The Public Relations Society of America recently released the modern definition of public relations (PR) as:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
A simple and to the point statement, the definition compacts an in-depth meaning about what PR really is and why it’s important. We’ve taken the definition and broken it down to really delve into the specific parts and how they shape this definition.
“Strategic communication process”
Let’s start with “strategic” or strategy – a plan of action designed to achieve a vision. No matter the task in PR, the question should always be “is it strategic?” A communication piece or tactic in and of itself is not the strategy. For example, a client or internal audience tells you they want a feature article in a lifestyle magazine touting a very industry-specific new product. A strategic approach considers first the overall vision of promoting the new product. This includes considering the target audience and in this case, you can more directly achieve the vision by focusing your actions toward trade publications that reach a more targeted, action-oriented audience. That’s a strategic move.
Then we move to the “communication process” part of this first phrase. It’s not as simple as just getting your message out there. PRSA recommends four steps: research, planning, implementation and evaluation. Each step allows for the development and implementation of key messages, tools and tactics that are specific to each objective and target audience, geared toward the end goal, and over all, measurable.
“Builds mutually beneficial relationships”
The true foundation of public relations is in building relationships, but the new definition takes this a step further in promising PR efforts to build relationships that benefit both the organization and its publics. The benefit to the organization is the resulting response, action or new loyalty from its publics, and the benefit to the publics is the product or service received from the organization. PRSA takes its code of ethics seriously and insists its members and accredited professionals do the same. If the relationship isn’t mutually beneficial (just going through the motions) then the strategic efforts should be reconsidered.
Also known as stakeholders, stockholders, target audiences or supporters, “publics” refers to any and all people or groups receiving information from the organization. These “publics” are essential because the way they receive and perceive information shapes the way they embrace, actively support, deny or protest the organization.
The general public is often mistaken as a catch-all public. Often, communication tools are chosen based on what the organization feels comfortable with or wants to try rather than communicating through channels that reach their audience. For example, if your public relations campaign focuses on adults over age 60 and you are disseminating information via social media, your “publics” will likely not receive the information. Furthermore, if they do receive the message, they may perceive that you are trying to reach a younger demographic and therefore not embrace or support your efforts because they’ll mistakenly perceive the call-to-action isn’t applicable to them.
Despite the changing tools, trends and how people consume information, this new, modern definition of PR remains true to the foundation of communicating and effectively disseminating information.