PRSA’s three PR definitions are full of ‘marketing lingo’

Corporate jargon mars the choices PRSA has offered to define the industry, according to this PR agency owner. What do you think?


Right before the holidays, PRSA embarked on a new initiative: redefining public relations.

An admirable undertaking and one that surely was not to please everyone, they made an impressive decision to have the definition crowdsourced.

There were, of course, some flaws in how you could submit your definition. In an effort, I would guess, to make everything uniform and make it easier for them to get through all of the responses (nearly 1,000 of them).

Last week they announced the final three definitions and voting is open for you to participate.

I have lots of friends at PRSA so I hope they don’t take offense to this, but the definitions suck.

They are:

  1. Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.
  2. Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
  3. Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.

I’m a communication professional and I have no idea what any of these mean. They all are full of corporate, marketing lingo bingo.

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you what you do. You say PR. They say, “Oh! You know, I never understood PR. What is it?”

And you say, drumroll please, “Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.”

Say what?

Last week you read about the difference between PR and advertising. In the comments, Maddie Grant and I are still debating the difference. It’s an important conversation (even if you don’t agree with me).

It’s not quite a heated debate, but it certainly lends itself to the bigger conversation about the definition of PR.

Maybe it’s the difference between working for a large corporation (where Maddie got her early career experience) and a global PR firm (where I got mine). I never did much media relations, or publicity, when I worked for agencies. Now that I have my own, we rarely do any. And, if we do, it’s part of a larger marketing program.

But the point is not PR is not publicity (though it’s not—I’m not letting it go!), the point is that we’re communication professionals. Why is it so darn hard to describe what we do?

You can vote on one of the three definitions. Voting closes on February 26.

Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. A version of this article originally ran on Spin Sucks.

Topics: PR

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