A search of literatures on public relations (PR) reveals over 500 definitions for the term public relations. This implies that there is a high misunderstanding of the term public relations by the very people tasked with shaping the reputation of the organization. The interchangeable use of public relation and marketing proves just how the PR is a problem to professionals. Public relation practitioners should be able to understand the concept clearly and confidently in order to improve their perception of PR profession. I therefore define public relation as the art of building and sustaining relationships between the organization and the public.
Why there are different definitions of public relations.
The evolving society and advent of internet social network technology has changed the approach organization to public relations. This has in turn influenced their definitions of PR to incorporate the new technological development. However, a simple definition like the one given above is likely to incorporate the new development without necessarily changing the definition of the term public relations.
The field of public relations comprises multiple specialties, each with different professional constituents. The roles of PR professionals vary relative according to their areas of specialty. Definitions therefore, tend to vary in accordance to ones area of profession. For instance, definitions given by professionals from school of sciences and psychology may differ from those given by professionals from school of management. This also contributes to the differences in definitions of PR which I believe needs to be harmonized to have a common view by all players in the PR field, (Cutlip & Center, 1971).
Most practitioners have provided explanations of public relation instead of giving a definition. A definition is supposed to be short, simple and must convey the meaning of the term being defined. Explanations are meant to provide the meaning of definitions. This is has also contributed significantly to the many definitions of the term PR. Another reason to why we find numerous definitions of the term is because most scholars strive to concentrate on the positive part of the PR term. However, definitions should include both the positive and the negative practice of the term being defined. Most practitioners of public relations tend to force the positive aspect into their definitions of the term, (Cutlip & Center, 1971).
Some literatures definitions of the concept are based on the narrow mind, for instance, some base their definitions on the western perspective instead of global perspective. It is necessary to define the term by looking at other methods of practice around the world to make it a self- evident definition.
Comparing definitions of public relations
I defined public relations as; the art of building and sustaining relationships. Definition of PRSA Assembly (1988) stated that “public relations help an organization and its publics adapt mutually to one another”. This is the function of public relations, to help organization and the public to get along. It describes the relationship part of my definition. The definition by PRSA (1988) does not however indicate how the mutual adaptation between the public and organization is attained. This is correctly captured in my definition by the term building.
Curri-Memeti (2011) states that ‘public relations’ is the same as ‘marketing’. Although PR activities need to be coordinated with other promotional activities and marketing campaigns, it goes beyond marketing. He further defined ‘public relations’ as the strategic communication of organizations with the public. However, although PR entails communication with the public, it does not necessarily have to be strategic communication. My definition covers strategic communication by an organization to the public.
In an effort to modernize definition of public relations, PRSA (2012) defined public relations as “A strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their public”. This definition is widely accepted because it comprises the key elements of public communication. It however, excludes non strategic forms of public relations. The definition also emphasizes ‘beneficial relationships’ which is not always practical. This is because some public relations activities have in some cases led to negative publicity of the organization.
According to Jenkins (2006), success in public relations depends on the ability of the organization to communicate effectively to the public. This helps to build and sustain a sound working relationship. Technology has greatly improved communication and if well adopted into system of the organization, can help improve organization- public relations. The use of internet continues to build and sustain the concept of PR in many organizations. However, any slight miscommunication can equally damage the reputation of the company. Therefore, there is need to have appropriate mechanisms within the PR department to counter any negative publicity. This definition by Jenkins (2006) relies on communication and does specify how and why there is need for effective communication.
Public relations have been in existence for many years but it continues to attract different definitions every passing day. Several reasons have been identified to explain variations in the definition of public relations. Communication has become global and the use of internet has impacted heavily on the concept of public relations. However, the use of internet have proved to be beneficial and damaging to organizations. It is therefore necessary to put in place a good public relations department which understands the concept. I believe that public relations practitioners should be able to define and understand the concept for them deliver effective services to their organizations. They should therefore, be able to build and sustain a healthy working relationship with the public in line with legislations and company policy.
Cutlip, Ѕ. and Center, A. (1971). Effective Public Relations, Prentice Hall, Inc.
Curri-Memeti, A. (2011). Public Relations as Promotional Activity, Skopje, Republic of Macedonia: University “Ss. Cyril and Methodius”.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: When Old and New Media Collide. NY: New York University Press.
PRSA Assembly. (1988). A Sort-Of-Unified Definition of Public Relations — Without A single Mention of ‘Marketing’. Retrieved on 5th July, 2012 from http://www.toughsledding.com/
PRSA. (2012). Public Relations Defined: A Modern Definition for the New Era of Public Relations. Retrieved on 5th July, 2012 from http://prdefinition.prsa.org