The PRSA has just made an announcement responding to the recent flap over their attempts to redefine the term “public relations” – and it’s a brave and good choice.
First, they explain the situation, including giving background information about the process they went through to collect definitions.
“But now that the three final candidate definitions have been put to a vote, they are creating angst, indignation and even a bit of outrage in some quarters of the profession. To be honest, we had a feeling this would happen. Why?
Because our profession is extremely diverse in terms of job titles and responsibilities, organizational settings and approaches. While everyone wants the definition to reflect what it is they do, or to accomplish what it is they want it to accomplish (from elevator speech to cocktail party explanation), that’s just not possible. This is why our goal was to create a definition that expresses the things that bind us all — regardless of the tactics we use, or how or where we use them.
We also set out to craft a definition that would be based upon the profession’s own input. We easily could have ignored the data in search of more lyrical definitions, but then what would have been the point of crowd sourcing, or of choosing not to dictate to others what we thought the definition should be? We believe wholeheartedly that the definitions we’ve put forward accurately reflect the way in which the public relations professionals who participated in this process described what it is they do for a living.”
Then they set out their path forward:
Looking past the rhetoric and reaction, what’s become clear to us is that the process should not stop here. For that reason, PRSA is going to keep the Public Relations Defined blog up after the winning definition is announced.
We’re going to publish the quantitative and qualitative data, including the comments, suggestions and other feedback received outside the submission form, and during the public comment period. With our partners’ permission, we’ll publish the summit notes and the emails they sent with their feedback on the process and the definitions. If you have questions about the data, or the process, or what we were intending to achieve through this process, we’ll answer them.
We’ll also publish and promote guest posts from anyone who has something to say on the subject, from those who have conducted their own research to those who have process suggestions to those who simply feel they have a better definition to offer.
In our perfect vision for this blog, it will become a virtual water cooler, where we can continue to engage professionals on the definition of public relations; it will attract broad interest from individuals from across the spectrum, including traditionalists and non-traditionalists, academics and professionals, agency and corporate, profit and non-profit, domestic and international, critics and supporters alike; and it will advance public relations in a spirit of professional respect, cooperation and empathy.
This is your invitation and your opportunity to come up with something better. Our minds are open. If, through the Public Relations Defined blog, we move closer to a consensus definition of public relations, PRSA will support it.
I think this is perfect. This situation was never about scrapping all the hard work that’s already been done. It was never about going back to the drawing board completely – it was always about pushing forward, given the fact that there seemed to be consensus not on what PR is, but at least on what it’s not (namely the final definitions). And it’s ok not to know if there will EVER be some perfect definition of public relations. Not least because the issue may be bigger than just PR! But this will give more and more people the chance to weigh in and have their say, and feel included, and talk through the true issue. Which is, as Jamie Notter said in his comment on Spins Sucks’ original post:
“You need a dialogue on meaning. On what matters. On what’s important. You need a really powerful conversation about why this industry and this profession should be a part of our collective future (because nobody’s spot is guaranteed). Not crowd-sourced, but decentralized, emergent, organic. Let the brilliance of your community reveal itself. Let the smart people wrestle with the conflict of a top-down-biased industry in a decentralized world. A community that separates itself from its “publics” in a mechanical way. That stuff needs attention.”
Thank you, PRSA, for listening, and thank you for staying through the hard places.