure. But it might be that alternative energy source I mentioned before. The one that frees us from our dependency on fossil fuels… I can get excited about both. PR people get a deep understanding of products, issues and benefits, and then filter that information, distil it, and direct it to the appropriate audience in a way that they can absorb. And because we are connectors, we will reach out in whatever way you prefer – be it newspaper articles, blogs, Facebook, email, TV news, Twitter, forums, YouTube – the starting points and ending points of those connections will continue to evolve, as far as we PR professionals can imagine and explore. Our industry is constantly expanding and changing, and so are we. In its PR Defined initiative, the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) is inviting our industry to update the definition of PR. We are defining ourselves – how lucky are we? By my definition: PR is a communications gateway connecting relevant ideas, issues, companies, products and people across geographies and cultures. We will create content, share content, repurpose content, suggest content, analyze content, argue with content – whatever it takes to get your attention. We will frame that content into a story that matters to you. We will help you connect to something. What better role to have in the world?

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