If We Can’t Define PR, Congress Will Do It For Us

For many years, public relations professionals have wanted to be taken seriously, to be known for more than the stereotype of “spin doctors.”

We might get our chance, but first we have to survive the spotlight of the U.S. Congress.

William R. Murray, president and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, writes on the Institute for PR’s blog that Congress is increasing its scrutiny of the profession through investigations into government spending on PR. The inquiries are likely to shine a lot of light on the profession and it will probably get pretty ugly before all is said and done. That’s how Congress operates these days.

Of course, PR professionals who go about their work ethically have nothing to worry about. As Murray points out, “Such scrutiny — if conducted fairly and objectively — may prove valuable for public relations.”

He could be right. This might be an opportunity for leaders of our profession to explain what ethical PR practitioners do — which brings to mind another recent kerfuffle around the definition of PR. PRSA recently put forth three options for defining the profession and a public vote determined the final one. Critics came out of the woodwork. Many ridiculed PRSA for the process and for even attempting to provide a definition, saying it was a waste of time and money.

However, at a time when the PR profession needs to explain itself and how ethical practitioners do their jobs, we need a succinct, accurate definition of what we do. If we can’t provide one, the upcoming congressional circus will define the profession for us. And I don’t think we want that.


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