I’ve never felt the need to ask a doctor, architect, accountant or engineer to define what they do. I doubt they’ve invested much energy debating it among themselves. Yet for as long as I’ve been in public relations, this industry has been distracted by a need to define itself. The Public Relations Society of America is the latest institution to have a go at addressing this insecurity.
The PRSA’s X-Factor-esqe adventure took almost a year to complete and included hundreds of initial suggestions. These were eventually whittled down to a shortlist of three. The final three were voted upon by 1446 industry professionals. The following ‘modern definition’ was declared the winner, and got the PR equivalent of a record deal, which is pride of place on the PRSA website:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Not a strong candidate for a Plain English award and, inevitably, few are entirely happy with the new definition. ‘Crowdsourcing’ might be a good way to find new music or film recommendations but, when it comes to creating an industry definition is the ultimate creation by super committee.
I have resisted the temptation to propose an alternative. This is not because I don’t think I could come up with better, but because enough time has been wasted already. After 20 years, my mother still doesn’t understand what I do. She’s stopped asking and I’ve stopped trying to explain. Despite this, we still get along. Our industry grows year on year and PR remains one of the most sought after careers among those too young to know better. As an industry, we have other things to worry about, like how to master social media, how to improve quality and training and how, sometimes, clients worry that we might be wasting their fees and expenses on unnecessary frivolities.
Einstein said that one definition of insanity was to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. Einstein was a clever bloke.
Let’s get comfortable with who we are and what we do and waste not a second more searching for a definition that some consider the Holy Grail – if we were to find it, I would wager, it would change not a single thing for anyone.