The formal practice of what is now commonly referred to as “public relations” dates to the early 20th century. In the relatively brief period leading up to today, public relations has been defined in many different ways, the definition often evolving alongside public relations’ changing roles and technological advances.
The earliest definitions emphasized press agentry and publicity, while more modern definitions incorporate the concepts of “engagement” and “relationship building.” The PRSA National Assembly adopted the following definition in 1982: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”
As the disciplines of marketing, technology and public relations continue to evolve, so do the definition and role of public relations professionals. Today’s communicators are responsible for developing strategies and implementing integrated tactics across a wide variety of platforms to create differentiated positioning and align business objectives to further amplify the organization’s message.
Over 2011 and 2012, PRSA conducted a member-engagement process to confirm or update the definition. Following nearly a year of research, and a public vote, the Society’s choice for a modern definition of PR was finalized:
At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across a myriad of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.
As a management function, public relations also encompasses the following:
- Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organization.
- Counseling management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization’s social or citizenship responsibilities.
- Protecting the reputation of an organization.
- Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims. These may include marketing; financial; fund raising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs.
- Planning and implementing the organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy.
- Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities — in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.
- Overseeing the creation of content to drive customer engagement and generate leads.
Below are some of the disciplines within PR:
- Brand Journalism/Content Creation
- Corporate Communications
- Crisis Communications
- Executive Communications
- Internal Communications
- Marketing Communications
- Media Relations
- Reputation Management
- Social Media
PRSA remains committed to helping its members stay ahead of industry trends through thought leadership, career-enhancing initiatives and providing networking opportunities. PRSA also has several special interest Sections for PR communicators who have a specific area of interest.