Do we really need to define PR?A headline captured my attention recently: “Global PR Industry Now Worth $15bn As Growth Rebounds To 7% In 2016.” This growth — according to Holmes Report chair Paul Holmes — is “encouraging news at a time when the industry is still trying to define its role in a rapidly changing marketing and communications environment.”
Rah, rah, 7 percent growth. That’s great and everything, but what caught my attention was that last part. Is public relations struggling to define its role?

When I was earning my PR degree, I wrote media alerts, press releases, and pitches. All those tasks that fall under the “traditional PR” label and are now being defended as still relevant by industry pros. I see headlines about PR being dead, and I wonder how we got here so fast. How did the very foundation of my higher education suddenly become, according to some, passé?

Placing my wounded ego aside, I take a look at my average day. There’s some blog creation, a little social media posting, client communication, feature article writing, copy for a native advertisement. In other words, a mixed bag of communication efforts.

So are we as PR professionals going through a rebranding of sorts? To find out, I did what any public relations specialist would do. First, I took a survey of public opinion (aka my grandma, my parents, and my best friend). Then I analyzed my findings and drew insights.

What does a PR pro even do? (An unofficial survey)
Here are some answers from my not so random sampling. I asked all of them the same question:

Quick — without thinking too much — what would you tell your friends I do as a PR specialist every day?

Let’s start with my grandma:

“Your job is to promote the positive aspects of a certain business.”

Ah, yes. The spin doctors. Public relations had that reputation for a long time — and maybe it lingers some today. We yell the good stuff from the rooftops and spin the bad stuff into gold when we can.

Moving on to my mom. She said:

“You’re responsible for day-to-day communication with clients. You handle their social media and help them develop a plan for best exposure.”

Not bad, Mom. It is my job to understand my clients’ marketing goals, and help them reach their target audience to achieve those objectives.

Now, for Dad’s response:

“I see your greatest responsibility as getting people to pause and think, ‘Was that relevant to me?’”
A little more abstract, but I like where you’re headed there, Dad. I could write the best press release in the world, but if it doesn’t compel people to stop and pay attention, what’s the point?

And from my best friend, who works in a totally different field — accounting. (Please, no one ask me what she does …)

Kate said:

“Basically, you take a business and research their purpose, processes and outputs in order to create digestible pieces of information.”

I detect some financial terms in there, but Kate makes an interesting observation: transforming business outputs into digestible information. But what is defined as digestible information these days? It’s not just press releases or even blogs anymore. It’s social media copy, digital newsletters, native advertisements.

So what’s the definition of PR in 2017?
A survey is only as good as the insights you gather from it. So what did I learn?

I learned that it’s hard to define public relations within the larger context of marketing. We don’t get to stay nestled in our media relations bubble anymore. The lines between PR, paid media, creative, and digital aren’t just blurry anymore — they’re all but abolished. Integrated campaigns are opportunities to find new ways to collaborate in forming the right messages that live on the right channels at the right time.

I learned that the content we create is more valuable than ever. It’s how we represent our clients; it’s how we communicate their purpose and processes; and it’s how we get people to stop and consider the value of their partnership. It’s about more than disruption. Content is about forming and sustaining connections with our customers — and theirs.

To remain significant in the face of bottom lines and marketing budgets, do PR pros need a more defined role? Do we cross our arms and say, “That’s not part of my job description,” or “I didn’t go to school for that”? Nah. At Two Rivers Marketing, we don’t like to think in silos.

So how would I define PR in 2017? It’s knowing our clients and their customers. It’s knowing industry challenges and pain points. It’s taking that knowledge and creating resources that help solve problems and provide answers. PR pros always have and always will find the most effective way to communicate. The platforms may change, but we change with them. The way we measure may shift, but we’re going to keep up. It is, plain and simple, getting the job done, and that’s how we define our value.

About Meredith Augspurger

Public relations specialist Meredith Augspurger isn’t afraid of trying something new. After graduating with a degree in public relations and working as a community relations coordinator for a children’s hospital in Milwaukee, her career took an unexpected turn when she tried her hand as a pastry chef. She found that her love of the written word couldn’t be denied and now utilizes her talents in writing and media relations for clients. Email her at and she might just give you the recipe for a bourbon pecan tart.