In the space of about five minutes this morning, I read two blog posts that touched on what communications actually means.
The first was the new official definition of public relations from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). That definition, selected by vote after a debate, is “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” (Read more here.) Fair enough, and as noted elsewhere, a concise summary for those seeking to understand what we do.
The second was the latest blog post from Seth Godin. He talks about customer unhappiness in the context of businesses providing products or services. The solution, he says, ” is pretty simple: address the unhappiness. Change the system or talk about the problem or acknowledge it if that’s all that can be done. None of this can happen, though, unless there’s communication” (my italics).
He goes on to say that much communication (“is everything OK, sir?”) is rote, with little or no genuine intent to act behind it.
It struck me that the most effective communications has intent: not just a sale (or that could be an intent) or even, per the PRSA’s definition, mutual understanding or benefits, but a real, authentic, genuine desire to help the other party move to a new status. That might be understanding, but it might also be a sale, or to assist in employee retention, or gain a vote, or garner support for a cause, or to recruit advocates.
I haven’t thought of public relations as having ‘intent’ in this way. It’s an interesting concept, and I think has a bit more of an edge than ‘mutual understanding or benefits’.
Defining a communications programme with objectives that say “we wish to help this group of individuals understand our perspective, so that they take a certain set of actions” (with these defined) seems to me to be a more complete set of objectives.