Apparently, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is doing some PR for itself. The age of social media has led to a blurring of the lines between marketing and corporate communications. In fact, so many things brands need to do nowadays puts even creative agencies in the territory of PR or vice versa.
The change agent being social media empowered consumers, the effort to redefine PR is quite aptly also a social media crowd-sourced effort in which people can submit their definitions on the PRSA website. A new definition (last updated 1982) may be overdue, but even so, the NYT speculates it may also be an effort to disassociate the industry from the notorious PR Eff-ups of the last couple years:
Among the more notorious examples are BP’s mishandling of the aftermath of its accident in the Gulf of Mexico; Facebook’s hiring of a public relations agency to try generating articles that would criticize the privacy practices of its rival, Google; how ChapStick increased complaints about a new campaign, which asked consumers to “Be heard at facebook.com/ChapStick,” by repeatedly deleting negative comments about the ads from the Facebook page; and how Netflix lost hundreds of thousands of members with a plan, later rescinded, to divide into separate businesses.
Nevertheless, I wonder how an official redefinition can help. In the de facto world of the communication business, PR is no longer the top-down message manager of yesteryear. Just like ad agencies cannot be the top-down message creators of yesteryear any longer.
Making this fact official may help in giving the industry a bit of common purpose and feel-good. Something, that ad people have, frankly, been kind of struggling with for their profession as well. How fitting then that its the PR folks taking the lead on this, staying true to the old PR mantra: If you don’t like the conversation, change it.