PR – a rose by any other name?

Stephen Waddington has described public relations as a work in progress.

And so are the definitions. If you ask six practitioners to define PR you will get six different responses – or even seven. At first that sounds like madness. But is it?

As communications experts we are always told to start with the audience – their perception is the reality we have to deal with.

Fellow professionals

That rings true for me. My fellow members in the CIM think that PR is all about press relations. I went to the CIM northern conference last month where there was a workshop session on CSR and how it is important for marketing to make sure it is embedded in brands. Yet PR colleagues have been managing and teaching CSR for decades. The CIM Professional Postgraduate Diploma now includes a module on managing corporate reputation – surely this is PR?


Board members I have worked with have a tendency to conflate advertising, marketing and PR. This can result in a perception that this meld is expensive and fluffy, lacking discipline and with a reluctance to evaluate any return on investment.

When I was a partner in a consultancy, back in the 80s and 90s, we had a rule that we would only report to the CEO and would not work for committees. There was a good reason for this. We believed that PR needed to be viewed as a corporate resource which helped the organisation to relate to all its stakeholders, not just customers.  It was about its reputation.

Be PRoud

I think this still holds true today.

Is PR a work in progress or an evolving discipline? Are we responding to the challenges our employers and clients face, challenges that are also evolving?

I think we should be proud that PR is not static. We should be proud that we are able to help organisations navigate in this changing world.

It is a world that has changed dramatically since I started working in PR in the late 1970s. But I am still asking clients to confront the same essential questions I posed back then. Their answers may be different and the resources I have now are different. But the principles remain the same.

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