For the past thirty years, public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other was the definition that businessmen and nonprofit executives developed their PR needs around. Old school public relations practitioners and a large segment of the public have long viewed PR as media relations or community relations, and nothing more.
But isn't the maintenance of stakeholder relationships something much bigger? I'm glad you asked. The PRSA, the United States' largest public relations organization and PR opinion leader, along with their thousands of members, set out to redefine public relations to just what it means in the 21st century. The new definition, voted on by members and approved by the board in early 2012, is that public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. Yes, public relations is much more than media relations and community relations.
As I've buzzed around my office and my circle of non-PR friends, many have given me the "so what" response. "What does that mean?" Here's what the new definition tells us, both public relations practitioners as well as business enterprises and nonprofit organizations, about PR:
- PR is a management function that should be directed by a public relations practitioner. How can executives manage PR when they don't know PR? As a management function, PR directors have a seat at the director's table and are a part of the executive team.
- PR is a strategy, not just pumping out press releases and giving statements to the media. Campaigns include research, planning, implementation, and evaluation.
- PR is a process...ie, it is continual, it is ongoing, and it involves steps and evolution. It is not, however, a tool to pull out of your bag once in a while and otherwise forget.
- PR is an ongoing proactive process of relationship building, not an occasional reactive process only used in a crisis.
- PR develops mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. Relationships are long-term, not transactional short-term. If we [effectively] show loyalty to our audiences, they'll react appropriately. Can't have one without the other.
- PR serves their publics. That's right, plural. Public relations efforts serve an organization's public-at-large as well as narrowing down to serve specific segments of the public. PR should focus on relationships and engagement, and that connection is successfully made when communications and strategies recognize audience specifics. This is done by narrowing your focus on particular segments.
- PR is a cohesive concern within an organization, not a separate concern. While public relations practitoners and their offices create and execute PR strategies and campaigns, every member of an organization plays a role in stakeholder relationships. Good customer service and professionalism are more than common courtesy.
- PR is a credible means of communication, especially in comparison to advertising. (Check out this article for a little more insight).
- PR utilizes all media, from traditional media (ie newspapers, television, radio, etc) and new media (social media, blogs, websites, cell technology, etc). PR efforts should include multiple channels of communication with publics rather than just one. (In other words, this is my hint to saying that Facebook is no longer optional...).
- PR should be a priority in your organization. Hire knowledgeable staff, afford them time and energy, and give their strategies needed priority.
So what does this mean for your organization? Ask yourself a few questions...how do you manage your organization's relationships with the public? Do you have a PR strategy in place? How do you view PR? Start there, and make changes accordingly.
I say this quite often to every client and colleague, and I write it quite often here...because it's so true: today's actions determine tomorrow's successes and failures. Simple as that. Spend some time today to focus on and build a relationship with your stakeholders that will payoff tomorrow and in the years to come. Need some help? BOLD PR is standing by...email us your dilemma today.