What is PR?

11 Jan

If you are a PR student or professional, one or both scenarios might be all too familiar:

Scenario #1
Person: “So what are you going to school for?”
You: “Public relations.”
Person: “Okay,” laughs, “…And what are you going to do with that?”


Scenario #2
Person: “So what do you do for a living?”
You: “Public Relations.”
Person: “Oh okay, so you plan events and stuff? You go on TV? It’s basically glorified customer service, right?”

With PR professionals being portrayed by characters like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City and television shows attempting to show the ins and outs of the industry like SPINdustry and Spin Crowd, it is evident why the general public has the wrong view of what public relations actually is. People think it is about planning events, being on television, and being a socialite. It really irks me when people laugh and question what kind of living one can make out of PR or when they try to define PR to me when they have no idea.

Interestingly enough, I chose the field of PR by mistake, but it happened to work out for me.

I initially wanted to go into broadcast journalism, but I wanted a more stable career path to success. My father suggested I look into PR. He said something along the lines of, “Well, we have a PR person at my job, and pretty much all they do is go on TV and act as a spokesperson for the company. So it’s the same thing [as broadcast journalism], but at least you’ll be working for a company, so you don’t have to move around a lot with different TV networks.”

Now, I realize that being on TV has little or nothing to do with the job of most PR professionals. In smaller companies, it may be the case that there are only a few members of a PR department (or possibly even one person that encompasses all that is PR for the company), and thus the person writing the script may also be the one on-camera. However, the majority of PR jobs have little to do with being the on TV.

To be successful in PR, a person must be a great writer. Writing is much of what PR entails – from writing copy for brochures, websites, social media, TV and radio spots, and press releases to writing pitch letters to potential clients; ghostwriting speeches, op-eds, letters to shareholders from corporate executives; and employee newsletters. Everything that a PR professional does involves writing. In fact, a textbook definition of PR may define it as conveying cohesive and concise messages from organizations to their publics. How do we usually communicate these messages? Through writing. And who are these publics? The organization’s publics are both internal and external. Its internal publics may be executive management, employees, and shareholders. Its external publics may be its target audiences, consumers, communities, and the general public can be just a few of an organization’s publics.

I am lucky because I fell into this field, and I happen to love writing. It worked out for me, but if you think PR is all about the glamour and glitz of planning events, being on TV, and mingling with socialites, you may want to pick another career choice.

If you are a PR student or professional, what would you define PR as?

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14 Responses to “What is PR?”

  1. tatumvay January 11, 2012 at 9:16 PM #

    Great post! I don’t disagree; great public relations starts with a superior level of writing and communication skill. But PR goes into so much more and, due to the nature of the job, no one will ever appreciate what we do (and even more annoying; everyone thinks they can do it better than you.)

    Yes, some task or positions might lead the general public to think pr practitioners are just glorified event coordinators or socialites that just plan these elaborate galas to “network,” but most of what we do is behind-the-scenes and people have no clue why it’s so challenging. Across the board I think most people wold agree tht the primary mission of our job is to portray a favorable image of our clients or organization to the general and internal public. To survive in PR, you have to but can’t just be a good writer, thinker or planner. You have to be naturally amazing with people; anything less and you will falter. This means PR professionals must possess superior ethical behavior, be able to build enduring relationships, and convey trust and loyalty to do their job; they must, theoretically, be genuinely good and morally sound people.

    Think of all the situations where an organization’s PR team wasn’t transparent or genuine; reclusive and dishonest actions lead to mistrust and disassociation on the public level.
    We also have to be humble and selfless, not self promoting; there have been numerous where I’ve been in studios for CNN, ABC, NBC, BBC; numerous publications including Esquire, the Washington post, Stars and Stripes and the New York Times; Talked to many public figureheads in national, local and foreign governments — none of these times were for me; they were for me to put someone else in front of that camera and to give them the best tools to portray a message that would relay our intents to numerous publics and supporters. Stardom stems from good PR ( because lets face it, celebrity agents are PR agents) but PR rarely equates fame. That is the burden we live with; being the most publicly proficient people in life but never being famous or public ourselves.

    I am fortunate to be in this field, and everyday I strive to become better because being good at my job does not just equate to professional achievements but to genuine and good personal character traits as well. Sorry for the tangent, just my two cents!

    -Tatum

    • May Medallada January 11, 2012 at 9:39 PM #

      I really love that you brought up the point about PR professionals having the need to be ethical people because many people I have met have described PR as manipulative due to the crisis management aspect of PR. They say that PR pros manipulate the public to believe the organization/person is good, when they are really not. But I would agree with you, a PR pro has to be ethical. I don’t think we manipulate people at all. In crisis management, we acknowledge responsibility for the problem, create solutions to not have the same problem occur again, and create messages and tools to improve the client’s image and relationship with the public.

      You are also absolutely right about being selfless. Much of what we do is ghostwriting or behind-the-scenes. When our work is actually published, it is often published under the name of the client. Maybe that is why people think we do nothing because they don’t realize how much of an organization’s or public figure’s messages are created by someone in PR.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing ALL great points, Tatum! This makes me want to create a, “What is PR? Part 2,” post that focuses on all of these other values. This post was more-so for all the people who have NO IDEA what PR is… But there is so much more that I could go into. Maybe I’ll save that for next week. 😉

    • Elena February 29, 2012 at 5:30 PM #

      I’m an American (Denver, Colorado) and it seems that I am in the wrong hemisphere. I was in school for two years studying marketing/PR. I soon realized that the education I was being fed was worthless and no where near worthy of its high price tag. I left, I knew everything , and stared my own company. I then proceeded to fall flat on my face but I learned so much more in those eight months than my friends with degrees know now. Beyond knowledge, leaving school, failing and still wanting to press on, only helped me confirm my love for the art of communication.It seems to me that getting into the American marketing/PR/Ad industry is just about having a degree in anything. I literally know of several people with PR firms that didn’t even know what PR was short-hand for until the day they submitted a resume! However, they had a degree in agriculture so all is well.The thing that riles me about this is that so many of these practitioners couldn’t care less about the craft, industry or people they represent, it’s simply a job to them. I find solace in hoping that there are still some greats in the marketing world that truly just want to be great. The Ogilvy’s, Ayers and Arden’s of the world. Amazing people that hire people that are even more amazing based on their passion, potential and a sense of obligation to produce astounding work for their clients not because they were willing to sit still and take note for four years.That’s my two cents.-Thanks

  2. John January 11, 2012 at 9:37 PM #

    I’m not a PR person, but I can say that blogging has brought me a number of outside jobs, and helped me to learn how to advertise/market for some small businesses. I think the name PR in a sense has sometimes a bad rep. just like how May pointed it out, e.g. Sex and the City, and other sitcoms.

    Tatum makes a good point about all the little jobs or tasks PR people have to do that isn’t really seen on screen or overlooked. Both great points by you and Tatum. Good post. Looking forward to more! I’m glad you are blogging again =).

  3. Rachel January 12, 2012 at 4:32 PM #

    Brilliant post. So many people have misconceptions of the PR industry. One of the greatest things about it is just how versatile it is. One PR professional can be doing a completely different job to another and yet they both have equal right to claim their role as PR!

    • Mayelaa February 29, 2012 at 9:19 PM #

      I guess another consideration is the type of PR you’re in. If it’s more events and public face-to-face PR then your personality may be more of a factor. But the flip-side of the coin is a large percentage of PR companies aren’t concerned with launch events, being seen, or stroking client’s egos. Their role lies more at the marketing-comms strategy end of the spectrum. To do this sort of PR you’d generally get nowhere without a significant world view, broad business experience and contacts if only because the sort of companies which seek this sort of help vet their service providers more closely and require a few ticks to have been marked off before they’ll even consider engaging a PR company. In this respect a formal PR qualification is invaluable.Many PR companies are really more in the business of getting publicity than they are in PR per se. They hold launch events, do announcements and be seen’. PR is growing into different areas (online, SEO etc) which broadens the scope of who can say I do PR . Being able to write a basic media release might be nuts and bolts of basic PR but many of the highest regarded (and paid) PR companies hardly do any media releases.I’d generally only hire someone who’d shown an interest in PR either through applying for and completing a course or someone who’d shown skills in-house or worked their way up. Just showing interest alone isn’t enough nowdays.

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