PRSA announces the final definition of ‘public relations’

After months of deliberating and a public vote, this is the definition of public relations. What do you think?


The Public Relations Society of America’s campaign to determine an updated definition of “public relations” is over. Following a public vote last month, the winner is:

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

The public vote, which took place from Feb. 13 to Feb. 26, drew 1,447 votes. The winning definition received 671 votes (46.4 percent of the total ballots cast). It squared off against two other contenders, which were:

  • Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.

In a blog post on the PRSA website, the organization’s chair and CEO Gerard Corbett said:

“Simple and straightforward, this definition focuses on the basic concept of public relations—as a communication process, one that is strategic in nature and emphasizing ‘mutually beneficial relationships.’ ‘Process’ is preferable to ‘management function,’ which can evoke ideas of control and top-down, one-way communications. ‘Relationships’ relates to public relations’ role in helping to bring together organizations and individuals with their key stakeholders. ‘Publics’ is preferable to ‘stakeholders,’ as the former relates to the very ‘public’ nature of public relations, whereas'”stakeholders’ has connotations of publicly-traded companies.”

The PR Defined campaign, as it was called, kicked off in November, when PRSA asked the public to submit definitions. The organization took the public’s input and, along with its 12 partner organizations, started cobbling it down to three candidate definitions. The campaign hit two delays, sparking stiff criticism from a number of people in the industry.

Certainly, the final definition will have its share of critics, and PRSA said this is the beginning, not the end of the debate. The organization plans to keep the PR Defined blog open to allow discussion. To that end, Corbett told The New York Times: “Like beauty, the definition of ‘public relations’ is in the eye of the beholder.”

The new definition is an update of the 1982 definition, which referred to the industry as: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

Is the new definition an improvement? What do you think of the new definition? Weigh in.

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