What is PR?

What do you think public relations is? For the past thirty years, the Public Relations Society of America has defined it as follows: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other. Hunh?!?

The PRSA recognizes that this definition may not be meaningful to many people. It is surely outdated even for those who subscribe to it.

Gini DietrichMartin Waxman and I talk about the PRSA’s initiative to develop a new definition of public relations on this week’s Inside PR.

I’m not sure that they PRSA’s “fill in the blanks” crowd-sourcing approach will yield the type of definition that truly reflects the enhanced role of PR in the era of social media. Sadly, I think it lends itself to a “we act on people” definition, not the “we are part of something” perspective that is more appropriate to the age of social media.

Hopefully, my fears are misplaced and the PRSA will come up with something much more sophisticated. To do so, they need look no farther than the definition developed by the Canadian Public Relations Society. The CPRS defines public relations as “the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics through the use of communication to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.” In my opinion that’s a much better definition.

Gini Dietrich suggests that whatever definition is adopted, it will only be useful if it can be readily understood by the general public. And she believes that right now most people believe that PR amounts to little more than media relations.

I agree. Seeing PR as media relations is too restricting. It puts the PR industry in a small box within marketing or communications. A more expansive definition is needed that captures PR’s full role in the era of social media and meaningful online relationships.

Martin argues that the public relations profession should define itself through the lense applied by Jeff Jarvis when he asserts that “In a world of publicness which allows us to connect to each other, to information to actions and to transactions, links, i.e. linking up, help us organize new societies and redefine our publics.”

You can listen to our full discussion on Inside PR


Where do PR agency leaders go to learn how to run their businesses?

If you run a PR agency, you know that it can be hard to find expert advice that relates directly to our business. There is no shortage of conferences and seminars dealing with practice issues – media relations, social media, research. But business skills that are tailored to the public relations industry. They are few and far between.

There is one conference that is unique in its focus and its attendees. The PRSA Counselors Academy Conference brings together owners and managers of public realtions agencies from across North America for two days of sessions focusing on the business of PR.

At the recent PRSA International Conference (a great conference for learning about communications best practices), my Inside PR co-hosts, Martin Waxman, Gini Dietrich and I caught up with Abbie Fink, the Chair of this past year’s Counselors Academy Conference. We talked with her about what makes Counselors Academy unique – and a must-attend for each of us.

At Counselors Academy, business leaders set aside their status as competitors in order to advance the collective whole, the public relations consulting industry. Abbie says the focus of the Counselors Academy Conference is “being a better owner, a better manager, discovering new ways to do business development and revenue streams … the management side of running a public relations practice.” How do they set billable hours? How do they determine when to bring on another employee? How do they deal with problematic clients? Under what circumstances would they fire a client?

Why do these PR business leaders share so freely with one another? According to Abbie, “If I can help another PR agency owner look at or do something in a different way and they become better at what they do, that’s good for our industry as a whole.”

You can hear our interview with Abbie and also Martin, Gini’s and my discussion of our own perceptions of Counselors Academy on Inside PR 275.


If you are a PR agency principal and you go to only one conference this year…

The next Counselors Academy Conference will take place May 6 to 8, 2012 in New Orleans. And Inside PR’s Martin Waxman is co-chairing this year’s conference with Dana Hughens. You can be sure that I’ll be there along with the senior leaders of my company.

“If you are a PR business owner and you can only go to one professional development event,” says Abbie Fink, “then Counselors Academy is the one thing you should attend.”

If you’re interested in more information about this year’s conference, you can find it at the Counselors Academy Conference Website.

What makes a conference worth attending?

Why do you attend conferences? I attend primarily for two reasons.

First, I want to meet in real life the people who share my interests and whom I follow online. I get to know them well online. But still there’s no substitute for real life, in-the-flesh contact. So, I always consider who else will be attending a conference when I’m deciding whether to invest the time and effort to attend.

Second, I want to be exposed to new ideas that I can think about and learn from. I consider a presentation worthwhile if I get at least one thought-provoking idea from it. So, at a great conference, I might take away four or five great ideas for each day I attend.

I discussed this in a short video interview with Johna Burke from Burrelle’s Luce when we bumped into one another at the recent PRSA Counselors Academy Conference in Las Vegas.

Follow the PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference

ca2009Every year in the spring, the members of the PRSA’s Counselors Academy gather in a beastly hot southern resort for the organization’s spring conference. Counselors Academy membership is restricted to principals of PR firms or senior practitioners (at least 10 years consulting experience). So, the conversation is unlike any other gathering I have found.

I’m heading to this year’s conference in Palm Springs (37 degrees today – feels blazing hot to my Canadian skin).

I’ll be tweeting the sessions, as will many other people. We’ll be using the hashtag #CA2009. So, if you’re interested in any of the presenters, search on Twitter for #CA2009.

Among the speakers who I’m looking forward to seeing and tweeting:

Archlight Pacific Theatres Cinerama DomeRobert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad, on how Geek Squad used reputation to build a strong brand;

Steve McKee, author of When Growth Stalls, talking about how to pull your business out of its recession-induced funk;

Suzanne Bates offering advice on how to motivate people within your organization (This has to be my top priority – how to motivate people when the recession is battering them.)

David Anderson and Jason Baer leading a discussion on launching digital marketing services to extend a PR practice;

Robert Merritt leading a roundtable on how to improve and measure your level of client satisfaction;

Tom Gable talking about how we can manage for results and profits in bad times as well as good times;suzannebates

Monty Hagler and Gary Towning providing their advice on shaping an integrated program in which PR does not get pushed to the side by advertising and marketing;

Janet Tyler leading a session on how to figure out what current clients value and think of your firm and the services you provide;

Michael Lasky talking about how to negotiate client-agency contracts that will work for both sides of the deal;

Brad Schwartzberg and Mark Eber offering their advice on how to grow through mergers and acquisitions.

So, if you’re interested in any of this, you can follow the coverage by searching for #CA2009 on Twitter.