The Silver Lining to PR Defined

Senor Chang sums it up

It’s amazing what a little thing like a definition can do.

How often do you get into an argument with someone over how they defined a term differently than you?

Leave it to the PR professionals to get into a tizzy over a definition of the term “public relations.”

It’s kind of funny if you think about it—a whole profession of people who specialize in communications cannot agree on how to communicate about their profession.

I’m not making light of this situation at all—defining PR is a huge undertaking and the PRSA took up said unfavorable task and has had to address the subsequent backlash.

And I fully understand the irony with my not working in PR or corporate communications, yet I maintaining a blog called “PR in Pink.”

I’ve made no secret of my new career path and still think that my previous experiences working in public relations warrants a few more helpful posts before I transition to a new blog about alumni relations (working in the pink theme, of course!)

So as not to add to the fire, I’m not 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 further.

Much like the perpetual optimist that I am, I’d rather share what I have observed is the “good” of this whole PR defined situation.

PR professionals are passionate about their work

In reading the many posts out there and the subsequent comments (some of which I have contributed) I realize that people in PR are really passionate about their work.

How passionate, you ask? So much so that they will not let three definitions that they do not subscribe to go by unnoticed.

They are writing columns in favor of or against the PRSA’s options. They are proposing their own personal PR definitions. There’s so much chatter going on that it’s hard to keep up with.

All this points to a profession of sharp and (for lack of a better word) engaged people, all contributing to the discussion.

PR professionals are smart people

There’s an underlying big picture to what it means to define public relations—how that will or will not solve all that is wrong with the profession’s perception and reputation.

Some folks expressing their opinions about PR defined project and the problems associated with such an exercise are drawing attention to this larger picture.

It goes to show that PR folks are not just bitching and moaning about that with which they do not agree—there are some real well thought out and logical arguments being made.

PR professionals are fearless

Jayme Soulati stuck by her crowd-sourced definition; David Rickey from PRSA stuck by his organization’s process and definition options. Is either individual more right than the other?

That’s not a question to answer, really, but more an indication that people in PR are used to criticism, often plan for it, and develop a thick skin to weather the storm.

I don’t know if the PRSA will be swayed to make any changes as a result of this discourse, but it’s still an illustration that you need to be a little fearless to take chances in this profession.

The Silver Lining?

The world of public relations will not stop if one of the PRSA terms is selected.

More than likely, folks who have been challenged to define what PR is to them will stick to their personal definitions.

And that’s okay; in fact, that’s a good thing, since they will hold their work up to a personalized definition that they have had a part of creating.

So, I applaud all sides on this issue and choose to see the silver lining in it all.

Plus, thanks to my light-hearted exchange last Friday with Jayme Soulati, Frank Strong, and Paul Roberts, I think I figured out that my truck-driving handle would be “Sweet Potato.”

Now, who wants to help me define “alumni relations”?  Any takers?  Bueller?….

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February 22, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . public relations.


  1. Heather Yaxley replied:

    Nice post – and good overview with the various links. Thanks

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks, Heather! I thought your post was also helpful in providing context to this whole issue, and that it’s not just “we don’t like a definition” sort of debate.

  2. Jayme Soulati (@Soulati) replied:

    So glad my nudge during our exchange prompted this post! So sad, too, you’re leaving the world of PR…wait, wait, don’t tell me…you are?

    Do you think alumni relations is NOT PR? Oh, but it is. You will be using all the tactics learned in this great profession and applying them to employee relations or corporate communications or stakeholder relations or influencer relations or what the heck is an alum anyway?

    So, you, like moi are are a hybrid! I can’t define my profession, because I’m not longer a pure play in PR; that changed 10 years ago+. I’m using that term because @GiniDietrich is having a webinar today with @deidrebreckinridge about hybrid PR peeps.

    So, don’t be a stranger and when you define alumni relations as piece of PR discipline, please share. #ThatIsAll

    • Krista replied:

      My thoughts exactly! I see alumni relations as an extension of the work and skills I gained working in consumer and healthcare PR. I’m not sure if I’ll work up the gall to define alumni relations but it would be a good exercise to network with my peers and get them thinking like we are in PR about the significance of our work.

      • Jayme Soulati (@Soulati) replied:

        I had a huge discussion with a woman who said she wasn’t in PR, she was in employee communications. I did a double take and worked her over until she saw the light.

        Then I sat with a guy who graduated from OSU in marketing communications and he insisted he wasn’t in PR (he was). We have a crisis of identity as the schools are not spitting out PR professionals; they’re spitting out everything but that vernacular and it’s become a mashup. Not a very good one.

        At the end of the day, we’re confusing the companies and clients and when someone tries to get hired b/c they’re in communications instead of PR…well, that’s more broad than PR! I don’t have the answer.

        PRSA will do what it wants regardless of the conflict. See you over at the alumni in pink blog, Krista!

  3. Richie Escovedo replied:

    I have to agree with Jayme on this one. Alumni Relations is a solid extension of public relations as a strategic communication professional. All of the tools and theory you have will no doubt be put to good use. Also, great job in summing up the PR defined efforts and observing the bigger picture. The fact that we have a discussion going (although sometimes heated) is a a good sign for our profession.

    - Richie

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks, Richie–I think you and Jayme have fully convinced me–I don’t have to turn in my “PR card” just because I work in alumni relations! Thanks for joining the conversation :)

    • Jayme Soulati (@Soulati) replied:


  4. Frank_Strong (@Frank_Strong) replied:

    We have do something we love. If we don’t; then it’s time to pack up and go home. PR is one of those jobs, I feel, that you have to be passionate to be effective. For me, I can’t fake the funk.

    • Jayme Soulati (@Soulati) replied:

      I should’ve called something I deliver as “Passion for PR.” I love my profession; it shall always be the core of what I do as I go changin’ to keep up with the trends.

      The beauty of what I do is that I never have to retire. I never have to work in someone else’s cube, and I can reinvent myself as many times as I want or need to to expand my horizons.

      Whether I’m in alumni relations (good for your, Krista, that you’re on board with that being a PR core) or social media marketing…I bring a powerful PR core to the mix with high-level strategy and problem solving along with a love for the tactical execution.

      I adore your passion, too, Frank. That’s #RockHot!

    • Krista replied:

      And you were one of those folks whose passion for the work I saw come through! I have always carried the same sentiment with every job I’ve had, and when I lost that passion, then I decided it was time to move on to find it elsewhere.

  5. kmueller62 replied:

    Anytime someone says “Bueller”, I feel like I have to respond. Anyway, was working on a semi-related post on this when I saw yours. Thankfully you didn’t say what I was going to say, so I can still write it, and now I can link to you!

    • Krista replied:

      Nice! Thanks for joining in our conversation and looking forward to reading your post :)

  6. Jeff Domansky (@ThePRCoach) replied:

    Krista, really enjoyed your perspective and especially your point “The world of public relations will not stop if one of the PRSA terms is selected.” I’m among those unhappy with the choices PRSA offers, but I’ve enjoyed the conversations and healthy debate and even the occasional humor. All good signs of a healthy profession. Best regards

    • Krista replied:

      Thanks, Jeff! I liked you bringing in the zen of Homer Simpson into the mix with your definition ;)

  7. ClearpointAgency replied:

    Hah! Love the pic!

  8. paulrobertspar replied:

    I really enjoyed the post Krista and I really admire your point of view. It is good to see in the comment section that apparently you don’t need to give up your membership in PR. I’d agree that Alumni Relations allows you to keep PR in Pink. Just don’t feel like you need to join the PRSA.

    • Krista replied:

      Ha! Truth be told, I’m letting my PRSA membership expire this year. I’ve already joined two other higher ed/institutional advancement associations plus my undergrad alumni association. I think my professional association plate is full! And I doubt the PRSA will miss me- besides, I just joined the PRAS ;)

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