Have you any idea what PR does?

ponders whether PR is ideas management – an idea that  supports.  Producing ideas is one of the things that those in public relations do, but is it enough to describe the profession?

Ryan Anderson believes those in PR are struggling more than ever to understand what PR is about.    His focus is primarily on media relations (which of course is the most public dimension), where he believes there is a “typical adversarial relationship with the media and a general misconception of PR practitioners as charlatans and liars”.

A long-standing friend of his, on hearing about PR’s role in conversations and empowerment of consumers, responded “Wow. You’re not nearly as evil as I thought.”

One of my Diploma students last week reported her takeaway thought for the day was that there is a collective responsibility for PR practitioners to stand up for what we do. As Ryan says we need to educate people what PR is and isn’t – starting one friend at a time.  Or maybe it should be one blogger and one poor PR at a time.

Over at , Chris Anderson debates the role of public relations (again from the premise that our sole function is the press release and media relations).  The belief seems to be that bloggers are independent and don’t need any input from PR – indeed, such contact would spoil a blogger’s “authenticity and the individual voice”.  From this perspective – any ideas from PRs are seen as tainted.

Claims of a cultural mismatch between bloggers and PR people are based on a view that “flacks” (a US insult) are happy-clappy publicists or press agents seeking coverage any way possible.  Indeed, Anderson says “fundamentally social media is a peer-to-peer medium; bloggers would rather hear from someone doing something cool than from the paid promotional representative for that person. The problem is that the people doing that cool stuff are busy, which is why they pay PR people to do the outreach for them in the first place.”

He goes onto suggest PR should “evolve” from external to internal relations as a coach.  Public relations has a long-standing role in internal relations (as well as with other publics), where practitioners facilitate communications and relationships through training and provision of in-house consultancy.   I agree this is an area where PR should focus, particularly in the face of new media developments which increase the ability of every employee to engage and affect an organisation’s reputation.

supports the idea of all employees being able “to spread out, to speak out, to blog and to join communities about what they care about, surely there will be better alignment than there is when yet another clueless publicity person sends me yet another piece of spam about her company’s (irrelevant) products.”

There is some naivety in the idea that there should be little if any management of organisational communications,  that there should be no expert function involved in building effective relationships or communications, and that bloggers all originate ideas so the professional services offered to offline influencers are no longer needed.

But there is certainly more here to consider than a role for PR as “ideas managers”.  I’m quite happy for PR to stand for managing relations with publics – whether that is direct or via intermediaries such as bloggers, employees or whatever.  I don’t think we are in need of reinvention, but need a focus on this best practice approach to effective PR.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

6 thoughts on “Have you any idea what PR does?”

  1. I would like to see more definitions of PR telling lay people how we go about our multi-faceted profession. Build relationships, maintain reputation, earn understanding: many people don’t understand how we accomplish this or, indeed, why we need to bother.

  2. Jill – your point relates to the purpose of a definition which is relevant. Is the purpose to explain to others what PR is or should be, if these are different. Is it descriptive or normative of best practice (ie aspirational)? Should it focus on what we do or the outcomes of our efforts? Is a single definition necessary? And if so, why is it so hard to agree? Does it need to change to reflect how the practice develops? Why does every textbook and practitioner want to create their own definition?

  3. Is the purpose to explain to others what PR is or should be, if these are different? Is it descriptive or normative of best practice (ie aspirational)?

    ———–A PR definition should describe best practice. It should encapsulate what (we must assume) every PR practitioner aspires to and which their actions can be measured against – by anyone, and understood by anyone.

    Should it focus on what we do or the outcomes of our efforts?

    ——–It should be the outcomes of what we do. Who wants a blow-by-blow account of our everyday lives? How many pots would we say PR practitioners stirred in one day? Folk would start glazing over.

    Is a single definition necessary? And if so, why is it so hard to agree?

    ——–A single definition is necessary to give the gist and justify – to those who think we are all spin – our existence and the give kudos to those deserving academics and practitioners who work so hard to write about PR. But, it’s very difficult to cover every angle and achieving a succinct description seems impossible. Where do we begin to agree on which one of our talents takes precedence over others?

    Does it need to change to reflect how the practice develops?

    ——-Yes. As we harness the rapidly changing environment like the internet, a definition could recognise our two-way communication approach to this medium alongside the other ways we reach people. Blogging CEOs are a new concept, for instance, and we need to be seen to recognise such public desires of transparency from us.

    Why does every textbook and practitioner want to create their own definition?

    ——No one has come up with a definition that sits well with everyone. It keeps everyone’s minds active in trying to describe our multifarious profession though! Anyway, maybe the Americans would want to keep trying to “win everyone’s co-operation” but international cultures would negate a one-size-fits-all possibility.

    Upon reflection, my earlier comments on a definition that describes what we do couldn’t sit alongside what our aims are. Wouldn’t we have pages and pages nobody would ever want to wade through? Perhaps this is why we are living with definitions that just skim the surface of our profession.

  4. Oops i meant to say “you’re”. Jings, crivens help ma boad – I hope I’ve not made any blunders like that in my CRT….

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