The Definition of Public Relations, Google on Privacy and Other Issues

There’s been a lot of buzz of late around the public relations profession. The national Public Relations Society of America is currently undertaking a 21st Century definition of PR, which they’ll likely unveil in the next weeks. They solicited input far and wide to try to come up with some encompassing definition for the widely diverse practice of public relations. (View the current definition of PR here)

But this is only one aspect in which public relations is generating news: Many people are excited about the rosy labor forecasts projected for the profession during the next few years. The US Labor Department expects “employment of public relations specialists to grow 24 percent from 2008 to 2018–much faster than the average for all occupations.”  That is, presumably, good news indeed.

So why is all this buzz important? Well, one consequence, for certain, is that more people are caring about the practice of public relations. And how does this help clarify what’s good PR practice, and what’s not?

While we would certainly be hesitant to pre-empt PRSA’s studied process for redefining the profession, a look at recent headlines regarding some companies and their public relations crystallized a few thoughts about what PR is, about what works, and what doesn’t.

For example, within the past few weeks, two iconic brands—Google and Apple—have been uncharacteristically broadsided by bad PR:  Google, on privacy issues for its data-gathering processes on Safari browsers and Apple for the working conditions at some of its overseas manufacturers and suppliers. While neither company can be happy about such publicity, it’s worth noting that for each company, thus far, the fallout has been minimal. (See final note below) Which got us to thinking—why are some companies brought to their knees over news that’s a lot less damaging than these two companies faced, while other companies are able to withstand major hits and continue virtually unscathed?

Public perception of the companies beforehand accounts for a lot; and what plays a major role in shaping those perceptions—good public relations. Another way that we view good public relations is “stockpiling goodwill.” Companies do this everyday by paying attention to the details of business operations and marketing; correcting errors—proactively, as often as possible; and adopting a consumer-sensitive, if not consumer-friendly outlook. In short, they do the right thing most of the time, they do it willingly, and they’re good a creating feedback mechanisms to understand what their publics want, or at least what they’ll tolerate. (Panera offers the most recent example of this kind of corporate citizenship). So when issues flare up, their credibility helps buffer them from a major public debacle.

So that’s our working definition of public relations: conducting business everyday so that you stockpile goodwill. In the meantime, we’ll continue reading the headlines and looking forward to the PRSA’s consensus definition of the public relations profession.

By the way, it’s worth noting that Google has lobbed an impressive pre-emptive strike to try to contain the damage from its recent bad press. Check out the photo below …

Google's print ad campaign to offset negative publicity regarding the privacy of its searches.

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2 Responses to “The Definition of Public Relations, Google on Privacy and Other Issues”


  1. 1 gimnasia en casa March 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

    • 2 prdoctorchicago April 7, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks for your interest in prdoctorchicago blog. Yes, we are also on Twitter as well as Facebook. You can reach on @prdoctorchicago on Twitter; by our same name on Facebook.
      Hope you’ll keep reading, and we welcome your comments.


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