October 4, 2014

Definition of Public Relations(PR) - Does PR Devour Journalism?

I started this site to record my thoughts as a Tokyo-based public relations (PR) consultant for reference of young people, or future reference of today's infants to be exact, initially thinking of my two-year old son.

So, I want to describe what PR is in the first place, although it may be an old historical record when he comes to age in 2033 (Imagine that!).

Today, The Public Relations Society of Japan (PRSJ) defines Public Relations(PR) as the way of an organization to think and act to build sound relations between itself and its surrounding people including individuals, groups, and societies, that is developed in the United States in the early 20th century and on. As time passes, PR and advertisement almost became synonymous, thus the meaning of PR deviated from the original form. Often it is misunderstood that PR is one-way information delivery from an organization, but the true essence of PR is relationship building with society and public in a good manner. (Summary translation of PRSJ introduction originally in Japanese)

Japan's so-to-speak PR teacher, Public Relations Society of America adds "In the relatively brief period leading up to today, public relations has been defined in many different ways, the definition often evolving alongside public relations’ changing roles and technological advances." "The earliest definitions emphasized press agentry and publicity, while more modern definitions incorporate the concepts of 'engagement' and 'relationship building.'"


So, the core of public relations across continents lies in the relationship building.

FT Magazine claims "the lines between journalism and PR are rapidly becoming blurred as business interests bypass traditional media to get their message across" in "The invasion of corporate news" as of September 19, 2014. For most journalists, PR is perceived as "spinners of favorable stories, glossers-over of unfavorable facts and gatekeepers standing between us and the people we want to get to." Ironically to them, "PR are winning". "Employment in US newsrooms has fallen by a third since 2006, according to the American Society of News Editors, but PR is growing. Global PR revenues increased 11 per cent last year to almost $12.5bn, according to an industry study entitled The Holmes Report."


The article illustrates that "marketers talk about 'paid media' (advertising they have to buy), 'earned media' (from press coverage to word-of-mouth buzz) and a growing category called 'owned media' (their websites, blogs and social media feeds)." "The attraction of 'owned media' is that brands neither have to pay a media outlet for it nor earn it by convincing a reporter that the story is worth covering. That is a problem for the news industry’s ad sales teams and newsrooms alike." Thus, "the pressures on news business models have forced the industry to innovate, and 'native advertising' has become a favorite buzzword. "


The same trend is clearly found in Japan. Nevertheless, it appears to me that corporate communications, marketing, and PR are all tagged as one and oversimplified. 


To sum up the definition and correlation of PR and corporate communications, this is the chart I draw. PR can be positioned as either synonymous of  Corporate Communications  in the broad sense, or part of it. PR in the narrow sense is dedicated to editorial articles which require reporters to agree on the news value and write, just like marketing communications contributes to advertisements which require production and media buying cost.

To comment on some journalists' worries described in FT Magazine, I believe journalism, generated through mass media and social media, and PR are not competing parties.  PR in my definition is to facilitate companies to build sound relations with their stakeholders, while journalism is to deliver news. When interests of those two match, newsworthy corporate stories are formed and get across to people.

Therefore, I agree with Ms. Arianna Huffington quoted in The Progressive in November 12, 2009. She stated that "the future of quality journalism is not dependent on the future of newspapers. The discussion needs to move from 'How do we save newspapers?' to 'How do we save and strengthen journalism?'—however it is delivered."

Anyhow, in about twenty more years, all the definitions and landscapes may (will) change. 


The only thing I want to deliver to the future grown-up is "Clarify what a term means and what's behind it by yourself."

Don't be confused by buzzword.

Some people might misinterpret what you do, but be confident and define it by yourself.


That's all your mom tells you. Okay, boy?

Oh boy, he is taking his own photo with my smartphone...

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