What public relations is...or what it should be?

What public relations is...or what it should be?

It seems we have a new definition - it even got reported in the New York Times!  From the PRSA - the Public Relations Society of America - comes:

"Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."

So thats nice and clear then. But I wonder if this isn't really what the voters (yes, it was agreed by a vote) think PR should be - rather than what it actually is.  The thing is, PR is lots of different things. Of course nobody would argue that we shouldn't be building mutually beneficial relationships, but how much of a practitioner's work is actually still about trying to manage down the negative and push products? And there's nothing wrong with that - is there? We have to accept that to many people PR is still thought of as media relations because that is still what a lot of practitioners actually do most of the time.

I wonder how internal communicators feel - does this definition feel inclusive enough for all the PR disciplines? Because afterall those 'publics' include employees.  I think the term 'publics' would seem quite alien to an internal comms professional .

However, I am not sure how much an actual definition matters. Isn't it more about understanding? We all know what an accountant does, or a doctor, but we might not be able to actually articulate the definition.  I think an interesting way to define PR - if a definition is about describing what something actually is - is to ask people outside the discipline but who come into contact with it, what they believe it is.  Back in the day when I was in The AA (thats the Automobile Association) press office, if I said I was in public relations people thought I was on the end of the phone when you rang up to say that you had broken down - afterall, thats dealing with the public isnt it? Oh and they would always ask if I had one of those yellow vans.....