I have heard more and more people working in public relations saying that PR is a management discipline. I have also witnessed many people nodding in agreement, in a sage strokey-beard kind of way. I admit that I was one of these ‘nodders’ … until I stopped to think about it and realised that I do not know what a ‘management discipline‘ is, let alone whether PR is one or not. I have a business degree, studied management theories, have been in the business world for nearly 30 years, and had and still have positions on boards. Even so, something being a ‘management discipline‘ makes no sense to me. It is a name banded about but I really have no idea what it actually means.
At times like this I turn to my trusted friend ‘Google’ to find what others say, and on this occasion it came up with nothing. It referenced what others say are a management discipline, e.g. business process management, systems thinking. I also found reference to a journal called Journal of Communication Management*, whose abstract says: “Public relations has long been associated with the marketing process within organisations but its acceptance as a management discipline at the highest level has been slow in coming, partly because of perceptions that public relations practitioners are primarily technicians, rather than strategists.”
I wholeheartedly agree with PR practitioners not being (widely) perceived at the highest level as strategists, by the way. Yet, this still does not give an explanation of what a management discipline is. I may be talking semantics now, but for PR practitioners to say that what we do should be considered a management discipline, surely what this is needs to be understood, rather than this is what some have called it. I took to The Oxford English Dictionary to help. The term itself does not exist, but it defines the two elements as:
- Management – “The process of dealing with or controlling things or people” or “The responsibility for and control of a company or organization”
- Discipline – “A branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education”
From these definitions, if PR is a management discipline, then it is one branch of knowledge to control a company or organisation. Well yes it is, sort of, but to me that falls way short of what public relations is and does. What public relations is to an organisation is, I believe, very clear cut … public relations is a strategic management function. As definitions exist for this (which I cannot find for management discipline) it makes me think that strategic management function is more realistic and a ‘thing’ which management discipline is not. I took to my trusty Google again which this time yielded a Wikipedia reference, amongst others:
- Wikipedia defines strategic management as: “Strategic management involves the formulation and implementation of the major goals and initiatives taken by a company’s top management on behalf of owners, based on consideration of resources and an assessment of the internal and external environments in which the organization competes”.
- CEOpedia goes further and says: “Strategic management functions consist of specific methods and techniques used in the different stages of the strategic management process: analysis, planning, implementation and strategic control.”
- Oxford English Dictionary defines function as: “Fulfil the purpose or task of (a specified thing)” or “An activity that is natural to or the purpose of a person or thing”
So putting these definitions together, if PR is a strategic management function, it means that the purpose of public relations is as part of the strategic management of an organisation as it applies across the stages of analysing, planning / formulating, and implementation of the strategy which creates an outcome for the organisation. Yes! That’s more like it. Going back to my question at the very beginning … is PR a management discipline? To me, it is a firm NO. However, is PR a strategic management function? To me, absolutely YES. Note: I have changed all references on this website of PR being a management discipline to it being a strategic management function, as this has a definition which makes far more sense and more accurately defines what PR is. Find these references in posts in the links below, under “You may also like to read”, plus they also appear in: Public Relations Definition, and What is PR?.
- Citation: (1996) “Communication as a core management discipline: The relationship between new management trends and the need for new perspectives in education in both management and public relations”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 1 Issue: 1, pp.29-36, https://doi.org/10.1108/eb023417