by Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W PR

Following an earlier article I wrote about the definition of Public Relations, Keith Trivitt, Associate Director of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) wrote that after all of PRSA’s work on the definition of public relations, and the similarity of their definition and mine, the definition came from “...working with our global industry partners and the profession in developing this new, modern definition of public relations. It came about from a comprehensive public process that involved a crowd sourcing phase, public comment period and a two-week public vote.”

This “comprehensive public process” had a grand total of 927 definitions on the meaning of PR, and a whopping 1,447 votes cast. So, for PRSA’s “crowd sourcing phase, public comment period and a two-week public vote,” under 1,500 people worldwide cared enough to participate.

Rather shabby participation don't you think? And while defining PR is important, the question remains is anyone listening?

And that’s the problem as I state in my book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations.”

PR can be an incredible change-making business—and it is enjoying a well-deserved growth stage.

IBIS World, a media research firm, says PR spending in 2010 was $9.73 billion and forecasts it will increase to $12.82 billion by 2015. The growth is in part due to PR’s ability to participate in a more nimble and flexible way with the new methods by which people consume media, including social media.

That sounds promising until you compare it with ad spending, which even after annual declines in recent years is about $210.5 billion a year in the U.S. The PR business is a tiny piece of the pie compared to advertising.

PR Needs More Outreach

There’s complete institutional apathy in the Public Relations industry—there’s no effective organization that advocates on behalf of the PR
industry (1,500 people globally participated in this major PRSA endeavor).

No group educates large potential clients (big businesses, professional and nonprofit organizations, trade associations, and so on) about the value and importance PR can have on their bottom lines.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) touts that one of its biggest attributes is “networking and professional development.”

As a CEO building a business and career, I wonder if professional development is something a small industry association can do better than a professional development consultancy. Wouldn’t it be better for PRSA to bring together business leaders in other sectors and educate them on the ways PR can help their brands and their bottom lines?

Similarly, the Council of PR Firms exists with a valuable purpose to promote excellence in the field, share best practices in firm management and other valuable efforts—but they barely, if at all, speak to the outside world.

Doesn’t it make sense for industry leaders and PR’s professional organizations to regularly meet with large Fortune 1000 companies, for example, to educate and enlighten them about the value of PR? It doesn’t happen. PRSA – Wouldn’t this be effective?

This kind of institutional apathy and misdirection has hurt the entire PR industry.

In contrast, the advertising world has strong and effective advocacy groups. Its national trade association, American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), educates and inspires brands and businesses to spend money on advertising.

The marketing world has the American Marketing Association (AMA), which also campaigns on behalf of the industry to business leaders. The organization goes directly to businesses and business leaders and educates them as to the value of marketing to their various industries.

If there were more organized outreach on behalf of PR I believe there would be more businesses spending money on PR, and the entire industry would benefit. The lack of similar industry-wide support is one of the many reasons the budgets, size, and revenue of the industry
are so much smaller than related industries like advertising and marketing.

Public relations is an amazing business that offers people, brands, personalities, politicians, nonprofits, foundations, hospitals—you name it—an incredible chance to leverage their strengths and shape public opinion.

After months of debates, voting and suggestions, the Public Relations Society of America has formally defined Public Relations as:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their

In my book I define great public relations this way: 1. helps make the impersonal personal. 2. bridges divides. 3. creates excitement and builds equity for businesses, personalities, politicians, and others.

Are the definitions really that different? And more importantly, is anyone really paying attention? Will this make the public relations business grow?

I think PRSA and the other organizations advocating for PR should be speaking to potential clients for our industry rather than taking 1,447 votes from people who work at PR Agencies, or 947 definitions from PR firm staffers.