“Public Relations” has to be one of the most overused and  misunderstood words in our language.  That really honks me off.

Now comes an article in the Sunday NYT’s magazine titled “Optics: A scientific-sounding buzzword for ‘public relations’,” (On Language, Ben Zimmer; p. 14) tracing the evolution of “optics” (or “optiques” for French and Canadians) in politics.

Basically, the article compares the political practice of form v. substance, the overwhelming importance placed on public perception v. public substance, to the practice of public relations.  As if everything public relations professionals do is spin, obfuscation and fluff.

Don’t get me wrong, the practice of strategic communications – also often referred to as public relations – is what we do for a living.  And, yes, when asked what I do, I say, “PR.”

And, whenever I do that, I don’t like it.  Because, we do much more.

As professional communicators, we work with our clients to understand, or sometimes determine, a clear business objective, identify the target audience (the customer) and the specific action they have to take (purchase, call, write, register, give, etc.) for the business objective to be achieved.

Then, we determine the key messages that will inspire (motivate, move, encourage, empower) the audience to action. We then determine precisely which channels are best to reach the audience.  Next, we craft creative and integrated tactics – offline and online – to reach the audience.

Of course, we then measure, as quantitatively as we can but often qualitatively, the value of the program developed and implemented toward achievement of the business objective.

Is there an application for this process of strategic communications in politics?  Of course there is.  I just don’t like that what we do for a living is so cavalierly summarized in a throw-away, misunderstood and overused phrase … public relations.

There, I feel better.  Thanks for letting me vent.

Post by Nick Vehr (3.7.10)