Definition of PR Summit Notes (Sept. 30, 2011 Meeting)
Definition of Public Relations Summit
New York, NY
Participating Organizations Participants
AMEC David Rockland
Arthur W. Page Society Julia Hood
Canadian PR Society Dan Tisch
Global Alliance Dan Tisch
Hispanic PR Association David Henry
Institute for Public Relations Frank Ovaitt
International Assoc. of Business Communicators George McGrath
National Assoc. of Govt. Communicators Laura Kirkpatrick
National Black PR Society Deborah Hyman
Public Relations Society of America Rosanna Fiske, Bill Murray, Arthur Yann,
John Elsasser, Keith Trivitt
Public Relations Student Society of America Nick Lucido
PRSA Public Relations Defined Task Force Dave Rickey, Deb Silverman, Sarah Siewert
Word of Mouth Marketing Association Adam Lavelle
The participants engaged in a very animated, energetic and diverse discussion about how to
accurately define the Public Relations profession. There was consensus, however, that a better
definition was not only advantageous to the profession, but necessary.
One participant stressed the need to include non-practitioners in our method, particularly senior
executives — CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, etc. — in organizations. That way we can create a more
Another participant wanted to be certain we were not abandoning the words “public relations” in
our re-defining effort.
The following question was posed: Are the words themselves really the problem or just the lack
of understanding them?
There was a robust conversation about the specific phrase “mutually beneficial,” which is found
in most global definitions of PR, including PRSA’s 1982 definition. Some participants thought
the phrase was old fashioned and tired. Others felt the words still convey an important element
of what practitioners work hard to achieve.
There was an agreement that past definitions were more about goals than reality of the practice.
WOMMA stressed that word-of-mouth happens naturally. This is different from many other
aspects of PR. It moves the discussion from personal interaction to technical interaction.
What is PR to WOMMA? Primarily media relations; exposes the difference between the things
we would say (one-way) v.s the way we should dialogue (two-way).
One participant offered a guiding principle for defining process: the statement of the functions
must acknowledge relationships with various audiences. Need to define those audiences.
In reviewing of other organizational definitions, there are consistent elements:
In our effort, we need to:
• Explain how we drive business success.
• Talk about protecting/promoting the brand. Definition should include a brand statement
as part of the effort. How does it hit the bottom line? Reputation can be nebulous.
One participant recommended the following elements of existing definitions should be kept:
• Mutually beneficial or advocacy element
• Two-way communication
• Long-term relationship
• Management function
Another participant disagreed with retaining management function in definition, saying we all
want PR to be a management function but that’s aspirational, not reality. Suggested stepped-up
efforts to advance PR outside of PR.
One participant urged inclusion of the term “research-based management function.”
Page Society is in midst of efforts to redefine corporate communication function, keeping in
mind a pertinent quote from Abe Lincoln: “Character is the tree; reputation is the shadow.”
Question raised about meaning of public affairs? Where does that fit in the definition as
government workers cannot use public relations — must be affairs or information.
Led to group consensus that we will never get to a definition that applies to all communication/pr
activities. Is there a shared hierarchy/belief of how different functions work together?
The group agreed that we need to stake a claim with “relationships:”
• We are the experts at making relationships happen
• Subset of worth of mouth -- the art of recommending
• Expose the intent (this is the tough part)
• “Relationship” is the secret sauce for what we do.
A broad umbrella approach is necessary.
Using Wikipedia entries as a guide, suggestion was made to develop a “simple”
definition followed by explanatory bullets.
The initial sentence must deal with business purpose. Use “communicate” as the verb.
Message must be unfiltered.
Wikipedia definition of “Advertising” — a form of communication used to persuade an
audience (viewers, readers or listeners) to take some action with
Tests of a definition:
• Definition: Enables people to understand
• Differentiation: what makes it special
• Demonstration: what value is being provided
• Aspiration: for what purpose?
PR (educates/ interacts/ informs) (people/audiences/constituents) for the
(benefit/success) of organization value…..(to what end.)
Defining “To what end” is going to be the challenge
Sample sentence structure:
Just a starting point:
(shape public opinion/something better)
(achieve an organization’s objectives/provide value
to an organization.)
These word choices will provide the basis for a global crowd-sourcing exercise opening October
15. Participants can provide input for two weeks. After that, the Task Force will craft three
distinct definitions that will be accessible for voting by the profession at large. Global
participants can vote for (not edit) any of the three. The selection with the most votes will be
announced Dec. 1.