March 09, 2011
Defining Public Relations: From Your Heart or From Your Head?
A week ago, I was asked for my definition of public relations by Heidi Cohen who was working on a blog post about what it is, as is how people define it. Here's her blog post in its entirety here which includes 31 definitions including her own.
What's interesting is how I 'felt' when I got the email....meaning I had a physical reaction to being asked for a definition as if there couldn't be a definition to something that was all about human emotions, connections and relationships. Somehow it was like being asked to define love as ridiculous as that sounds. I thought about the last time I had to write or give a definition of public relations and it was when I was in college in London many (many) moons ago.
She writes: "traditionally, public relations referred to the art of getting mentions of a person, company or other organization placed in the media, namely print, radio and television."
Here's an observation I had in reading that statement: where I studied public relations in the UK, it was primarily not about the media, but about a number of very broad constituencies and the media was just one of them. This could be because the UK was a tad more old school about the way they viewed public relations. It could also be that one of my mentors was a professor who was a master at in-person relationships where coffee, tea, scotch, wine, a meal, golf or croquet were part of nearly every conversation. Lobbying was often part of the process too depending on what the end-goal was, but the media was always just one integral part of the strategy, not everything.
When I moved back to the states, the media was a much larger part of the 'game,' although given that I worked at one of the top crisis communications firms at the time (Cone), we managed everything from roundtables, speaker series, thought leadership boards, crisis communications plans, events and guerilla marketing. And, media, of course, was a part of each plan.
It wasn't until I moved into the world of technology (much more niche back then than it is today), that our teams were primarily focused on media relations and not a whole lot else. This isn't to say that we didn't have a strategy in place, but the focus was much more tactical than it had been in the UK and at Cone. The same applied later on in my life when I did a stint in South Africa where it was 80% strategic and 20% tactical for obvious reasons. (South Africa in the early nineties: you can only imagine)
So, early on, I was 'conditioned' to think about a large number of audiences outside traditional media and perhaps that's why when I was 'forced' into an all media relations role, it became easier to execute. It wasn't long before it became increasingly crowded and the PR industry started losing credibility because so many junior folks were thrown on the phones before they really understood the product or service they were pitching, or more importantly, 'cared about it.'
When I hired agencies, the first thing I would do, was throw the team into the product. If I didn't sense they could live and breathe what they were repping, I asked for another exec to replace them. Seriously, why work on something if you don't love it and really believe in it?
When you're coming from a place of passion, it really isn't pitching at all is it? It becomes 'having a conversation' about something you care about and in the process, you get to magically build a relationship with that person. Imagine that? Isn't that exactly what social media (et hem, I mean public relations) is? Engaging with people?
I sent poor Heidi a rather long definition so she obviously had to edit it down, but here's my original submission. BTW, its long because I had such a hard time 'definining it.'
"Public Relations in its true sense is about human connections and the art of mastering human connections at a deep level. In the early days of the PR "playbook", it was about relationships with not just the press but communities in various forms - the difference was that these audiences were not online. While some argue that the value of public relations has diminished in the world of social media where everyone can be an author and content creator, I would argue that someone who not only knows how to master human connections and relationships, but thrives on it, is more vital than ever. True mastery of anything comes from a passion to serve in some way shape or form. The publicists who will matter in the 'new' world of exploding content will be the ones who thrive on communicating via countless channels not because they have to, but because more than anything else in life, they love engaging with people. From this place, authenticity is guaranteed to come through which can only help the products and services within their social sphere shine.
When public relations thrives, its because those who are 'gifted' with this skill are at the helm. When played from a place of passion and purpose, public relations in the new world will not only take social media, branding and marketing to the next level, but will elevate the people and products that are changing the world." - Renee Blodgett, Magic Sauce Media
As for the other 30, they're all pretty interesting and because each of us were asked for a definition because that was the exercise (I had to admit, it was cool exercise btw), nearly every submission reads like a definition. There was of course this very amusing one below that reminds me of Mad Man and how in many ways, a lot really hasn't changed; its just that the packaging and perception has.
"Advertising: I walk into a bar and tell the first hot girl I see how amazing I am in bed. The hot girl doesn’t go home with me. PR: I walk into a bar and a friend of the hot girl sees me and tells her friend how great I am in bed. The hot girl goes home with me. Peter Shankman"
It also reminded me of my days at Saatchi & Saatchi in London during a year that will inevitably tell my age, so I'll leave that part out. :-)
Definitions aside, how about this one which came to my head only a few seconds ago as I thought about a close to this post:
"Public Relations is the art of truly connecting with people. When the public relations master truly connects, they are sharing a 'gift.' Being a master of public relations means that you love people and building relationships so much that every exchange is seamless, authentic, honest, gracious and empathetic. And, over the course of a thousand seamless conversations, the journey becomes a joyous one of learning and deeper understanding, not just of the people you're pitching to and for, but the products and services in your web. Then, my friends, the public relations 'artist' is nothing other than a storyteller who conveys a series of beautiful and compelling stories over a lifetime, ones that inevitably have a tremendous impact on people and help change the world." - Renee Blodgett, Magic Sauce Media
Ah yes, the story. I prefer my new definition, one that came to me within seconds. I prefer it because it came from the heart and when asked for a definition, it came from the head. Living through the heart is the only way to live our lives regardless of industry.
This is how I think about my life anyway and I've been doing this for uhhh, 20 years.
Photo Credit: contentfactory.
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