Nailing jelly to the wall

Posted By Steve | February 16, 2012 | 11 Comments

What’s the definition of public relations?

Wait . . . don’t answer. You don’t have to. Because the Public Relations Society of America is coming up with the definitive definition of public relations. And they are serious about it. Serious enough to create a “Task Force,” to study the problem. Which is pretty damned serious.

If you’re a little serious about something, you put together a work team. If you’re really serious, you form a committee. Only if you’re super, duper serious, do you convene a Task Force. And that’s just what PRSA did.

Someone had to come up with a definition for PR, I guess, because there does seem to be a lot of confusion about what public relations is supposed to do, or be. Especially in the age of social media.

I’m sure it hasn’t been an easy task. When PRSA is done with it, maybe they can solve an argument my wife and I always have, and come up with a definitive definition for “foreplay.” We seem to be miles apart on that one.

Anyway, here’s the story:

For the past two months, PRSA’s “Definition of Public Relations Task Force,” or DPRTF, has reviewed more than 1000 submissions, looking for the perfect definition of PR. DPRTF (pronounced: DEPERTFER) has narrowed it down to three choices that you can vote on.

Those three choices are:

* Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.

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

* Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.

Whoa!! Them’s a whole lot of fancy words!! Of course, that’s what happens any time you assign a “Task Force” to study something. You almost always end up with more words than you need.

But if you read each definition closely, they all pretty much say the same thing, don’t they? It seems as if the goal of the Task Force (I wonder if they had badges and windbreakers and other cool stuff like that) was to use as many words as possible to say as little as possible.

To that end, why bother voting on which one is the best? When they’re all this bad, it’s like voting in the Republican primary.

Why not just save everyone the time and trouble, and combine all three of them, since they all say the same thing? That would give you a whole bunch of words that say nothing!

In fact, I’ll save the DPRTF some work, and do it for them.

From now on, the official definition of PR will be:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process of engagement that manages the function of researching, communicating and collaboration between organizations and publics to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.”

There you have it. Now you can stop worrying about the definition of PR and just get that damn press release out. The client wanted it an hour ago.

And as for the Task Force, if you could turn your attention to defining “foreplay” as soon as possible (like, by tonight, maybe???) I would greatly appreciate it.

I’m sure you can even use some of the same words you used for the definition of PR: mutually beneficial, collaboration, mutual understanding, achieve, process . . . those would all seem to fit.

I think.


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Comments (11)

AmyMarch 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

The defininition of public relations is like the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity: we know it when we see it.

PressurePRAfricaFebruary 21, 2012 at 3:17 am

Interesting take. It really is like voting in the Republican primary. All rather confusing. Not so confusing in Africa though, we just dictate what definitions are and impose them. #noteam work there. However, it's very difficult to define PR these day coz there are various channels of communications that influence when and how the message is published i.e. Twitter, Facebook, linkedIn etc.


GerryFebruary 20, 2012 at 7:13 am


I see your point about "publics," but should a lay person, even an intelligent, educated one, HAVE to spend time trying to figure it out? I say "no." If I was a chemical engineer, I probably would have no idea what it meant. I might assume it meant myriad audiences, or various demographics (the public). That what I thought, and I'm usually pretty good with this stuff. Frankly, I would prefer two or three terms such as stakeholders, etc., that are clear.

Public relations definition has a PR problem « PR ExplorerFebruary 17, 2012 at 2:44 pm

[...] PRSA’s #PRdefined: please don’t redefine failure - Frank Strong, Sword and the Script Nailing Jelly to the Wall – Steve Crescenzo, Corporate Hallucinations, and via Ragan Does It Matter if the PRSA [...]

Robert J HollandFebruary 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Yes, but I think a reasonably intelligent person can figure out what "publics" means. I can't come up with a more efficient word to describe the groups, stakeholders, constituencies (and all those other insufficient words) that we deal with.

Steve CrescenzoFebruary 17, 2012 at 8:46 am

Gerry: GREAT point. I think that's my main problem with this whole exercise, and you voiced it better than I did. It's Inside Baseball, internal navel gazing. This definition ONLY makes sense to other PR people!!! And if we don't know what the hell we're doing, we're in big trouble.

Steve C.

GerryFebruary 17, 2012 at 8:43 am

I think a smart communicator takes the attitude that if a reasonably intelligent person doesn't understand what you're saying, then you need to try again.
The only reason any of us even come close to getting this is that we're communicators and we've heard the jargon before (and unfortunately, we've used the jargon before). What about the rest of the world? Have they even heard anyone say "publics" with an S? I haven't. The rest of the world are the ones PRSA should be trying to sell. So will they try again?

Steve CrescenzoFebruary 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm

I think this article is going to run on ragan.com later today . . . it'll be interesting to see what kind of discussion springs up.

Steve C.

Robert J HollandFebruary 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Oh! So foreplay is when she says, "Hey Steve... Come light this candle."

We communicators get too ingrained in the bad habits of the people we support instead of tapping into what we know to be right and true in terms of communication. That's what I like about what you do, Steve. You help us take a step back and remember what we're all about.

There's a discussion on this same topic going on over at That Other Website and I offered up a definition of PR that might be a bit more simple: PR is all about creating and maintaining relationships with an organization's publics in support of the organization's goals.

Steve CrescenzoFebruary 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

No, see Robert . . . that's the problem. That's MY definition of foreplay. I think hers involves candles, but I'm not sure.

And you're right about the profession. We do seem to have a hard time defining ourselves, which leads to the bigger problem of not getting enough respect, which leads to the bigger problem of not being part of the leadership team, which leads to the bigger problem of . . . well, you get the picture.

Steve C.

Robert J HollandFebruary 16, 2012 at 2:13 pm

It amazes me what a poor job professional communicators do of communicating about ourselves. Neither PRSA nor IABC seems to be able to do a decent job of PR about the PR profession.

However, I can define foreplay for you, Steve. It's when Cindy says, "Hey Steve..."


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