Defining PR Mash Up

I’ve been exploring how to define public relations in the last several weeks. The discourse leading to this is all on the blog, and I’m not the only one grappling with the crisis of identity in our profession. Others have been down this path already (Canada, Australia and some in Europe); however, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue the discussion and find some peace knowing this grassroots effort will create the ‘raderie we need to fight the bashing our profession continues to receive. While it may be an exercise in futility, it’s so top of mind to me; I cannot leave this alone until I give it the college try. Join me?

Here are the columns leading to this one: Proposing a Plan to Define PR and Who Is PR (in which I try to credit everyone on the radar for helping further thought). To get this post off to a solid start, I spoke last night with Heidi Cohen, author of “31 Public Relations Definitions” as well as “Where Does PR Fit In Your Company?” She gave me permission to use her highly popular blog post (31 flavors of PR) and grab the key words from each definition and position them into a chart.

No credit beyond the link to her blog is being given to anyone for these words (I did that already in Who is PR, link above), and many of the wordings were repetitive from one definition to the next (in Heidi’s  post). In addition, What Is PR? on this blog provided a host of definitions from my colleagues that I’ve also incorporated into this exercise.

As promised, this is a mash up.

In attempting to strategize the best approach, I think we should tackle in phases. I took all the action words to describe what we do and added to a column. This amounted to four pages down a column. Next I tried to consolidate; however, that didn’t make the list too much shorter! How we define PR is exactly what Heidi presented…there are hundreds of definitions!

Here’s the list with my first cut to shorten repetition. Perhaps you can identify the verbiage you think best explains the action orientation of public relations…do you think a number ranking is the best approach to whittle down? Perhaps your top five listed in comments?

  • Communicating messages
  • Building good relationships, image
  • Measuring value
  • Measure impact of services and tie to strategic business results
  • Align communications strategy with business goals
  • Develop strategies that engage audiences
  • Effecting desired behavior; effect positive change
  • Planned process to influence public opinion
  • Builds visibility and creates favorable impressions
  • Mastering human connections; making a heartfelt connection
  • Manage, facilitate relationships
  • Championing “joined up” approach with marketing, digital, traditional PR and social media
  • Obtaining favorable publicity
  • Influences and shapes company image, reputation, brand perception and culture
  • Art and science of talking to the right audience in the right voice.
  • Crafts an organization’s message(s)
  • Build communities, engage and discuss
  • Give voice to worthy projects
  • Promoting and fostering positive awareness
  • Create, distribute, disseminate messages/communications
  • Increase positive exposure
  • Understand, develop and nurture strategic relationships
  • Influencing public opinion through communications
  • Managing communication. Creating content, networking and engagement
  • Achieve common objectives: credibility, thought leadership and influence.
  • Managing and shaping public perception
  • Building mutual understanding and maintaining reputation
  • Strategic discipline integrated with marketing to achieve business goals
  • Complements integrated marketing with measurable results
  • Helps companies create and build their brands
  • Defining and communicating a company’s narrative
  • Build communities, engage and discuss, and give voice to worthy projects
  • Leveraging communications strategies to establish a market position
  • Intersection of content, social technologies and marketing focused multichannel messages that make a difference, as well as generate a profit in ways that matter to customers.
  • Provide clarity and insight

I’ll provide my top five after y’all and add them to comments once someone gets a moment to review. We’ll noodle on this through Friday (tomorrow) and then try to hone it to a shorter list. If you have suggestions for a different way to tackle this, I’m all ears! Thank you in advance!


Mark W. Schaefer
Mark W. Schaefer

a) Heidi Cohen rocks
b) love the new look and feel of the site
c) amazed PR is still trying to define itself. This was the same conversation that was going on in 1980 when I tool my first PR class. I don't follow the field as closely as I used to or belong to PRSA or anything but is this debate still going on? Fascinating.
d) I am so glad you go into blogging. You have come a long way in a short period of time. Glad to see the two of "gowing up" together : )

Good job. Very interesting series.

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

I like all the ingredients of the list. When I look at this, though, I wonder what will mean the most to someone who is completely outside the discipline. How would I explain this to an 8-year-old, etc? I feel like "managing public perception" comes close to summing it up although of course for the 8 year old I'd say "I help people understand what my company and what we do." Am I finally getting this right, Jayme?

Danielle Kelly
Danielle Kelly

A highly comprehensive list, indeed! I like how these action oriented phrases demonstrate the diversity of industries that PR serves.
Though PR part of the marketing mix (and indeed sometimes marketing departments), I personally like to see a division between those two crafts, if possible. I feel that ultimately we serve the businesses and through communication and its vehicles, help them work towards their goals and achieve success. I admire the process that is taking place on Jayme's blog, I have no doubt it is not an easy task to undertake. I know it has been references in comments (and past posts), but the Wiki, is helpful as well.

Kailas Simha
Kailas Simha

My 2 cents and preferences here:

1. Mastering human connections; making a heartfelt connection
2. Strategic discipline integrated with marketing to achieve business goals
3. Re-aligning intra-company processes and strategy towards common community objectives/goals
4. Managing and shaping public perception
5. Influences and shapes company image, reputation, brand perception and culture

Rachel Minihan
Rachel Minihan

For me, it's hard to pick, because some are tasks and some are missions/directions. Does that make sense?

I lean towards more of the mission/direction type in terms of coming up with a definition. So, mine are broad-based to encompass all (well, most) of the above.

Reputation: Building, Review, Response
Messaging: Across Mediums
Relationship: Building & Nurturing

I realize this wasn't exactly what you wanted, but I had a hard time choosing, because all could really be part of PR. Hope it's helpful anyhow! Keep up the great work!

Kathie Manchester
Kathie Manchester

Lot's of good ones here so its hard...
I think first and foremost (at least for my industry) Building good relationships, image
Increase positive exposure
Managing and shaping public perception
Mastering human connections; making a heartfelt connection
Manage, facilitate relationships
Those all kind of go together and can actually be put into a new or one heading

Build communities, engage and discuss, and give voice to worthy projects

Effecting desired behavior; effect positive change

Create, distribute, disseminate messages/communications

Align communications strategy with business goals

That first category is all about building relationships which is the most important thing I do as part of this job!

As I said not an easy list! And we are not selling or marketing its more of a be in the public's awareness and stream of consciousness. I can't tell you how many comments we get that , wow your posts remind me I need to donate.

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Thanks for coming by, Mark! Appreciate it very much. You're right; it's so odd this discussion is still top of mind. I think most of us would rather be done with it, but there's a lot of work to do and with social media permitting rants against the profession at such negative levels, I want to try and set the record straight. Can't wait to see you soon!


You're absolutely catching on, Jenn. You've surmised this exercise well; however, before the 8yo, I'd like to ensure the profession gets it. Very pie in the sky of me, but I need to see this through. As Heidi Cohen mentioned to me, spaghetti PR, throw it all the wall and see what sticks. Thanks.


I've not gone to the Wiki and will do so. I, too, like to discern our two disciplines. Social media has pushed us more and more into a blend; everyone is confused about who's doing what, who owns what and who's accountable. Simply, a mash up. Thanks, Danielle.


Thanks for adding here! Will be fascinating to see whether we can agree on any one five rankings. Appreciate your help to get us there, Kailas!

Taqiyyah Shakirah D
Taqiyyah Shakirah D

Rachel, I think of PR in that way, as well: more mission/direction--including strategy and relationship-building and -maintaining--than specific tasks. The tasks are executed under these broad missions, and I think many of those individual tasks, taken alone, would fall under marketing and advertising.


Actually, this is exactly the help the discussion needs, Rachel. Thank you. Broad is good; everyone tailors to their perspective and situation.


Excellent, Kathie. Great insight here and pleased to have it for the discussion. Am hoping to get a few more thoughts and then we can see how we shake out. (Not quite sure yet!)

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

I was thinking - perhaps we have the internal and then the external definitions. I agree with you on making the profession gets it. Am enjoying reading your posts & all the comments!


Shakirah, you are so right. We can get tactical quickly and that's where the confusion lies. My exercise was to address the action verbs oriented to what we do and then everyone can add the tactics and how they do it on their own. Make sense? I sure hope so!