So, what do you do then? Defining PR

A man standing on a plinth with a question mark on his head, the sun shining through a cloud behind himThere’s an interesting exercise going on at the moment to modernise the definition of Public Relations. Defining PR isn’t a recent quest – Rex Harlow famously found 472 definitions made between 1900 and 1976.

Headed up by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and utilising crowdsourcing and social media, #PRdefined is a global collaboration between the PRSA and 11 peer organisations – including the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

Launching the initiative, Rosanna M. Fiske , PRSA chair and CEO, said: “As recognition of the profession’s value has grown in recent years, it has become increasingly important that we find a universal definition befitting the scope and modern role of public relations.”

PR professionals were invited to submit ideas online for a new definition, by answering: Public relations [DOES WHAT] with/for [WHOM] to [DO WHAT] for [WHAT PURPOSE.] These ideas were fed into three draft definitions (taken from the PRSA website):

Definition No. 1: Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results.

Definition No. 2: Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their key publics.

Definition No. 3: Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realize strategic goals.

The consultation on these draft ideas is open until 23 January, before three final definitions are put out to vote. You can comment here  and join in on Twitter using the #prdefined hashtag.

PR Week editor Danny Rogers has commented: “Finding a new definition of PR matters because the tens of thousands employed within this well-established industry need to more clearly and consistently explain what they do – and the value they add.”

Yet blanket acceptance is not assured. CIPR CEO, Jane Wilson, has said: “PR Professionals themselves have widely diverging opinions on the nature of public relations. It might be the case that a one-size-fits-all definition is very difficult to reach, but the process of trying will be very instructive.”

The debate looks set to continue.

Photo: Question Mark by Marco Belluci via Flickr



  1. It is my personal view that a definition will never be agreed on by all PR practitioners, however, key words to define the industry can; such as communication, reputation and engagement.

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