MP&F’s Top 25 PR Questions
June 11, 2012
McNeely Pigott & Fox is celebrating 25 years in business during 2012, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is by answering the 25 questions we are most asked about our business.
Question 1: What is Public Relations?
By David Fox
Truth is, of all the questions we are asked, this is one of the hardest to answer. Not only do recent PR graduates have trouble – we know because it’s a standard question we ask all job candidates – but seasoned PR veterans do as well.
For the past year, the Public Relations Society of America has been studying this issue, and after 1,447 votes, hundreds of submissions, abundant commentary and nearly a year of research, PRSA announced March 2, 2012, the winning modern definition of public relations, which is:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This is true, and as PRSA members, it is a definition we ascribe to, understanding there are hundreds of others that deserve consideration.
If you look up Public Relations on Wikipedia, you will also find this: “Public relations is the deliberate, planned, and sustained effort to establish and maintain a preferred point of view.” That’s true too.
It’s ironic that it’s so hard to settle on a single definition of such a language-focused discipline. But the fact is, it’s been that way since “the Father of Public Relations,” Edward Bernays, began the profession almost 100 years ago.
Bernays was an entrepreneur at the beginning of the last century, who went to work in the administration of President Woodrow Wilson during World War I with the Committee on Public Information. As a member of the committee, Bernays was credited with simplifying the American war message to a single concept: “America’s war effort is aimed at bringing democracy to all of Europe.”
After the war, Bernays visited Europe and was surprised by the degree to which the democracy slogan had swayed the public. He wondered if similar communications strategies could be used during peace time. In those days, what he had done was viewed strictly as a war-time tactic – “propaganda.” He believed a different descriptor was in order, and chose to refer to it as “public relations.” And that’s how this business got started.
Today, as we practice the discipline of public relations here at MP&F, we think of our job this way:
It is creating a message on behalf of an organization and delivering that message to a defined audience in order to influence the audience’s perception and/or behavior.
So the way we see it, it’s three things: a message, a delivery system, and an audience. If you can get your message right – as Edward Bernays did during WWI – master the disciplines of message delivery, and understand your audience, you can succeed at PR.
So that’s one way of looking at it. But sometimes, people really just want to know what we DO every day, and that’s a whole different question. If you’d like the answer, check out the “Capabilities” section of our website, or stay tuned for Question 2: What do you guys DO every day?