If you’re in the PR industry, then you probably didn’t miss this New York Times article by Stuart Elliot regarding the latest official definition of public relations. As Stuart’s article states, this initiative to redefine public relations began this past November out of the supposed need to redefine out practice in the era of social media and “spin doctors” – his words, not mine. The initiative drew a lot of interest from PR professionals, organizations, critics and the general public. Gerard Corbett, the 2012 chairman and chief executive of the Public Relations Society of America, led the initiative that resulted in three final options to be voted on this past February. Those three definitions are below, and the second definition was declared the winner:

  • “Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.”
  • “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
  • “Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.”

Most PR practitioners would agree that all three are solid definitions of our field and what we do every day. Particularly, I’m glad to see that ‘strategic’ made it into two definitions, and ‘relationships’ into two as well. Still, I need to beg the question – what has changed? To be fair, I only graduated from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University less than two years ago, so maybe the difference is unclear to me because I learned it so recently. For the veteran PR pros out there – is this not what you learned was the definition? Has it changed all that much?

That being said, has the rise of digital and social media actually created the need to redefine our industry? Our role remains the same: we are the communications professionals that develop and maintain relationships with our clients and their publics. It’s true, how we communicate with those publics has changed. It’s not all about picking up the phone anymore – though we don’t forget the importance of that tactic as well. Often, these relationships are built through social media and engaging in new ways – over Skype, through a Tweet, group discussions on LinkedIn, etc. Our role has not changed and therefore, the definitions above are not as evolved as this attention makes it seem.

That’s not a bad thing; it’s because the time-tested best practices of public relations will always remain  effective – the medium to how we implement those best practices and build relationships may change with new media, but not the practices themselves. That’s my PR thought for the day.

What do you think – has the rise of social media created the need to redefine our practice? And if so, did the chosen definition fulfill that need? Drop a line in the comments and let me know.

A version of this post originally appeared on prSPEAK, a blog from PAN Communications.