PR: It’s About Relationships, Not “Spin” or “Free Publicity”

by Frank L. Williams

Over the years, I’ve run across more than a few people who think public relations is about nothing more than “spin” or “free publicity.” They are wrong. Stereotypes such as those dramatically oversimplify the public relations process.

In 2011 and 2012, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) conducted a member-engagement process to confirm or update its definition of public relations. Following nearly a year of research, and a public vote, the Society’s choice for a modern definition of PR was finalized: Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. Note that this definition makes no mention of press releases, news coverage or “spinning” the facts.

Let’s take a 50,000-foot look at the components of PRSA’s definition of public relations:

  • Strategic: public relations is a strategic management function, not just a method of disseminating information;
  • Communication: public relations involves two-way communication between organizations and their publics;
  • Process: true public relations follows a systematic process (I’ll touch on this more in a future newsletter);
  • Relationships: public relations is about building relationships — specifically mutually beneficial ones — between organizations and their publics;
  • Publics: the public relations process recognizes that organizations impact or are affected by a variety of different publics, and that relationships and communication strategies may vary depending upon the public.

Do you have a comprehensive list of publics that impact your organization’s ability to succeed or are impacted by your organization’s activities? Do you have a clear understanding of the state of your organization’s relationship with each public? Do you have a plan to build and maintain each relationship? If not, drop us a line.

Frank L. Williams

Frank is the founder and president of Pioneer Strategies.