Making Public Relations Look Pretty

Image: winnond /

A lot of people in the communications field are talking about how to define public relations.

Beth Harte did a wonderful job of framing the conversation and linking to a post by Heidi Cohen, who collected 31 definitions for public relations to demonstrate the diversity of perspective on this topic.

Frank Strong offered his perspective and pointed out how the lack of a clear definition leaves public relations vulnerable to characterization.

Recently, I was in a meeting with several colleagues where we discussed how a definition of public relations from 1964 is finally relevant to today’s applications. How crazy is that?

At the risk of sounding like a complete nerd, I think it’s kind of exciting to see this discourse play itself out.

It presents a unique challenge for folks in PR to take ownership of their profession. It’s making us think critically about what we do on a day-to-day basis and about how we contribute to the bigger picture.

Rather than add my two cents worth to the growing list of definitions, I decided it would be interesting to take all the definitions collected thus far (huge hat tip to Heidi Cohen for making this possible) and putting them into a word cloud.

You know, make public relations look pretty and such.

But this exercise is about more than aesthetics.

Semantic analysis of the definitions might also bring to the surface the strongest themes and dominant traits to focus on in continuing to define the PR profession.

For clarity, I removed all mentions of “public relations” and “PR” from the list of definitions, since those words were repeated the most. If the term “public” appears, it’s outside of the context of “public relations.”

So, here it is in all its glory (Courtesy of And yes, I customized the colors to the pink palette):

It’s easy to glean some key terms from the image, like media, communications, social, and even marketing.

Again, this exercise is not entirely perfect, as the discussion on how to define public relations continues. It will be interesting to see how it pans out and how it affects the PR practice of tomorrow.

How do you define public relations? For anyone not specifically in PR, what do you think is the definition of it?

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March 17, 2011. Tags: , , , . public relations.


  1. Frank Strong replied:

    Isn’t that interesting: “media” is the largest word indicating it’s used most frequently. Certainly that’s a cornerstone of PR, but it’s not the only thing, which is what everyone keeps saying. And “relationships” which by my own anecdotal tally says is an often cited word, yet it’s so small in this analysis. Yet, there it is, our industry’s definition in our own words. My own take is that “media” is easy to define, while “relationships” are harder and less clear. This is why as an industry we need to do a better job of defining PR.

    • Krista replied:

      Exactly, Frank–I think that relationship-building is an underrated skill in public relations. While flashy media relations get the limelight, sometimes good ol’ fashioned relationship-building is also just as, or more, effective in reaching our audiences and publics. Thanks for joining the discussion :)

  2. Danielle Kelly replied:

    Like you, I am really excited by this discussion.

    I think the visual representation you have in this post is a really unique exploration of the concept. Well done!

    The CPRS went through a similar more formal exercise three years ago and launched a new official Canadian definition of PR. Here is the link:

    I like that it is all encompassing. I would love to know what you think.


    • Krista replied:

      Thanks for sharing the CPRS definition, Danielle! It captures a lot of the dominant sentiment, especially putting relationships up top. Now, if only your PR colleagues in the States could get it together as well ;)

  3. Shonali Burke replied:

    I second Frank’s comment – I found it very interesting that “media” was so prominent in the Wordle, and that drives me a little bit crazy, because that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about PR, IMHO – that it’s all, and only, about media.

    I think something a lot of us forget to focus on are “stakeholders.” PR efforts should be targeted to ALL stakeholders, not just a tiny segment of them… and that’s where most programs fall short.

    And I love the pink-themed Wordle!

    • Krista replied:

      I’m so glad you’ve joined the discussion, Shonali :) (for any PR folks out there, be sure to check out her blog Waxing UnLyrical–this girl knows her stuff!)

      Good point about stakeholders and managing communications to all segments. I know you’re a big proponent of ROI, so that makes it even more critical that all audiences and stakeholders are included. If you leave any of them out, PR folks run the risk of skewing their results or missing out on an opportunity.

  4. Danielle Kelly replied:

    Hi again, Krista!
    A colleague of mine Judy Gombita reminded me of this great working resource I wanted to share with you that you may find of value:

    Sorry I forgot to mention it earlier!


    • Krista replied:

      Thanks, Danielle– I may have some more Wordle fun with this link!

  5. What Makes a Journalist? « PR in Pink replied:

    [...] like the concurrent PR definition discussion, the lack of a definition of a journalist leaves it open to interpretation and more inclusion as [...]

  6. The Silver Lining to PR Defined « PR in Pink replied:

    [...] going to propose my own take on what the definition should or should not be. I’ve already shared my thoughts on the diversity of PR definitions before, so I shall not digress any [...]

  7. Jasmine replied:

    Reblogged this on jchenice.

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