Thursday, May 1, 2008


The other day someone at work remarked that they believe the Public Relations Society of America is all about media relations, whereas the International Association of Business Communicators is more focused on helping people become better communicators in general. This comment about PRSA being solely focused on media relations really got me thinking about my membership in the Society.

I have been involved with PRSA since 2006 when I joined the student arm of the Society, the Public Relations Student Society of America. Perhaps I latched on to PRSSA rather than IABC simply because my school had a chapter, but I have to think that despite this fact I still would have pursued PRSA. Call it a simple case of semantics, but for me two words in the names of the organizations say a great deal about what I believe my role is as a PR practitioner: relations and communicator. I believe strongly that my job is to help build relatioships with my organization's publics, not simply to communicate to them. True, part of building relationships with publics involves communicating with them, but communication is simply an aspect of what I must do to make this happen.

But now back to my co-worker's comment. Is PRSA only about media relations?

I think the answer lies in the people who make up of the membership of PRSA. If the members of PRSA perceive PR to be only about media relations than that's what's going to be discussed. For example, I counted 16 articles on media relations in May issue of Tactics. I, for one, think that many PR practitioners engage in nothing more than simple press agentry. Don't get me wrong, I believe good media relations skills are a must for all PR practitioners, but we must not limit ourselves to this. "Good PR" goes beyond a hit in The New York Times

A quick scan of IABC's vision and mission showed me that they are not too different from PRSA in what they are trying to help their members accomplish. I did, however, find it interesting that they listed public relations in a long list of other forms of communication (i.e. financial communications, employee communications, etc.). It seems there is a difference in how the two organizations define PR.

So maybe PRSA is currently focused heavily on media relations, but that doesn't mean it has to stay that way. One way to change that is for us as younger PR pros to help PRSA in "advancing the profession


Devin Knighton said...

Thanks for your post, Adam. Your already an example of someone who is influencing PRSA and the society. I'm amazed at what you do with blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter and the rest. It's because of people like you that the profession is evolving.

Elder Bryan Carpenter said...

I think a lot of the distinction of PRSA as the media relations organization and IABC as the general communicator's organization comes from their origins. PRSA was started by people with a strong emphasis on media relations. IABC was started by people with a focus on internal communications. At least that's how it was explained to me some 20 years ago. My view is that you get from an organization what you want from it, so pick one and get involved enough to get some benefit. If your organization is large enough, make sure you have a mix of membership between IABC and PRSA within the communications department. Then you get the publications, access to the resources, and discounts on conferences for both groups.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your post Adam. When I was an undergrad in college I was president of our PRSSA Chapter, but worked with a professor to develop a competition at an IABC conference. I found that both are great organization and as the PR field develops I think PRSSA, as well as PRSA, is bringing in more IMC and general communications. Once again, great post Adam.

klpraz207 said...

If you have a strong interest specifically in corporate PR, is IABC the better route to pursue?