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Have you ever been asked, “What do you do,” only to get a blank stare when you reply, “Public Relations?”

We sure have!

And here is why – we do a lot, and many of us do it differently. While we can all define public relations for people based on our old journalism textbooks or with the help of Google, it is time people understood it in simple terms from each of our perspectives.

So, throughout 2011, we are going to do just that. We’re asking public relations practitioners from across the globe one simple question: What is public relations? Their answers will appear here as part of our “What is …..”series that will run on Wednesdays.

This week, Scott reached out to Fred Bagg, who is the Chair of the PRSA College of Fellows:

Fred: I agree with Abbie Fink’s assessment that the question often comes with a blank stare which follows the answer to the question of “what do you do?” For me, my definition began to solidify when I began teaching Intro to public relations as an adjunct more than 25 years ago at Butler University in Indianapolis. (I still teach at Butler, but also teach public relations in the MBA program at the graduate school of business at the University of Indianapolis – but that’s a discussion for another blog post entirely.)

The students were asked as a homework assignment – between classes 1 and 2 – to find a definition of public relations. I had 24 students that semester, and – there were 23 different definitions cited. That was a bit of an eye-opener.

I think public relations is codified in the “relationship” part of the term – it’s anything an organization or person does to establish a relationship, maintain a relationship or repair a relationship in need of improvement. That’s way too simple, of course, with things like “management function,” “in the public interest,” “two-way communication,” “4-step process,” “measurable” and a slew of other contingencies implied rather than stated.

There are now literally hundreds of definitions of public relations out there – which, to me, show the evolving nature of our profession – and, perhaps a little bit of the obsessive nature of the profession’s practitioners. I see this as a good thing rather than a sign of professional schizophrenia – it shows that we understand the evolution and the constantly changing nature of what we do.

So now, I just explain what I do with the simplified definition, a few examples and move on. The good news is that I get fewer and fewer blank stares as folks at least think they know what PR is. These days, the blank stare is more often accompanied with the answer to “What is the PRSA College of Fellows?”

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio

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