Why the need to (re)define public relations?
Is it so we know what the job involves (descriptive)? Is it to set our sights on what we should be doing (aspirational)? Or to defend the turf from the encroachment of other disciplines (demarcating domains)? Or to justify the role to senior management - and to wider society (purpose-based)?
There’s a lot in a definition - and it’s challenging to create one-size-fits-all that covers internal and external communication, publicity and public affairs.
Not to be daunted, author and lecturer Andy Green has been restlessly pursuing a new definition for public relations for several years.
He is motivated by the challenges of a changing landscape - and by the opportunities that exist in times of change.
Today, Andy Green is initiating a Dublin Conversation based on his Dublin Definition paper shared to PR Place.
What is the Dublin Conversation? ‘It is an ambitious grassroots effort to make better sense of our world and how communications need to evolve and change to make a difference. It could be the biggest-ever shake-up in public relations, advertising and comms thinking and doing.’
The drivers for this are clear.
'Communications practice urgently needs new thinking to transform its responses to an increasingly polarised, mistrustful society. What was once an academic debate about how communications works, or what is advertising or PR, are now critical issues to address either for professional communicators seeking new direction, or for our society in declining levels of trust.'
‘Public Relations operates in a ‘Comms’ environment, working alongside advertising and other communication disciplines to achieve familiarity by making you more known, liked, trusted, front-of-mind, or being talked about through using Own, Shared, Earned, or Paid-for channels (OSEP).’
‘Earned trust is the pivotal touchstone for all public relations practice. It is ‘earned trust’, not just ‘trust’. Earned trust underpins, and is at the heart of a good reputation, relationships, influence, social capital and word-of-mouth. Earned trust exists as a deeper truth within all the current accepted definitions of public relations, thus validating them.’
One of the challenges in public relations is to present a coherent model that embraces the overlapping concepts of trust, influence, relationships and reputation.
Earned trust can be assessed by answering these questions:
Though not cited here, this emphasis on the landscape of trust fits well with the long-running Edelman Trust Barometer. And the need to rethink public relations within the broader comms field matches Richard Edelman’s subverting of the usual sense that public relations fits within marketing communications into ‘communications marketing’: the proposition that marketing should be led by comms (or PR).
Edelman argued: ‘This simple act of reversing two commonly used words reflects a new environment where classic, image-driven marketing is giving way to a new focus on long-term relationships.’
Richard Bailey is editor of PR Place. He teaches and assesses undergraduate, postgraduate and professional students.