I wanted to share an interesting blog from today’s Daily Fix on MarketingProfs contributed by David Reich of Reich Communications. In light of the changes in the role of today’s marketing professionals, the PRSA has been struggling to update the formal definition of Public Relations. They solicited input from their membership and 625 responses were distilled into three definitions. Reich sees flaws in all of them, and so do I. You would think that professionals who deal with branding and brand communications for a living would be able to find a better way to define their own profession, but then this definition has become more challenging because the rules dictating PR have changed.
I, personally, have been struggling with how to label my evolving role in the marketing and communications process. People ask me, “What do you do?” and I reply, “I’m in public relations.” What image does that conjure up? If you are old school (like me) you think of the characters from Mad Men, schmoozing reporters over cocktails and trying to get stories printed about your clients. Although that perception is antiquated, I know it’s still out there.
Others who have worked with PR people that our job has to do with helping our clients refine their market message, package it, and get the word out to people who need to hear it. It used to be that our primary job wasn’t really public relations, but rather media relations. Sure, the clients needed help refining their story, identifying what might be newsworthy, and then creating materials like press releases to tell the story, but if I wasn’t working the phone and pumping the story with reporters and the trade editors I clearly wasn’t doing my job. Clients wanted press coverage, period, and that meant getting in front of the media influencers.
These days, the “public” is back in public relations. Sure a lot of my job still consists of a calling on editors and dealing with the media to promote client news, but now that the Web serves as a self-service news bureau, so it’s equally important to format brand messages to reach consumers and target customers directly. I spend more of my time feeding blogs and developing SEO strategies than I do pitching editors.
So how does this all translate into the latest definitions of “public relations” as refined by the PRSA? Here are the three definitions that are currently up for consideration:
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.
Like Reich, I am not really crazy about any of these definitions. The problem with opening these types of initiatives to public vote is you try to create by committee, and the end result is usually a compromise at best and not a definitive statement of purpose or intent. My issues with these definitions is they are too broad, and tend to have buzzwords and catchphrases which are rapidly becoming meaningless. The word “stakeholders” is overused and is starting to lose its core meaning. I also am not sure I understand how to interpret “key publics” or “strategic goals.”
Reich notes that PR pundit Jack O’Dwyer commented that none of these definitions don’t take into account vertical specialties, such as health care, technology PR, and the like. I agree, and I also note that these definitions fail to capture the broader role of today’s PR professional. These days I find myself doing customer relations, SEO consulting, market research, and general marketing support as well as what could be considered traditional PR work.
Perhaps the greatest challenge we all face is that the communications market is changing rapidly, and with it our role in that market. The rules and the tools have changed. I recently cleaned out my office and I found boxes of dusty print labels for press release mailings. It dawned on me that I hadn’t done a press release mailing in over a decade and would probably never have to do one again. And although I continue to work with editors and analysts, I also know that reaching customers directly is now even more important than influencing the influencers. My role continues to change with the needs of my clients, and trying to define what PR really people do on a day-to-day basis is becoming more like holding smoke in your hands.