This past February, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) set out to redefine the archaic definition previously assigned to public relations. After internal and public voting, the definition changed from, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other,” to “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
The original definition, originally adapted in 1982, failed to incorporate the communications aspect of PR. The hybrid definition that now stands takes into communication, as well as the relationship building that’s key to what PR practitioners do. As naïve as I am to the world of public relations, I believe the latter definition accurately portrays the world of PR I’m becoming familiar with. However, not everyone is as satisfied.
In “What PR Companies Are Doing Wrong,” Haydn Shaughnessy says he doesn’t believe firms are creating mutually beneficial relationships at all. He goes on to explain how most companies don’t seem to care about the relationship they have with their customers and those customers don’t seem to care either.
Although it may seem that companies are merely selling something a customer wants/needs, I think it goes beyond that. We have incredible amounts of choices when we shop for products and services and with that comes the freedom to move between companies. Companies must be careful with how they continue building that relationship or else they could get dumped quicker than prom date the night before the dance.
I believe it’s the duty of PR practitioners to act as the unbiased therapist between the two parties. PR specialists can speak to companies about what they can do to make customers happy. Then they tell customers what the companies are doing to repair or strengthen the relationship. Once this is done, and both parties are satisfied, it becomes mutually beneficial.
So for now, I think the new definition does a good job of targeting the core of what PR aims to do. Undoubtedly, the roles and tasks are changing, but it all comes down to relationship building that benefits both businesses and their publics. That hasn’t changed.