Introducing a new, maple-infused definition of public relations, in both official languages

Wiki method for creating CPRS definition receives attention in Philip Sheldrake

At the Canadian Public Relations Society’s Annual General Meeting, held on June 7, 2009, in Vancouver, British Columbia, CPRS member in attendance were introduced to new, official definitions (in English and French) of public relations. Both versions were adopted by the CPRS National board in February 2009, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They are as follows:

Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest. (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)

Par relations publiques, on entend la gestion stratégique des relations qui existent entre une organisation et ses divers publics, en ayant recours à la communication afin de parvenir à une entente mutuelle, d’atteindre les objectifs organisationnels et de servir l’intérêt du public. (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)

The initiative to create and adopt the (bilingual) definition did not happen quickly, nor was advance research and deliberations undertaken easily or lightly. The triumvirate of “defining” architects included Dr. Terence (Terry) Flynn, APR, FCPRS (professor and director, Masters in Communication Management Program, DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University and recently elected president, CPRS), Fran Gregory, MCM, APR (currently professor, public relations, Conestoga College, with prior and extensive senior-level corporate communication experience at companies such as Mutual Group (Clarica) and Babcock-Wilcox) and Jean Valin, APR, FCPRS (director general communications, Transport Canada, past president, CPRS and past chair, Global Alliance of Public Relations and Communication Management).

According to correspondence from Terry Flynn, the project began in September 2007, when educators from across Canada were surveyed to understand what definition(s) of public relations were being used in relevant courses. Over the course of that term, the working group received a number of responses. During the summer of 2008, Terry, Fran Gregory and Jean Valin embarked on the project to develop a new and distinct Canadian definition.

(For many years CPRS had a posted definition of public relations on its website, but apparently there is no historical record as to how or why that definition was chosen.)

The research and process to define public relations:

1. In July 2008, Terry Flynn initiated a dedicated wiki, Defining Public Relations, for the working group. The wiki identifies a double-digit number of existing definitions of public relations from literature (primarily drawn from American resources).

2. Next the real slog work began, as Terry, Fran Gregory and Jean Valin conducted a content analysis of all definitions: identifying common themes and constructs that could (or should be) incorporated into the new CPRS definition.

3. The next step saw the working group beginning to write preliminary definitions—and revising along the way.

4. They arrived at a common understanding in January 2009, which was presented for approval at the first scheduled CPRS National board meeting held in February 2009.

I recommend you pay a visit to the dedicated wiki, as it includes comments from educators, the 19 published definitions and the working group’s “matrix of constructs.” The transparency of this exercise is evident, as readers can even review Terry, Fran and Jean’s deliberations over wordings.

This definition is a product of the Education Commission. It has been incorporated into the outreach of CPRS’s Pathways project. A soft launch of the definition has been completed under that program’s phase 1 consultation. It is slated to be added to the CPRS website shortly, under an easily found navigation tab.

(Thank you to Terry Flynn for providing me with an historical backgrounder and access to source material, and allowing me to share the process and final definition(s) with our international readership on PR Conversations.)

During the CPRS On The Edge conference’s Tuesday plenary session, “PR in the Vanguard: How Practitioners Can Lead the Way in the Economic Recovery” (see live-blog archive), presenter Paul Mylrea (a CIRP/UK representative on the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management) spoke about what he considered the essence of effective public relations. I’m paraphrasing his words, but basically Paul detailed the ability to take a really complicated concept and distill it into simple and clear communication that is easily understood by the majority of people.

(From the live bloggers: “Erin Raimondo: Holy Grail of PR–get to the simplicity that goes beyond complexity…communicates perfectly the true essence of the message so that it resonates.” “Alyssa Smith: Key to developing messages is the simplicity at the end of complexity. Meaning that a message must take all the complexity and get it to real truth of it in order to have it resonate with an audience.”)

I believe the official, new definition(s) for public relations introduced by the Canadian Public Relations Society meets that criteria. Agree or disagree?

Updates:
Gigi de Mier (Puerto Rico) has supplied a Spanish translation of the definition (via Jean Valin, APR, FCPRS):

Relaciones públicas es el manejo estratégico de las relaciones entre una organización y sus diversos públicos, mediante el uso de las comunicaciones, para alcanzar entendimiento mutuo, lograr las metas organizacionales y servir el interés público. (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)

And from Toni Muzi Falconi, the Italian translation:

Per relazioni pubbliche si intende la gestione strategica delle relazioni che esistono fra una organizzazione e i suoi diversi pubblici, attraverso la comunicazione, per raggiungere la comprensione reciproca, gli obiettivi organizzativi e servire l’interesse pubblico. (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)

A proposed German translation from Markus Pirchner (Austria):

Public Relations sind das strategische Management der Beziehungen einer Organisation mit ihren verschiedenen Öffentlichkeiten mit den Mitteln der Kommunikation, mit dem Ziel, gegenseitiges Verständnis zu erreichen, Organisationsziele zu verwirklichen und dem Gemeinwohl zu dienen. (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)

João Duarte has provided (the requested) Portuguese translation:

Relações Públicas designa a gestão estratégica de relações entre uma organização e os seus diversos públicos, fazendo uso da comunicação, por forma a desenvolver um entendimento mútuo, alcançar as metas organizacionais, e servir o interesse público.(Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)

December 2011 Update: New visitors to this post are recommended to also read Terry Flynn’s recent guest post, A defining moment for public relations, including its very active comments section (amongst many others, James Grunig weighed in).

Links to this blog post:
- The New Canadian Definition of Public Relations (PR-Bridge)
- Definitions of PR: keeping it honest (21st-century PR Issues)
- The Week’s Best, 22 June 2009 (Teaching PR)
- Sales promotion is now PR (Greenbanana)
- Social Media Top 5: WTF II, What is(n’t) PR, & Mom-Bloggers PR Boycott (Doug Haslam)

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49 Responses to “Introducing a new, maple-infused definition of public relations, in both official languages”
  1. Bill Huey says:

    Our cousins to the north are rightly proud of their CPRS definition, and it is fine as far as it goes, but it’s rather like defining an architect as one who designs buildings and supervises their construction.

    That definition is accurate enough, but it doesn’t begin to describe the scope of practice or range of activities undertaken by architects: giant firms, solo practitioners, academics who freelance, government and institutional architects, corporate and in-house architects, and so on. One might do nothing but design post offices all day, while another–like Robert Venturi–does stunning, world-beating designs from a two-person firm.

  2. ana-maria ciobotaru says:

    Hello, this is the Romanian translation for the definition. Thanks a lot for the article, it is very comprehensive and useful. Here it goes: ”Relațiile publice înseamnă managementul strategic al relațiilor dintre o organizație și diversele ei publicuri, prin folosirea comunicării, pentru a obține înțelegerea reciprocă, pentru a realiza scopurile organizației și pentru a servi interesul public.”

  3. Judy Gombita says:

    Thanks, Ana-Maria! I’ve now added the Romanian definition into the blog post proper, and let the original architects (Flynn, Gregory, Valin) know about your contribution. And thank you for your kind words about the blog post.

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