Recently, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) asked for submissions on the definition of public relations. After a very spirited debate across Twitter, podcasts, Facebook and various other mediums, they received an unbelievable amount of submissions. With the fast-changing world of engaging technology and sociability, many in the field seem to feel a need for new definitions. Will an internationally accepted definition of public relations come out of this exercise? Of course not, because A) it’s an American organization, and B) you’ll never get consensus. The value is really the engagement and discourse around the topic.
What’s In a Name?
If you look up “Public Relations” on that resource we all know and love, Wikipedia, it has no less than five different definitions. From the European point of view, to the use of technology, to the various disciplines that fall under the public relations umbrella, it certainly supports the perceived need to come up with a clear meaning.
Could the answer be simpler than all that? Where I think we need to focus is more on the actual words: Public Relations, the practice of an organization building long-term relationships with the public (I added “long-term”). This covers everything – technology, people, businesses, etc. And, this is also the heart of customer service.
Are You Being Served?
Wikipedia states that customer service is “the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase.” Sounds like a relationship to me. And if you want those customers to stick around and buy that other product or service, it better be a pretty good relationship.
When customers engage with your company, for the first time and every time after, they should feel a level of connection and trust. You solved their problem. You listened to them. You provided them a service/product that made their lives better (perceived or actual). Who are those customers? Whether it’s media relations, B2B, B2C, corporate communications, labour relations or a guest in your restaurant, it’s about defining who your customers are, providing something they want, and building a relationship that will last.
With the rise of social media and importance of public engagement, the defined line between customer service and public relations is becoming more and more blurred. For good reason…to build public relationships, a business needs to service its customers.
Of the 20 most common words submitted for the PRSA definition, “public” was number two and “relationships” was number four. Oddly, “long-term” didn’t make elite status. I do hope it makes the cut, for the customer’s sake.