PRSA unveils campaign to redefine public relations

The Public Relations Society of America’s ambitious program aims to update the 1983 1982 definition of PR.

Here’s the current definition of public relations, according to the Public Relations Society of America:

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

Quaint, isn’t it?

It’s from 1982, before some working PR professionals were even born. That year Ronald Reagan was the president, E.T. was the top film at the box office, and the world knew of only two “Star Wars” movies.

The PRSA has attempted to update the definition twice in the past 10 years to no avail. Today, it takes another stab. The organization unveiled “Public Relations Defined” on Monday, a new effort to modernize the definition by seeking input from the industry professionals as well as the public.

Here’s the deal: Visit the new blog PRSA has created for the effort and complete a submission form that asks you to fill out a handful of words: “Public relations (does what) with or for (whom) to (do what) for (what purpose).” The submissions become part of a word cloud.

The deadline to submit is Friday, Dec. 2.

Attendees of the Sept. 30 “Definition of Public Relations Summit,” which included PRSA and 10 other industry organizations, will review the submissions on Dec. 5 and, based on the submissions, determine three definitions.

The Sept. 30 summit was the impetus for this campaign.

From Dec. 6 through Dec. 15, the finalists will be displayed on, where votes can be cast. The plan is to unveil a winner by the beginning of 2012.

Determining a definition of an industry that covers so much ground—from traditional media relations to social media and more—is like trying to get a cat into a bathtub, that is, it’s no easy task.

So, why take on such an ambitious project now?

In a blog post published today, the PRSA explains:

“Recent discussions, blog posts, tweets and mainstream articles have suggested that (1) public relations professionals (and, thus, the audiences we serve) continue to struggle with the question: ‘What is PR?’; (2) many industry professionals are unhappy with the current definitions; and (3) no one definition is considered ‘the’ de facto industry definition.”

In a story about “Public Relations Defined” in The New York Times on Sunday, Rosanna Fiske, the chairwoman and chief executive of PRSA, said the process is one they know is overdue.

“We felt we could no longer let it go,” she told the Times‘ Stuart Elliott. “My parents, for the longest time, have been trying to figure out what I do for a living.”

Can you relate?


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