A sort-of-unified definition of public relations — without a single mention of ‘marketing’

When I took my first PR class in ’74 — one of only two offered at my alma mater then — I didn’t know a damn thing about the field. By the end of Week #1, I’d had memorized Cutlip & Center’s definition — one that’s as relevant today as it was then. More on that later.

Search the literature and you find about 500 definitions for the term “public relations,” which may explain why this field is so misunderstood. Ironic, isn’t it? The very people charged with shaping the organization’s reputation can’t project a unified picture of themselves.

It’s a problem all PR professionals wrestle with. When asked at a cocktail party what you do for a living, how do you respond? Too often I resort to examples of PR activities, since most of our definitions are so abstract. The concept of “building and maintaining relationships” is tough to articulate (depending on how long I’ve been at the cocktail party).

The fact that we debate the differences between “PR” and “marketing” (used interchangeably by far too many bloggers who should know better) shows just how misunderstood PR has become.

Below are six definitions introduced over the past 40 years. I’ve tried to update this list a few times, but new definitions tend to repeat the older ones. As I’ve said in previous posts, the tools of public relations have changed radically in the past 25 years, the business not so much.

Foundation for Public Relations Research & Education (1975)
Public relations is a distinctive management function which (sic) helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and sound and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.

Try delivering that one after your third martini! It’s more positioning statement than definition, boldly asserting PR’s place at management’s table — something not all that common in 1975. The definition also emphasizes formal research in a time when far too many PR initiatives used none.

Public Relations News (1982–ish)
Public relations is the management function which (sic) evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and the procedures of the organization with the public interest, and executes a program of action (and communication) to earn public understanding and acceptance.

PRN’s definition emphasizes the need for organizations, after careful research and analysis, to align with the interests of their publics. Organizations must do more than communicate, they must adapt. (If you’ve ever been married, this concept should be easy to grasp.)

Statement of Mexico (1978 )
Public relations practice is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders, and implementing planned programs of action which (sic) will serve both the organization and the public’s interest.

It’s concise enough to deliver at a cocktail party and it contains references to research, policy/action and counseling — key elements of the practice. Like the other definitions, it references the need for organizations to align with the public interest. I’d give it four of five stars, though it’s still too abstract for my tastes, and it lacks a clear reference to communication.

Grunig and Hunt (1983)
Public relations is the management of communication between the organization and its publics.

So simple it’s almost too simple, and without interpretation could be seen as relegating PR people to the management and production of messages. I’m all for being concise, but you could send this definition in a 140-character Twitter message. Like most tweets, it lacks the substance needed to create real understanding.

PRSA Assembly (1988 )
Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to one another.

By 1988 the “relationship” model of PR practice had taken shape, and this definition captured the “give and take” that constitutes those relationships. It positions the relationship as an umbrella concept and leaves out the details. The definition evolved from Grunig and Hunt, who planted the seeds with their two-way symmetrical model (1983).

Use this definition at the cocktail party and even the most sober guest would get confused. You mean you get paid to help organizations and publics get along? Where can I get a job like that?

To show that the core principles of our business haven’t changed all that much in 40 years, I offer you an old standard from the 4th edition of Cutlip and Center’s “Effective Public Relations,” published in 1969. Although nearly every definition of PR post-1975 centers on the relationship, Cutlip & Center include the 4 key elements of PR that make the relationships work.

Cutlip and Center (1969)
Public relations is a planned effort to influence opinion through socially responsible performance based upon mutually satisfactory two-way communication.

  1. a planned effort — Public relations efforts are a deliberate part of the management function. A plan requires research, objective setting and strategy.
  2. to influence opinion – Cutlip and Center’s definition recognizes that PR people are advocates for their clients and employers. The others definitions cited overlook this important fact, as advocacy is inconsistent with the idea that PR promotes the needs of clients and key publics simultaneously. While some scholars and practitioners may not want to acknowledge the advocacy role, it’s part of what we are.
  3. through socially responsible performance — Cutlip and Center emphasized ethics and social responsibility, and several years later, PRSA adopted its first Code of Professional Standards. Read any introductory PR textbook today and you’ll find an entire chapter dedicated to ethics & social responsibility, the building blocks of trust. Out of this grew the idea that PR can and should serve as the “corporate conscience” and champion of the public interest.
  4. using mutually satisfactory two-way communication — This last phrase emphasizes the need to listen in a way that serves both organization and publics. Remember the feedback loop from communication theory? And while Cutlip & Center’s definition makes no mention of relationships, 2-way communication tells us they understood concept long before many others. Missing from the definition is the idea of adapting the organization’s policies to align with the public — perhaps the only weakness I can find in this 40-year-old definition.

Cutlip, Center & Broom, in later editions of “Effective Public Relations,” added the relationship focus to clarify the definition. This one comes from the 1994 edition — the most recent one on my home library shelf. I’ll update when I can lay my hands on the more recent texts.

Public relations is a management function that seeks to identify, build, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and all of the publics on whom its success or failure depends.

PR as “boundary spanner”

If I had more time, I’d hit the books to learn who first identified the “boundary spanning” function of PR. But I have fish to catch and beer to drink, so I’ll plug it in later on.

Simply put, the boundary spanner represents both the client’s interest and the public interest. Boundary spanners have one foot inside the organization and one foot outside, and they have the courage to challenge those in management who sometimes forget the importance of relationships.

As I said here, you must be willing to play the role of “no man” if you want to be a boundary spanner. You must advocate for all sides, no simple task when you consider who’s signing the paychecks. But serving as boundary spanner is easy, and it’s smart. The best business deals — just like the best relationships — are the ones in which ALL parties benefit. Most of us refer to it as “win-win,” and it’s easy to achieve, provided you don’t get greedy.

While Cutlip & Center’s earlier definition excludes the “relationship” function, it shows that PR has held a consistent view of itself for a long time. So let’s not reinvent ourselves simply because the folks in marketing have discovered just how powerful public relations tools can be. That isn’t to reject integrated marketing efforts when required. It’s part of what we do — but only part.

As we enter a world more dependent on social media, PR has the skill set and the mindset to lead the communication effort in Web 2.0 — one focused on the relationship. Bravo to Jason Falls for highlighting this last week and triggering a lively conversation.

Here’s one more link for good measure: PRSA’s official statement on public relations.

Next week I’ll try to sort out the confusion by discussing what PR is not, and I’ll try to do it more concisely.

Here’s how it starts: PR is NOT marketing! Just keep repeating it, like a mantra.

********************

Not a single idea presented in this post is original to me — not one. If I failed to credit anyone, it was unintentional. My brain doesn’t come with footnotes. And don’t ask me why 3 of the 6 definitions mistakenly use “which” instead of “that.” Where are the grammar snobs when you need them?

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34 Responses to A sort-of-unified definition of public relations — without a single mention of ‘marketing’

  1. Jason Falls says:

    Beautifully done, sir. It’s amazing how a simple definition can produce such volume in explanation and debate. As always, thank you for the knowledge.

  2. Jeff Davis says:

    Excellent job, and keep ‘em coming. Thanks for doing this. I plan to Twitter about this series – with a link to this site – to alert the 140-character crowd as well. The more people who are exposed to this knowledge, the better.

  3. Breeze says:

    So even the idea of your becoming expansive after a few belts is not original to you? ;)

    Kidding aside, this is a great post. I’ve struggled with the definition issue every time someone has asked about my major in college.

    Looking forward to the coming elaborations as well.

  4. Bill Huey says:

    Your cocktail-party definition is the most reliable, as well as the most accurate. PR is defined by its practice, and PR is what PR people do. If it’s party planning, or blogging, or “brand flirting” (a new term I saw last week), then PR will be defined by those things, which, unfortunately, happens all too often.

    And, BTW, never trust a definition by someone who doesn’t know the difference between which and that.

  5. Bill Sledzik says:

    Before anyone asks, I have no intention of posting a definition of my own. As an educator, you learn quickly not to stifle discussion by telling students what the professor thinks.

  6. “Brand flirting”? Yuck. I can’t imagine what will come next.

    I read this post and hear Princess Leia in my brain “Help us [Bill Sledzik], you’re our only hope.”

    Okay, a little melodramatic, but still, thanks for writing this!

    Jen

  7. Jim Grunig says:

    Please excuse me for inserting myself in your blog. I usually read blogs to find out what people are saying rather than as a means of passing on my opinions. However, I sometimes respond when I find I have been misquoted or misinterpreted. I’m afraid you did that in interpreting my 1984 definition of public relations. You said my definition of public relations is: “So simple it’s almost too simple, and without interpretation could be seen as relegating PR people to the management and production of messages.” I suspect that you didn’t read the explanation of the definition on pages 6-8 of Grunig & Hunt (1984). Let me quote:

    “In one way or another, however, each of these public relations activities [described in the previous two paragraphs] is part of the management of communication between an organization and its publics, and that will be our definition of public relations throughout the book. Communication is a behavior of individuals, groups, or organizations. People communicate when they move messages to or from other people.

    Public relations professionals communicate not just for themselves, however. They manage, plan, and execute communication for the organization as a whole. They manage the movement of messages into the organization, for example, when conducting research on the knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of publics and then using that information to counsel managers on organizational policies or actions. They may manage the movement of a message out of the organization when they help describe how to explain a policy or action to the public and then write a news story or fact sheet to explain the policy of action.”

    Many of the definitions you provided are explanations of public relations, rather than definitions. A definition should be short and simple and convey the meaning of a term. An explanation then goes further by showing what that definition means. Also, many of the definitions restrict themselves to good, effective, or ethical public relations. As I explained in MPR, a definition of the term should include bad practice as well as good practice. A golfer who scores 120 (as I did the last time I golfed) is still playing golf as much as one who shoots 60.

    Perhaps the “management of communication between an organization and its publics” is the most cited of all definitions of public relations because it is one of the few true definitions of the term. Most of the others are explanations, or descriptions. My definition contains all of the key elements of public relations: “management,” “communication,” “organization,” and “publics.” The only term missing is “relationships.” In a revision of MPR I have been working on for several years, I added a sentence after “the management of communication between and organization and its publics.” “The purpose of public relations is to build relationships between the organization and its publics.” Perhaps, today, I also would replace the term “messages” with “symbols.” Communication always involves the movement of symbols. “Messages” has taken on the connotation of written messages, rather than the substance of what passes from one to another when we communicate.

    I heartily concur that these definitions do not include marketing. Marketing communication, however, would be covered by my definition. Consumers are a public with whom an organization needs a relationship. Nevertheless, there is far more to public relations than communication with consumers, as you have pointed out.

  8. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Jim. It’s an honor to have someone of your stature join the discussion, and I hope you will “insert” yourself any time — especially when you disagree. I have read your explanation, but will admit that I didn’t do so before this post, as my copy of MPR has gone missing.

    Your explanation spells it out, and clearly, but I would expect that from the person responsible for the reigning paradigm in public relations. You get a lot of mentions in my classroom, to be sure.

    If we differ on the topic, it’s over what constitutes a definition versus an explanation, and that would take us away from the core discussion. On the principles of what constitute public relations I am certain we agree — as I learned much of what I know from your research, and from the writings and lectures of your friend Pat Jackson, who was among the first practitioners to embrace the two-way symmetrical model.

    Good luck on that golf game.

  9. A very interesting post and comments – thank you. I am adding my tuppence-ha’penny to the conversation as I truly believe that until practitioners can express what they do clearly and confidently, then our efforts to improve the perception of our profession will have limited impact, faltering through a lack of understanding. Equally, if we cannot adequately define what we do, then we cannot evaluate our work properly – so we won’t know if we have arrived at journey’s end, or indeed what journey we are actually on. So here is my definition for your mix – public relations is about building and sustaining relationships.

    Over the last twenty years or so, when asked to explain what I do, that answer has done just fine. Depending on the circumstances, and I must confess I don’t go to many cocktail parties, there are sometimes a few follow up questions centred on how you go about doing this or why you should bother (which I am always happy to answer) but most people understand the definition straight away.

    Practitioners and academics frequently get caught up trying to express the complexity of the function, then end up trying to explain it in terms of the tools we use rather than the purpose we serve. (I opt to use sustain rather than manage, because manage doesn’t sit comfortably with the organisational listener/activist function, or boundary spanner as you refer to it in your post.

    Other reasons for the definition getting ‘bogged down’ include the fact that much available literature has tended to look at public relations from a very Western perspective. As soon as you start looking at other methods of practice around the world, the definition becomes self-evident. Elsewhere in the world too, practitioners have been more aware that social media is simply another set of tools in the chest – albeit the power tool set – so there haven’t been quite the same number of ‘eureka’ moments about relationship building because building and sustaining relationships is the business they have been in for years.

    At PR Conversations we looked at this question for some time and in the end put together a ‘What is PR’ pdf containing as many global opinions, posts and comments on the topic in the hope that with many thoughts in one place further discussion would ensue, so it is great to see another conversation on the topic here and I for one will look forward to more observations from your readers. Maybe the role for social media in this instance is not helping to define or even redefine public relations – I certainly agree with you that that isn’t necessary. Maybe the job for our social media ‘power tools’ is to connect sufficient numbers of practitioners so we can all take on the cocktail party with confidence, equipped with an *agreed* definition that suits many cultures and locations.

  10. Bill Sledzik says:

    Catherine: While I would agree that the definition of “building and sustaining relationships” captures the essence of PR very well, I’m surprised to hear that most cocktail party denizens in Auckland find it sufficient. Perhaps the drinks aren’t quite as stiff over there. Last time I used a “relationships” definition with a stranger, she asked: Is it at all like being a marriage counselor?

    To which I replied: Yeah, I guess it is — as it’s about listening, understanding, accommodating and adapting. But in the end I also had to tell her we plan special events, stage news conferences, write speeches and maintain websites. And, oh, by the way, it helps to know PowerPoint. Sigh!

    I love your emphasis on “sustaining” vs. “managing” the relationship. It gives the definition, and the relationship, the balance required. I think I will adopt that language to replace my own definition, which talks of “building and maintaining.” Same thing, but more concise. I’ll be sure to credit you!

  11. Jim Grunig says:

    Bill,

    One more thing I forgot to add. In your post, you said: “If I had more time, I’d hit the books to learn who first identified the “boundary spanning” function of PR. But I have fish to catch and beer to drink, so I’ll plug it in later on.”

    I’m almost sure I introduced the term in this publication: Grunig, J. E. (1976). “Organizations and public relations: Testing a communication theory.” Journalism Monographs No. 46. I had become interested in organizational theory as an explanation of why public relations people behave as they do, and I spent a summer reading that literature. The boundary spanner term was one of the organizational concepts I found. I forgot who originated the term in organizational sociology, but it came from a study of social workers, sales representatives, and other boundary personnel.

    A small note about Catherine’s definition of public relations as sustaining relationships. In defining something, we must always be careful to distinguish processes from the outcomes of that process. Public relations is a process, and it should be defined as a process. Relationships are the outcome of that process. We can’t “manage” outcomes, such as relationships, reputations, or (one I hate most of all), perceptions. We can manage the processes that lead to those outcomes. That’s why I define public relations as communication, a process, and add that it’s purpose is to cultivate relationships (an outcome).

  12. […] Sledzik takes a run at a unified definition of public relations working through a variety of textbook […]

  13. Bill Sledzik says:

    Jim: Thanks for the additional input. It makes sense that the term would come from sociology — in the area of change agency. Also, I thank you for the reminder. Those fish are still calling my name, and the beer is still in the fridge. I seem to have lost all sense of priority here.

  14. Rob Jewell says:

    To Jim Grunig:

    With all due respect, what are you talking about? You are one of the most respected people in public relations. But you are loading your comments with so much academic stuff that I’m not sure anyone knows what point you are trying to make. Sorry. You can add to this discussion. Help us understand the distinction, if any, between public relations and marketing.

    And I’m a friend of Bill Sledzik. And a former colleague. Kent State has one of the best public relations programs in the country because Bill can bridge the worlds of the working professional and the people who have spent too much time in the academy.

    I spent 30 years in senior-level professional public relations management positions before joining the faculty at Kent State for eight years.

    Oh, by the way. Public relations isn’t a process. It’s a management responsibility.

  15. Bill Huey says:

    I know your announced task is to produce a unified definition of PR, but perhaps we need a definition that operates on two levels:
    ProtoPR, which describes PR in terms of its most typical activities and functions—the world of the practitioner, the elevator speech, the cocktail-party conversation;
    MetaPR, which describes PR in terms of what it should be, do, accomplish—the realm of the academic, theorist, or idealist.
    True– that’s pretty much where we are now, but the definitions could be sharpened and attempt to resolve some basic questions, such as, “Is PR about persuasion or ‘relationships’? I don’t think there’s an agreed-upon answer to that, and that’s what a definition does.
    Finally, I don’t think a unified definition is possible because PR is communication, and to my knowledge there is not a unified theory of communication.

  16. Bill Sledzik says:

    To Bill: I guess I did announce my task as producing a “unified definition,” but I never expected we would or could accomplish that. Still, it’s been interesting to see how far from that definition we appear to be. You have focused on one of the great debates to arise since the introduction of Grunig & Hunt’s symmetrical model. While the model redefined public relations — in academe and in practice — it did so by moving the focus away from PR’s traditional role as advocate for its clients. An advocate uses persuasion, no?

    The debate, of course, has found its way into all of the discussions regarding social media’s role in public relations. It’s a “conversation” now, we are told. We no longer control the message, and to some degree, we don’t even control our own business model. It’s happening, that’s for sure, but to what extent still isn’t clear.

    It wasn’t that long ago that I sat in the creative suite of a major agency and heard my peers discussing “intrusive” message strategies — ways to “get in the face” of our clients’ customers. Today’s customers are less receptive intrusion, but today’s databases enable us to work around that and talk to those who want to talk to us.

    But let’s come back to PR’s role as “advocate.” As long as the client/employer is signing the checks, I don’t know how you get away from it. We work for them, and as such, we must maintain a loyalty that involves presenting the clients’ messages. Isn’t that persuasion?

    But this also brings us to the discussion of PR being a “profession,” which by definition it clearly is not. The “professional” puts the public interest ahead of client interest or self interest. Read any professional code of ethics and you’ll find that concept. Duty to society comes first. As PR people, we just aren’t there yet, not matter what our codes of ethics tells us.

  17. Jim Grunig says:

    To Rob Jewell,

    With all due respect, I believe that public relations needs more of an academic emphasis–an emphasis that every other profession, except perhaps journalism, currently has.

    Academics carefully define the concepts and ideas they are talking about, explain how they work in practice, and measure and evaluate how well these ideas work. If we can’t define what we do, how can we even know that we are doing what we say we are doing?

    Of course, public relations is a process, or an activity if you prefer. Management is responsible for managing this process, so I suppose it is also a management responsibility.

    I have written a great deal about the difference between public relations and marketing. I agree completely with everything Bill has said in this blog. Public relations basically is the management discipline responsible for managing communication programs designed to build relationships with publics. Marketing is the management discipline responsible for developing, pricing, distributing, and selling products. Public relations is a staff position, much like the legal function that works with all other management functions. Just as the legal department advises marketing on the legality of its products or marketing activities, so public relations advises marketing on how to communicate with consumers and, also, implement communication programs for the marketing function. Public relations does the same for human resources, finance, and other functions that deal with publics such as employees, investors, communities, donors, government, or members. Thus, to say that public relations is a marketing function suggests that only the consumer public is important and that marketing is the only management function that needs communication advice and support. Unfortunately, marketing people only experience the part of public relations that services their needs–usually for product publicity–and seem incapable of seeing public relations in a broader perspective.

  18. The challenge of adding an “academic emphasis” to public relations is that no one in the profession is listening, making the academic churn more about tenure, academic reputation, etc., rather than getting at the heart of the problems inherent in public relations. If anything, the constant obsession with defining PR and whose “paradigm” should be followed only marginalizes academics even more.

    What PR academics need is to engage in ethnographic research that identifies the most pressing challenges in the profession. Alternatively, more PR “academics” could spend time working in the field so that the tangible experience of working has meaning. If you’d like examples of how far academic PR is from real-world issues, take a look at 95% of the titles of journal articles in the field. They are basically unintelligible. What communications professional has the time to decipher this stuff? Even worse, the tenure system itself rewards the churn, rather than professional experience, when it should be exactly the opposite. How many academics are teaching PR with no real professional experience?

    Ethnographic studies of PR departments and agencies would deliver further info on problematic areas of the Excellence study:

    “Sadly, most organizations we studied did not have the potential for this kind of excellence. Their cultures were typically authoritarian.”

    “More organizations conceptualize and practice public relations as press agentry or public information than as a two-way interactive process that legitimizes the concern of the publics.”

    “Few heads of public relations are strategic managers, and fewer still are included within the dominant coalition.”

    “Membership in the dominant coalition, then, is an important characteristic, but not a mandatory requirement, of excellence in communication. This finding is a fortunate one, since we learned that few organizations—excellent or average—include their top communicators in the power elite.”

    So, what we have is a utopian view of public relations becoming the academic paradigm, even though the study itself reveals that few (if any) of the departments studies had these characteristics.

    Public relations isn’t marketing and vice versa. However, to deny that in today’s professional world public relations is not a part of marketing is crazy. Most companies don’t even use the words “public relations” within their communications departments and have “chief marketing officers” (CMO), not “chief public relations officer.” Maybe this isn’t the best way to organize, but it’s the reality, so why not study why this is and how to either make the best of it or change it?

    Instead, PR academics worry about the definition of the field and whether or not people think PR is “spinning.” There are much larger issues at stake, such as the business education system totally marginalizing the profession and schools not producting PR students that have the skills to compete in today’s business environment.

    Building a dominant theoretical infrastructure for public relations on a foundation of sand isn’t helping the profession face its most basic challenges.

  19. Rob Jewell says:

    To Jim Grunig,

    If you knew me you would know that I agree that public relations benefits from the research and critical thinking of educators. And you have done as much as anyone to enhance the professionalism of public relations.

    Still — if reasonably intelligent people can’t figure out what you (and a host of others) are talking about, what good is it? We argue as professionals that clear, concise writing is a key skill in public relations. Why doesn’t that standard apply to journal articles and textbooks?

    And why don’t we put Bill out of his misery here? I’m sure he has bigger fish to catch — and fry — than to moderate our comments. Are you still in the Washington area? If so let’s continue our discussion at lunch. I get to Washington occasionally these days. I’ll even buy. Let me know.

    By the way, I agree with Bob Batchelor’s comments. I don’t know him. And I hope that doesn’t kill our lunch.

    Rob

  20. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hey, Bob. As you know from our past exchanges, we agree on a lot and disagree on a lot, too. But since we’re both Steelers fans, we’ll always have a bond!

    We agree on your assessment of PR scholarship and research. Most of it is unintelligible, and designed to feed the tenure machine. At least 90% of academic research in this field adds little or nothing to the body of knowledge and is read by — well — other people trying to get tenure and the grad students they have indentured. At Kent State, I escaped this madness by being part of a professional program that recognizes writings and presentations in professional venues. Our faculty are all former professionals who stay involved in the day-to-day practice of PR, and in my case, the social media (for better or worse).

    We disagree on the need for a paradigm. We need one to unify the profession and to express our value to management. Granted, the two-way symmetrical model created by Grunig & Hunt is a utopian view, but it has helped us — perhaps more than any other theory of the past three decades — to move PR’s focus away from one-way, persuasive messages to two-way communication that enhance long-term relationships (which also serves the marketing function). Never has this been more evident than in this era we call Web 2.0.

    It’s easy to find fault with the Excellence Studies nearly 20 years after the fact, but that research opened the door to a more intelligent and more productive approach to PR practice. Look at any definition of PR from the past 25 years and you’ll see it reflected in the language. And you’ll also see (as I hope I illustrated in this post) that our various definitions aren’t really all that different when you look at them closely. PR contributes far more to organizations today than it did under a “persuasive” model. The business has never been healthier, nor more influential.

    We agree that I am, indeed crazy,
    since I continue to deny that PR is part of marketing. This goes with me to the grave, like my shotgun clutched in my cold dead fingers. I won’t argue that in many organizations PR serves the marketing department and often reports to it. This is not a good model, since it places the entire focus of communication on the “consumer” and not on the whole range of publics that contribute to organizational success. If your exposure to PR is purely in the marketing context, you are likely to see it as subset of that craft. PR’s applications are much broader, not just in theory, but in practice. I know this from my own experience and the time I spend in the field.

    We agree that academics sometimes worry too much about the trivial things. But you know, it is legitimate and not at all trivial to worry about PR being viewed as “spin,” since spinning is tantamount to lying. Without the strongest ethical foundation, PR has no real value to an organization. We can’t win trust without honesty and candor. Sadly, it is more often the marketing folks who look to us for “spin” as part of the ad/promo mix. Bad ju ju, man. Bad. I’ve been there, too, in the role of “liar for hire.”

    We agree that PR education has become marginalized, and that our schools are turning out too, too, too many, grads who don’t have the skills or knowledge to compete in the business environment. (I’ve been writing that post for 6 months. It’s coming — soon.)

    I can’t speak for other schools, but I can for Kent State. Each of our faculty has 10+ years of professional experience (some 20 and more). Our interns and our grads are in high demand, and we place 92.5% of them into the profession within six months. We do this, in part, by washing out those who can’t cut it, and by expecting professional-quality work from those who survive. Better now than later, eh?

    I teach the “weed out” class, which makes me the faculty bad ass. I miss being popular on campus, which may be why I started this blog.

    Finally, Bob, we agree that PR education must do more to bring profession and classroom together. Here at Kent State, that’s a given. Sadly, that’s not the case in too many schools where the PR major is little more than a cash cow.

    As always, sir, you raise great points. Whether we agree or disagree on all the fine points won’t change my view that your students are lucky to have a guy with such insight and passion. And a Steelers fan, to boot! Be well, man.

  21. Bill Sledzik says:

    To Rob and Jim,

    I’ll tell you the same thing I tell the guests at my house, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like, so long you bring your own booze. I don’t mind playing moderator one bit. Conversation is healthy, even if it does get testy at times. If I wanted hugs and kisses, I’d join the “blog party.”

  22. Bill, you just keep getting better! I too believe that we are more often in the same boat than out of it. We should coordinate our efforts on the business school world, maybe that is the crux of the problem.

    I think the point we agree on the most is that PR is much broader than marketing in terms of skillsets. Communications definitely moves beyond marketing when it comes to dealing with non-sales audiences, such as internal/HR communications or Investor Relations.

    Also, I would never, ever advocate a professional acting in an unethical manner. I too teach the “weed out” class at USF — Mass Communication and Society — and purposely made ethics one of the pillars of the class in getting it internally reaccredited.

    I look forward to your post about skills. I’ve been having a three-year running conversation with our grads about where they feel prepared and where they did not. One former student (just today) e-mailed me to tell me that by the time students got to my “Writing for Public Relations” class (first semester senior year), it was too late to really teach the majority of students anything. While I hope that he is wrong, I have my suspicions that he might be correct to a degree.

    Let’s keep up the fight for our students…which is why we’re doing this. And, thanks again for the conversation. I continue to learn from you each time I visit your blog.

    P.S. Go Steelers!

  23. […] How social media enables everyone to have their say on public relations 3 08 2008 One of the really great things about social media is that it enables anyone to participate.  For those involved in the academic or practice sides of public relations (or both), the online world is also a great learning resource.  Combining these two benefits, check out Bill Sledzik’s post, and resulting comments: a sort of unified definition of public relations — without a single mention of ‘marketing’. […]

  24. […] A sort-of-unified definition of public relations without a single mention of ‘marketing’ and What public relations is not… by Tough Sledding « Ten Things I Learned As A Publications Intern […]

  25. Kestutis Gecas says:

    I have clear definition of PR. This is not way of influence or helps marketing to sell services or products.

    I think, that PR gives ability to talk with all important publics and all society. So I vote for Grunig and Hunt definition. Why? Because all organizations and companies live in our today society like humans – they have their own responsibilities, rights and have to work keeping in mind other members of society. Not only other companies, but every human also.

  26. […] I was crusing the blogs tonight, avoiding some homework, when I came across this post […]

  27. […] Bill Sledzik’s blog you commented that you, “usually read blogs to find out what people are saying rather than as a means of […]

  28. […] became the most visited essay on this site. Another post among the Top 10 presents a “sort of unified definition of PR.” Then I learned that my post on “the ethics of persuasion” had risen to 15th out of 269 […]

  29. […] based upon mutually satisfactory two-way communication.” The breakdown, which can be found http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/a-sort-of-unified-definition-of-public-relations-witho…, is easy to […]

  30. […] you’re one who believes PR is primarily about pitching media, see my posts here and here. It’s critical to know that public relations is way more than just telling and […]

  31. […] And publicity is often the one public relations tool that marketers understood prior to Web 2.0. Public relations is more than […]

  32. […] the key ideas. I am going to discuss some definitions of PR from other sources. On the website,  http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/a-sort-of-unified-definition-of-public-relations-witho…, the author, Sledzik (2008) , gives a few definitions of PR from other sources. One source, Public […]

  33. […] about social media and public relations. On a recent post on Bill Sledzik’s blog, you commented that you, “usually read blogs to find out what people are saying rather than as a means of […]

  34. organizational…

    […]A sort-of-unified definition of public relations — without a single mention of ‘marketing’ « ToughSledding[…]…

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