Six Ways to Explain Public Relations to Others

I hear it often:

“So what kind of work do you do?” a friend or relative asks.

“I work in public relations,” I reply.

“And what exactly is that?” they respond.

The above exchange inevitably ensues a few times a month at networking events, family gatherings and social outings. Many public relations professionals face the challenge of explaining our industry. Working in a profession that is sometimes misunderstood can bring about the task of what one of my previous bosses described as “doing PR for PR.”

This article from PR Daily discusses explaining PR to your friends, and helped me in formulating how I would continue to explain my career to others.  I find it easiest to explain PR in six main categories:

  1. Strategy: “My team and I develop communications and reputation-building strategies for our clients to support their business objectives – taking into account many diverse issues, challenges, opportunities and audiences.”

The role of strategy in helping businesses and organizations craft and execute messages that drive results cannot be understated. While we learn this from a textbook perspective in public relations college courses and in reading about it in professional publications, there’s nothing quite like the boots-on-the-ground effort involved in seeing strategic development to fruition. We think it’s the most meaningful and important role we play for clients – because without a clear strategy, communications tactics have no rudder to drive their direction and impact.

  1. Media Relations: “We help our clients gain exposure in digital media, magazines, newspapers, television, radio and other outlets by writing and packaging content about newsworthy events in their organizations and getting those stories to media outlets in the right formats.”

The media relations area of PR can appear to overlap with advertising, which is why this piece of the industry is so important to understand in relation to PR. By explaining that you pitch stories and narratives about your clients on the basis of their inherent news or feature value it can be easier for the average person to separate PR and advertising in their minds.

  1. Events: “We help our clients plan and organize events to build their relationships with the community or to boost internal morale.”

The community aspect, both external and internal, is often forgotten when looking at an organization’s events. It is important to explain that organizations don’t throw events just to spend their money. PR events serve the purpose of improving or maintaining an organization’s relationship with its external community or its internal community of employees.

  1. Website, blog, asset and social media writing and strategy: “We help our clients plan, strategize and write content for promotional tactics, like brochures and booklets, and online presence, including their website, social profiles and blog.”

I find the origin of an organization’s content is one of those areas that consumers don’t always think about. It is easy for website pages, social media posts, company brochures and blog articles to be seen as general products of the company or organization itself. However, an individual has to write the content of these items, decide when / if it’s going to be posted and decide if it fits the company’s overall image. We’re those individuals.

  1. Crisis Communications Strategies: “We help clients strategize and execute plans in response to organizational crises.”

Crisis communications is where the idea of PR “spin” or lying can come into play. However, when following the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) code of ethics, the standard of ethics which PR professionals are held to, there is no spin or lying to crisis communications (or any part of PR for that matter). One of the largest aspects to explain is the strategizing of crisis communications. PR professionals help organizations be proactive in responding to crises. The proper plan and strategy require no spin. We help our clients be prepared, so that honesty and transparency are practiced in the face of a crisis.

  1. Reporting Results: “After doing a project in any of these areas, we also report the results and success of our work back to the client – so that they can really measure and see the value public relations provides, as well as improve how they’re communicating in real time.”

Quantifying the monetary value of public relations campaign and project results can be difficult. “Awareness” isn’t the easiest metric to transfer into a dollar value – and we often remind clients that awareness is only half the battle toward spurring audiences toward a real call-to-action that impacts sales (which is an ultimate measurable impact). Because it can be difficult to parlay ROI for strategic communications in quantitative terms that register well in the eyes of all clients, it is important to explain the reporting aspect of our work and be sure we’re hitting the value drivers of most interest to each unique client.

While scopes of work and specialties can vary from agency to agency or company to company, these are some basic aspects of PR that can be misunderstood. Those of us involved in PR know this really only skims the surface of what we do on a regular basis. While public relations isn’t the easiest to explain, we are learning new ways to help us better portray how important PR contributions are to an organization. This starts with helping our family, friends and neighbors understand exactly what it is we do.

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Toria Law
Communications Coordinator at Mary Beth West Communications
Based in Middle Tennessee, Toria brings experience in public relations and marketing from a variety of settings, including corporate, business-to-business, education and non-profit. Toria works on content- and narrative-development, writing, editing and visual asset development to help push our clients’ messages for successful audience engagement to build clients’ followers, advocates and fans.

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