This always makes me smile. Google may be the wonder of the age (Bing's good too) – but why put so much trust in a search engine? Are people typing in 'the meaning of life' and expecting the answer to their problems?
More prosaically, I imagine a student somewhere faced with a deadline for an essay or a presentation, making a desperate bid for enlightenment. Well, you've come to the wrong place.
But in a spirit of sharing, here are some thoughts on 'the meaning of PR'.
First, this is linguistically specific. In France, the same search would focus on 'RP' (which in the UK some take to mean 'received pronounciation').
Then there are cultural and political contexts. PR, in the UK, is more widely understood as 'proportional representation' (a fair voting system) than 'public relations'. In the US, PR is often used to refer to Puerto Rico.
But let's focus on public relations. What does it mean? You can answer this in several ways: by looking at definitions of PR, by asking questions about PR practice and the role of PR in organisations.
There are numerous definitions of PR (there's no monopoly here), and new ones emerge all the time. Here's a recent one from admired academics Coombs and Holladay from PR: Strategy and Application published this year:
Public relations is the management of mutually influential relationships within a web of constitutuency relationships.
Relations, relationships, relationships. Get the message? The next way to understand the meaning of PR is to consider the paradigm (or world view) proposed in the major definitions. This one is clearly proposing public relations as relationship management.
Other well-known paradigms of PR include symmetry/excellence (Grunig et al); reputation management (see the CIPR definition and works by Fombrun and van Riel). Less well-known paradigms include PR as community building (Kruckeberg and Stark). That's before we start on the critics of PR who view it as spin and propaganda.
Then there are practitioner perspectives. What name is given to the public relations function? It could be corporate communication(s), marketing communications, public affairs, corporate affairs as well as public relations. So there are definitional issues from a practice perspective, too.
What value do practitioners add to organisations? This is a big question, addressed here in this post about the Stockholm Accords.
There are many ways to answer a question about the meaning of PR.