How do you define PR?

Agony uncle and University of Westminster's visiting professor of PR Trevor Morris gives it to you straight.

Trevor Morris: PRWeek's agony uncle
Trevor Morris: PRWeek's agony uncle

I was asked at a dinner party to define PR. For someone in comms, I made a pretty poor job of answering. How do you define PR?

You can always try using the Public Relations Society of America’s definition: "Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics."

Oddly, it often seems to provoke the response "PR b******t".

I have two ways of defining PR when asked. The simplest goes like this. Advertising is a man walking into a room and saying: "Hi, I’m great." PR is a man walking into a room and people saying: "Hey, I hear he is great."

My second definition is a bit more formal: PR is about persuading people to behave in ways that support your objectives. It works primarily through media relations and other forms of third party endorsement.

What this tries to capture is that PR is purposeful. Behaviour is the ultimate goal…  awareness and influence are means to that end. It also tries to describe how PR actually works – primarily media relations and third-party endorsement – and is distinct from other comms techniques, such as advertising. It isn’t a perfect definition but it is honest – describing PR as it is, not as we would like it to be – and does, I hope, avoid the worst sort of business jargon and piety.

Got a problem? Contact Trevor at

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