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Public Relations in the Modern Age: What is it?

Back in November 2011, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) launched an initiative called “Public Relations Defined,”which aimed to come up with a more up-to-date definition for the term Public Relations. The main idea behind the initiative was to take into account the evolution of the profession in the digital space, with the impact of the Internet, blogging and social media.

So, after a lengthy process of discussions and input from some of the top leaders and academics in the field, in March 2012 the PRSA announced the following new definition:

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

Additionally, to explain its meaning the PRSA website addeda more detailed description of the profession as a management function.

To me, the whole point of this exercise wasn’t just to develop a new definition for the PR practitioners, but more importantly to come up with a clear definition of the functions within the practice for the general public. However, five years later, any PR practitioner can tell you that many people nowadays still don’t understand what PR is really about.

The Common Misconceptions

Collectively, most people only learn about PR from what they see or read in the news. Just by hearing about the Tylenol crisis, the BP Oil disaster, the Nestlé vs Greenpeace campaign and even theDomino’s YouTube scandal, people tend to perceive PR professionals as those they call to “put out fires” and cover up corporate blunders.

As a result, the general perception of corporate PR practitioners is that they are “dishonest spin doctors, who can’t be trusted.” On this subject, Dan Tisch, chairman of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, was quoted in the New York Times stating:

“PR has had an image problem. One reason,” he added “is that only roughly 10 percent or fewer (PR practitioners) are actually members of professional associations, subject to standards of practice and codes of ethics.”

Additionally, many of the common misunderstandings about PR are due in part to the inaccurate depictions of the profession in movies and TV.  From Samantha Jones in Sex in the City and Jessie Bowers in Arrested Development to Don Draper in Mad Men, representations like these give people the wrong idea of what a PR professional really is.

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To make matters worse, the advent of today’s digital media technology makes it easy for any unqualified individual to claim to be a professional in certain fields. And the public relations profession is not an exception. From party/event planners and mommy bloggers to wardrobe specialists and image consultants, the market is full of “experts” cropping up everywhere claiming to be PR professionals.

In actual fact, besides an education in communications, the sheer complexity of the public relations practice requires its practitioners to be well-rounded in the fields of sociology, economics, management, business law and psychology just to name a few. Taking all this into account, there is no wonder why there are so many unqualified PR practitioners out there, who are giving the profession a black eye.

OK, So What Is PR Anyway?

As mentioned above, essentially, public relations is an exclusive management function that uses strategic communication to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships, between companies and their publics. What’s more, this management function involves helping organizations adjust to their environment (not the other way around). In short, your company needs to “Walk the talk.” The message(s) you are sending have to be supported with actions.

But the list of PR activities doesn’t end there, companies can benefit from other PR functions like internal communications, public affairs image-making and especially, anticipating and responding to issues that may arise. But how is this done? And where do you start?

If you are determined to take your business to the next level, contact us at getmoxe.com and let’s develop the right PR strategy for your company.