The Public Relations Society of America has spent the past few months collaborating with other PR associations around the globe on a redefinition of the term “public relations.”

This is a task that has been championed since the late 1970s when Edward L. Bernays presented his case for a redefinition of PR in his Public Relations Quarterly (Spring 1978) article “Defining Public Relations,” observing that our profession was, in his eyes and at that time, in need of an overhaul.

It only took another quarter-century to actually do this…but it’s done!

Alea iacta est! “The die is cast.” Maybe not quite that final, but it’s done… and published.

My students asked a very simple question when I told them about this undertaking:“Why?”

Love it when, out of the clear blue, I get asked an admirably logical question! Kind of makes me put my proverbial “money where my mouth is.”

My response was and continues to be, “To be sure that what we use … the words we use … to define what we do on behalf of clients or employers continues to apply in today’s mega-wired world where what we say and what we do is seen and reacted to by a global and often quite vocal audience of stakeholders.”

Yeah, I know that sounds all lofty and self-serving. But until my own mother, who has known me longer than anyone else, can verbalize her eldest son’s profession, I won’t be satisfied.

She has no trouble describing what my siblings do. One’s a minister. One’s an architect. One’s a retired social services administrator.

To quote super-chef Emeril Lagasse, “Bam!”

Well, the results are in, and PRSA has announced with great fanfare an internationally-recognized redefinition of “public relations.”

If all goes as planned, scores of public relations professionals, professors … and their mothers … will now be able to explain with minimal hoop-jumping what this wonderful field is all about.

And here it is. Public relations, as defined by the Public Relations Society of America in collaboration with nearly a dozen communications organizations worldwide) is:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

Not everyone is or will be pleased with the outcome of PRSA’s efforts. But those who truly care have weighed in with their opinions and offered their suggestions. And their voices have been heard.

If you’re comfortable with this redefinition (or refinement) of all that our profession entails, do as I will do and adopt it as part of your conversation with clients, employers or … in my case … students.

If it doesn’t ring all the right bells for you, use it as a launch pad for your own updated description of what it is you do for a living.

Either way, be proud of your chosen profession and help educate others!

Image: RobWhitePhoto via Flickr, CC 2.0

Kirk Hazlett

Kirk Hazlett

Professor at Curry College
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, holds the position of Associate Professor, Communication/ Public Relations, at Curry College. He also is a member of the Public Relations Society of America's Board of Ethics and Professional Standards. Kirk has 35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience, followed by nearly 10 years' undergraduate- and graduate-level college teaching experience. Some of the organizations he has counseled include the Blood Bank of Hawaii, Medical Area Service Corporation and Boston Harborfest. He blogs at A Professor's Thoughts.
Kirk Hazlett