We’ve Defined PR, By Jove!

It was inevitable this journey in frustration and innovation (or innovative frustration) had to culminate somehow. After 15 (?) blog posts in this series where I, supported by you = we, try to earn consensus on defining public relations, it’s time to close phase one of this discussion with the grand finale about What Is PR, or What PR Is (whichever way you’d like to read that).

Now, mind you, we’ve reached a semblance of consensus and that is “no one can agree on a single definition of PR.” And, the sweat equity invested in this exercise by moi and many others has been fierce. I think I lost weight.

In one of the most recent posts in this series,  I tried to take it to a different level…down to fifth-grade understanding. In that article, I included a collection of simplified definitions by Beth Harte (please hire her for her next position); Erica Allison, Heidi Siefkas, Shakirah Dawud, Gini Dietrich, and me.

That blog garnered a high number of comments from the likes of PR credibles including Patty Swisher, John Falchetto, Danielle Kelly, Davina Brewer, JGoldsborough, and nearly all of those folks quoted in the original article.

While no one settled on a singular definition (and the very long one I tried to cull from about 50 different definitions went down in flames as jargon), I tossed out two very simple definitions without much thought:

1. Public relations (uses technology to) creates relationships with everyone, everywhere.

(This one was preferred by Gini Dietrich yet some took an opposing view to “technology” because we can do PR with a simple handshake or posted letter.)

2. Public Relations helps people say the right things to the right audiences at the right time.

This second attempt was made to truly simplify the definition of PR for any audience imaginable; it was acknowledged by Danielle Kelly who is a Canadian practitioner also known as a reputation fiend!

Why I’m bringing up this last simple definition again is this:

Today, many in the PR community gathered over at Waxing Unlyrical, Shonali Burke’s blog, to share disbelief about a young’un in the PR profession who took measurement to task by comparison to ad value equivalency. Shonali wrote a rebuttal to that poor, un-knowing PR newbie that appeared in PR Daily today.

(Please stay with me, I’m getting to the punch line…)

At the bottom of Shonali’s rebuttal in PR Daily she writes: “All of these are examples of impact that can be measured; impact that can be quantified; impact that tells you you’re telling the right story, to the right people, at the right time, and in the right way.”

Let me show you the punch line if you missed it:

I defined public relations on March 28, 2011 as:

Public Relations helps people say the right things to the right audiences at the right time.

Shonali Burke defined PR impact as:

…telling the right story, to the right people, at the right time, and in the right way.

I think we need only to adopt one more “right” from Shonali and make it all alright — please excuse my shouting from the rooftops:

PUBLIC RELATIONS HELPS PEOPLE SAY THE RIGHT THINGS TO THE RIGHT AUDIENCES AT THE RIGHT TIME AND IN THE RIGHT WAY.

By jove, I think we’ve got it…!…?

 

 

 

 

14 comments
Leon Noone
Leon Noone

G'Day Jayme, 
I've worked in and around HR for nearly 50 years. In that time, Personnel and Training has become Human Resource Management, Induction has become  Onboarding, Onjob Training has become Skill Development  etc. etc. etc.

  I know little or nothing about PR other than it's only a few letters away from HR. I also know that once any profession starts playing The Definition and Clarify your Terms game It's only a matter of time before they forget what's important to clients.

What's important to clients is that they understand what you're talking about in their terms. And that you deliver at least what you promise and preferably more. This applies whether you're in HR,PR,IR,Accounting or even marketing.......whatever that is.

And if Gini hadn't posted a comment  on this ancient post, I wouldn't have noticed. We're really up to date Down Unda!

But we have lots of fun.
Regards
Leon

T. Shakirah Dawud
T. Shakirah Dawud

Well from the outside looking in, I can see where that extra "right" clause brought home the depth without narrowing the breadth of the public relations mission, which is a broad one from all that I've read so far. Well done, Shonali and Jayme, this was stimulating and educational for me. In other words, who's ready for phase two? ;)

Jenn Whinnem
Jenn Whinnem

Hear, hear, Jayme! So much better than talking about "publics." (No offense meant to PRSA friends, honestly).

You know what? We're a community of wordsmiths, that's our problem. We can't help but approach this sort of thing with our tweezers and scalpels even when it means we're cutting off our own ability to communicate.

Well, I for one am putting down my little instruments of dissection and saying yes, this works quite well!

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

So, I clearly missed out on all the convo that was taking place while you guys were figuring this out. My bad.

I do like the "storytelling" thing, and it's an analogy I've started using frequently. But what I think we lack as an industry is being able to boil that down into two or three words. We can't say things like "I'm a plumber," or "I'm a carpenter." I suppose we could say "I'm a storyteller" but then people would wonder what stories, where, are we authors, are we shamans... you know what I mean?

A tag line I've started using is "turning communication conundrums into community cool." That's still a bit of a mouthful and I don't think it would do for every situation, but it works sometimes, because it's alliterative and evocative (IMHO). It also makes people laugh. Which is very important.

But this is the problem. If we stick to the academic vernacular, as Davina mentions, it's boring and possibly confusing. If we try to get cute, it doesn't convey the full breadth of what we do.

Sigh...

davinabrewer
davinabrewer

I use "right" all the time to describe audiences and pitches, stories and campaigns, strategies and tactics, going after the fish with the 'right' bait, in the 'right' waters, etc. It's straight-forward and without jargon, which I like. A lot. Yet it lacks 'business', it lacks 'communications', and it fails to qualify what 'right' is and the one word "TO" makes it too PUSH, PUSH which is wrong IMO. At times I fall back on using some of the more academic vernacular which you have in other posts and THEN using smart, relatable wording like this to help explain, to help qualify what that really means.

For example, when you and the equally wise Shonali say "people" you mean businesses and organizations and yes, individuals. I agree with 'say the right things' but IMHO PR is also about helping businesses NOT say the wrong things with effective writing, communications as well as saying smart things. When you say "audiences" you are referring to publics critical to an organization, including but not limited to employees, investors, vendors, customers, and yes the media. I'd of course change the "TO" to "WITH" as PR is about communication in more than one direction. When you say "right time" you're talking research and planning, the "right way" is about strategic channels, tools and tactics. IDK Jayme, it's all right there in that definition but I just gotta pick my two pennies share of nits FWIW.

Soulati
Soulati

I can tell you're a slave driver. What should phase two be? Hint: The International PR Justice League...coming soon to a theater near you.

Soulati
Soulati

Yeah! What a journey...glad I got to know you along the way!

Soulati
Soulati

Happy to have a YES vote, Jenn. Phase One is officially closed. Thanks for your sideline support.

Soulati
Soulati

That's why when I read your re-re-re buttal today in PR Daily and it was exactly the definition I tossed out w/ no jargon and nothing but simplicity, it popped as THE sound bite. We can add the Beth Harte definition about creating authentic relationships, but I still wonder truly whether "authentic" bears fruit in this day and age.

So, each of us needs to tweak as we interact with peeps, but everyone can understand the "right timing, right words with the right people in the right way."

Soulati
Soulati

I sorta had to end this thing somewhere knowing the only consensus I had was no consensus at all, so...it's up to each of us to define as we will and uphold our cred in the process. Thanks for being part of the conversation, Davina.

davinabrewer
davinabrewer

Agree on ending it, defining it as best we can. And a big bold WORD to upholding our credibility and professionalism in the process! I so applaud your efforts and work in this really, certainly a case of leading by great example. :-)

Soulati
Soulati

THANK YOU! Very much...

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