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Cisco’s Definition of Public Relations

November 30, 2011
at 3:46 pm PST

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is conducting a little public relations (PR) campaign for PR.  Part of that campaign is to (re)define what PR actually is.

The crack, creative, consultative, innovative, productive, collaborative, communicative PR team at Cisco decided to do a little brainstorm and we offer the following as our definition of PR:

“Public Relations is knowing what to say; when to say it; how to say it; where to say it; whom to say it to, to promote and protect the client’s reputation.”

We think this fully encompasses the following components of public relations:

1. What to say: messaging

2. How to say it: strategy

3. Where to say it: channel (social media, traditional media, etc.)

4. Whom to say it to: audience

We all recognized that social media is playing a larger role in communications (and marketing) writ large as well as public relations.  PR is about relationships and communications. Obviously, you have to know how to communicate. And, more importantly, you have to have the relationships (or channels) built prior to your need to communicate in order to reach the appropriate audience with your message.

Communications and PR, in my humble opinion, comes down to two simple things:

1. Goal

2. Audience

Without knowing your goal, you cannot have a message or a strategy.  Without knowing which audience you want to reach, you likely reach no one.  And, as social media’s role increases every day the notion of engagement grows in importance. It isn’t enough just to reach your audience with your message, you also want them to engage with you and your message.

So, there it is…our attempt at letting our parents’ know what we actually do on a day to day basis…in one sentence.  So, fellow PR professionals: what do you think of our definition?  What would you add?  What would you subtract?  Or, would you completely start over?

(And, if you haven’t added your thoughts on the definition of PR to PRSA, please do so here by this Friday, December 2!)

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28 Comments.


  1. John Earnhardt

    One of my learned colleagues said that good PR is often when NOT to say something. I could not agree more.

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  2. Hi John, in my personal opinion PR is also about listening. Sometimes as PR professionals we forget to listen to the audience but listening will give us clues on how to reach our goals and define our strategies. Thank you.

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  3. John – Thanks to you and the Cisco team for providing this definition of public relations and blogging about the “Public Relations Defined Initiative.” Your support of this global campaign is greatly appreciated, and I want to personally thank you for taking the time to elaborate on the definition that the Cisco team has developed.

    It’s been a great initiative so far, and the response we have received — both within the profession and from external audiences — has been beyond positive. Not to sound overly optimistic here, but I think it’s safe to say that the initiative has launched one of the greatest debates the PR industry has seen in quite some time. And I’d day that’s a very healthy thing.

    Thanks again for your support and participation.

    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director
    Public Relations Society of America

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  4. John Earnhardt

    A former boss/mentor of mine e-mailed that he liked the definition but that he would add that PR requires:

    1. beer
    2. thick skin
    3. good sense of humor

    I concur.

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  5. Jack:
    Ever-changing technological innovations have led to more ways to communicate, but fewer opportunities to stand out. Good PR is a compelling message that stands out amidst the clutter and noise of a busy and fractured world.
    David

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  6. PR is more than just communicating the right message. Who else in our world of huge organizations thinks about making the interaction between individuals and organizations mutuallly beneficial? Communicating is a tool, not the goal.

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  7. Good try, but the definition equates public relations with communication. Communication is a tool of the practice not the sum of the practice. Also, it doesn’t get to the end purpose of public relations which is to achieve results — what are the hoped-for results of promoting or protecting a client’s reputation? Another misconception in public relations can be that reputation is an end in itself, rather than an important intermediate objective

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  8. I think, more simply,

    “public relations is the task of managing the relationship an entity has with it’s audience”

    To get any more complicated than that, which is what you have done, you will inevitably have left out something many people think is important.

    And you left out step 5… Measure the effectiveness of what you have just said.

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  9. Juan is the one who nailed it. The Cisco effort is superb, but it also reflects “organizational thinking”. Namely, it doesn’t take into account the wants and needs of the audience. In order to succeed today and tomorrow, PR must position itself at the crossroads at which the organization and its constituent audiences meet and converse. And, the conversations MUST be highly tailored and relevant to the issues of importance to the audiences, not the organization.

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  10. Good PR extends beyond reputation management, in my view. Consider adding “and interests” at the end, as in: ” … to promote and protect the client’s reputation and interests.”

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  11. I think this definition is on the right track, but I would start the statement with “Public Relations is a function of management that…” to truly help elevate the profession from a marketing tool. And “where to say it” must go beyond the media silo to include any and all channels; the days of PR being just media relations are long gone.

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  12. Hello john ..
    I’m interested about your AUDIENCES.
    Today, the listener is very varied character.
    As a PR is required to understand the various characters that exist, which of course will never end.
    Therefore, I think there’s one thing we can do and should we do that constantly; communication with the HEART. Why? communication with the heart can overcome the existing character of the listener.
    In the end, we will always be happy in carrying out duties as a reliable PR.

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  13. John.
    I like to explain the public relations function as “problem-solving by communicating.” What do you think? BTW, your description of all the Cisco PR folks brainstormng arounds this just confirms my impression of Cisco as an awesome company. Now *that* is good PR!
    Elisabeth

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  14. Public relations is about getting objective third party assimilation of your message. Objective content is what we produce, regardless of the traditional or social media channel. Paid messaging is advertising.

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  15. John:
    A really, really good attempt to define the art and science of public relations. I’m starting to feel this is like the story of three blind men trying to describe an elephant …

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    • John Earnhardt

      @Randy, I’m biased, but I agree that PR is, as you say, “an art and a science.”

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  16. John Earnhardt

    Great input and comments on our definition of PR. I like the agreement of our definition…and the disagreement. Thanks much and keep the thoughtful comments coming.

    I like @Donna’s preamble very much. I think @Brian’s add is a good one. I think @Steven is right as well…I’ve always felt I represent the company/client’s interests 51% (or more) and the media’s interest 49% (i.e. we need to help them do their jobs).

    What I think we all can agree is that PR is an important part of business and there are A LOT of smart, thoughtful practitioners and counselors out there.

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  17. PR is first about ensuring our organizations’ doing the right thing to protect and promote reputation and success. That includes communications in all directions. PR = performance + reputation.

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  18. @John: I agree with you…

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  19. I agree with you that the appropriate audience is so important for public relation. Like in advertisement, it is more effective if we target the audience based on our products. And last, I think it is better to integrate word “ethics” to “strategy”. So, everybody do PR on right way.

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  20. I appreciate the article. I am a personal injury and whiplash chiropractor in St George UT. We have quite a few crashes down here. Most of our crashes are at low speed. I spend a lot of time educating patients that injuries still occur, even at low speeds. It seems that as a chiropractor I am always in a state of PR. Trying to overcome the negative PR from the wackos in my profession has become my part-time job. Most of us chiros are science-minded and seekers of truth, but the crazy ones doing pseudoscience are rocking the boat.

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  21. Without ethics, as part of a description of PR, the definitions will continue to harbor the notion that PR is no more than spin doctoring. PR is NOT just “making a company look good, or planning to benefit all; it’s about doing so with standards and ethics. If you miss the opportunity to enforce that segment of PR, you miss what PR SHOULD be.

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  22. well define i agree with

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  23. I agree with the statement that reads, “PR is more than just communicating the right message”

    and that it is true it is. ..

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  24. Good definition for PR. An exact query posted in a correct manner,gets an accurate feedback – PR.

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  25. The campaign going to be conducted by PRSA is a good news…….

    also I like the definition & explanation given….

    Bensie Dorien

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  26. Sometimes not speaking is better PR than all the time talking and trying to be way to nice

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