Keep in mind that there are many 'definitions' of public relations. Also, public relations is a very diverse field, with many sub-specialties. Some PR people don't do any media relations, some do nothing but that. Nevertheless, this definition is the most common one used in public relations programs at universities across the country:
"Public relations is the management function that seeks to identify, build, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and all of the publics on whom its success or failure depend."
(Source: Cutlip, S. M., Center, A. H., & Broom, G. M. (1994). Effective public relations (7th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.)
It's a mouthful. Let's break it down:
Again, there are other definitions of PR. I admit that this one is 'normative,' meaning it describes what PR SHOULD be, not what it actually is in all cases. I would argue though, that PRSA and its Code of Ethics and Accreditation program are helping to encourage more PR people to think of and practice PR this way. Even if some might say this definition does not match reality in the field in all cases, as a professor, I am unashamedly idealistic in teaching what PR ought to be. That's in keeping with GVSU's mission of "educating students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies." I hope my students practice ethically, speak truth to power, and enhance the profession as well as society when they graduate and practice PR according to these standards.
It's also why I maintain this blog.
Happy New Year!