I just finished work on a book about public relations ethics. (Out next month. See left sidebar.) One of the lessons I re-learned in the process is that, whether used as a noun or a verb, the term "PR" carries so many negative connotations, it's beyond repair.
To most people (in and out of the industry), "PR" means spinning, hyping, obfuscating, green-washing, do-gooding, word-smithing, party-planning, and otherwise distracting or misleading an unsuspecting public. A friend who is a prominent financial columnist told me PR people adhere to an ethical principle best summarized as, "What can I get away with?"
Maybe that's why so many PR people are rebranding themselves as "Communications Officers."
It's a fine title, with the added advantage of working well with "Chief," greasing the holder's way into the ranks of the C-suite.
But it suggests public relations is all about "communicating," defined as moving information between people, especially through the mass media. Even if the communication is two-way, that shortchanges the function's true purpose.
Real public relations encompasses all the ways an institution "relates" to its various "publics," defined as all those who contribute to its success and bear the risks of its failures. Such "relating" depends even more on what an institution does than on what it says.
I don't think there's any hope of resurrecting "PR." But there is a chance we can help better define "public relations." And it has to start with what we actually do.