What does PR mean to you?

Girl using cookie cutterOver the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get a handle on what PR had become to me.  The industry is in a state of flux and evolution. Instead of the old fare cup of coffee industry that we grew up in the current state is robust with flavors that would make Starbucks blush.

With many PR folks taking the helm of social networking (SN) activities, I’ve also wondered if PR was the correct term for the industry as the space blends PR with many other disciplines like customer service, sales and word-of-mouth marketing.

I asked folks in the #PRBC discussion what PR meant to them and really just got back a handful of generic cookie cutter answers that reflected what the industry used to be.

So I pondered and stared at four letters – P, R, S and N.

Sure I was a PR and social networking guy for a company, but the acronym wasn’t doing anything for me because it was just letters.

All of that changed when I was thinking of the acronym driving to the Home Depot to pick up some paint.

I noticed that everyone in the Home Depot greets you when you walk into the store to see if you need help – EVERYONE. It is kind of like a visitor center of a community. Now when you add the abbreviation to PRSN, you get something that should resonate.


To me, the word just clicked with what PR has become. It is not about media outreach, placements or press releases it is about humanizing a company and making an impression and passing the message along at the customer level.

It’s about people and people relations – customers, media members and bloggers are all people and it’s up to you to make the connection.

That’s my definition of PR and I am sticking to it. What’s yours?

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  • Great post Jeff! I am really glad that you posted this topic because it is very much apparent these days that PR is not the same as it used to be, and many of the agencies out there are conforming to this new wave. I do agree with you and your new take on PR, giving a company/thing a persona is very important.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Alli. It is tough to differentiate at times, but we really need to put things into perspective.

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  • I just commented on Manny’s post yesterday about the importance of using a PR “utility belt.” I agree with you that PR is about people and humanization. Whether that’s client relations, media relations, social networking activities or direct customer service and response, PR pros are the communications point people for brands, companies, and thought leaders. Fortunately, much of the work we do can never be replaced by a machine. P.E.R.S.O.N. works, as long as it remains organic, flesh, and blood.

    • Anonymous

      People matter and at the end of the day, automation cannot replace the human touch that we all crave. Companies will have to embrace this in terms of headcount and dedicated hours.

  • I agree with you that PR should be about people and people relations. I am still in school and I am constantly being taught new social media tools. While I really enjoy using social media in PR, sometimes I think that other methods (that still work) are becoming extinct. We need to learn how to combine the new tools of social media with the successful old tools.

    • Anonymous

      Glad to hear Rebecca. Good luck in school by the way. It is all about thinking about people not just the bottom line. As an internal flack, we’re always looking for customer intelligence. I would guess that agencies do the same, but I can’t comment on that. The big thing to remember is to keep on learning. When you stop, you become irrelevant.

  • I’m with you, Jeff! This point comes across in many of the new books about the PR industry – like “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.” Somewhere along the line, the “public” and “people” were removed from the PR mix. I’m glad the shift is going back in that direction.

    Another word I always use to describe PR is storytelling. Storytelling is an art, and it’s a huge component of what we do as PR professionals.

    • Anonymous

      I like stroytelling, but it also brings up a Pinocchio connotation that may also imply lying so its a a slippery word too.

      • I can see how “storytelling” with no context can easily get misconstrued. But, if you go a little further into how storytelling relates to PR, I’d like to think it would be hard for anyone to get the impression that it relates to something negative or slippery. Good discussion with this post. 🙂

  • I’d subscribe to this philosophy too, Jeff. When I hear this question I always think: third-party validation. That is the goal of PR from my vantage point, and it’s built, as you suggest, on relationships — whether that’s between people, or an organization (which is made of people) and it’s stakeholders (which are also people).

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the comment Frank, third-party is always good, but when I hear that I think of vendor accreditation from firms and analysts. Customer insight and feedback is priceless.

  • Talk about a though-provoking question! Like others, PR can mean many different things to me. I think it’s tough to say it is definitely this, or definitely that. In a way, it kind of depends on the situation. For example, when I worked on the agency side, PR meant building brands, enhancing brand affinity, driving conversations, etc. Now that I work for a professional association (PRSA), it’s more about a broader perspective of ensuring multiple audiences, sometimes with similar needs, sometimes not, understand, respect and appreciate the value of our profession. And that means taking a different approach than I would have on the agency side.

    For me, the broad answer comes down to relationships, and not in the now-cliched meaning of developing social media engagement with buzz influence and relationship management and all of that junk. I’m talking really deep, mutually-beneficial relationships, with a variety of audiences. Whether that’s brand advocates, reporters, bloggers, association members and many others, I now think about how am I going to get all of these different audiences on board and advocating for one broad, central purpose.


    • Anonymous

      Keith – Interesting vantage point. I love building relationships and think that if you don’t keep that in mind in this business, you’ll be on the wrong track to nowhere.

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