Philip Sheldrake

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PRSA, defining PR

[Originally written for the CIPR Friday Roundup.]

"Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."

And so concludes the PRSA's Public Relations Defined (#prdefined) initiative. Launched 30th October last year, the initiative has garnered considerable interest, both positive and negative.

On the positive front, I have seen considerable interest from practitioners, predominantly but not exclusively in the US as one might expect given the PRSA's geographic domain, grappling with the question of how to define what they do for a living with sincerity. No bad thing, particularly when some practitioners' perspective turns out to be, well, a little far off the mark. Read more

Why the meaning of PR shouldn’t be left to circumstance

This post specifically responds to a post by Eric Bryant, Director of Gnosis Arts, "an experience-driven public relations firm focusing on tech, social media & nonprofit PR" in the US. In the post, Eric addresses the PRSA's Defining PR initiative (see my last two blog posts) and asserts that the definition of anything is simply a function of how the term is used.

He writes:

"We chose this definition because we think it expresses what is both essential to public relations practice, as well as what distinguishes it from other management functions. Our definition also takes into account what most PRs do, most of the time, in carrying out their job duties."

And his company's definition is:

"Public relations is the practice of producing publicity (excluding promotional materials and paid advertising, which typically fall under the purview of Marketing); managing media relations and communications (typically among members of the Fourth Estate); and managing reputation."

First up, let me thank Eric for tweet-alerting me to his post. I particularly appreciate his diligent explanation of the definition, too often omitted by the more slapdash.

His firm's definition melds two 'what's and one 'why', reputation, justifying it on the basis of Wittgenstein's notion of "meaning as use" (ie, definitions are lent simply by the way a word or phrase is commonly used). While Wittgenstein's approach to language has its advocates, I'm not entirely clear it's helpful here, for two reasons.

Read more

Public Relations Defined – the anatomy of a candidate definition, ver 0.2

PRSA PR Defined

[Written for the CIPR Friday Roundup]

Following the momentum the PRSA's #prdefined initiative is achieving, and the CIPR's statement of support, I thought I'd take a deeper dive into current definitions, and throw one in the mix myself.

I reproduced the section of my book that addresses the definitions of marketing and PR in my last post, and since then I've been able to have some insightful conversations, on- and off-line, with Jay O'Connor, Jon White, David Phillips and Terry Flynn.

Is it worth it?

There has been some valid criticism of the PRSA initiative pivoting around the question: shouldn't we invest time and energy in improving practice to live up to current definitions than review those definitions we already have? The counter to this argument is apparent for those tracking the thousands of comments on line; it appears that more than a few practitioners indirectly criticised by those holding this point of view are actually questioning their own appreciation of public relations, if not actively revising it.

CIPR definition

PR is the discipline that looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.

My favourite definition, no word of a lie! I obviously love the reference to influence, but also the apparently unique and skilful avoidance (intended or otherwise) of communication, thereby emphasising the objective not the means. But when 'reality is perception', as is increasingly the case with the radical transparency lent by social media, reputation is built by everything an organisation does (or indeed does not do), not just what the PR team does; every one must be involved in "looking after" reputation. Read more