Explaining PR to your friends and family who don’t do PR

A holiday season gathering wouldn’t be complete without a family member asking what you do for a living. And if you work in public relations, the conversation has probably gone a little like this:

“What do you do for a living?”

“I work in public relations!”

 “Wait, do you cover up scandals for a living?”

“Nope! I actually…let me see…my job…”

“Oh wait! You’re like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City!”

“…Not really. No.”

If you work in PR, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered the same obstacle in explaining your job as I have. Unlike some jobs that are self-explanatory, like being a doctor, a lawyer, a mechanic, or a police officer, a career in public relations lends itself to a dense list of daily tasks and responsibilities that can be tricky to explain to those unfamiliar with the field. So how do you give others a basic understanding of the multi-faceted, complex world of public relations without inflicting a confusion headache on your loved ones?

The field of public relations is multifaceted, so there’s a lot to mention when it comes to explaining your career. And with an array of varying daily tasks from designing communication plans to media relations, and from writing social media campaigns to crisis management, it’s tricky to encompass the entire scope of the public relations field. The PRSA defines the practice of public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” but what does all that mean? How does it work?

I decided to break down how PR pros can explain their role to friends and family so we can all avoid the deer-in-headlights moment at the next family gathering.

“What’s PR all about?”

Whether a PR practitioner works in-house for a company, for a politician, for a NASDAQ trading company, at an agency managing several different clients, or at a non-profit, the core goal of public relations remains relatively static and timeless: public relations is a way to influence or engage with customers, investors, shareholders, markets, and the general public to build positive relationships with all stakeholders of a company.

To put it simply for our friends and family curious about why PR matters, we can say the goal is to either create awareness of a company, person, or organization’s image, or improve that image if needed. Most of the time, this comes in the form of helping our clients gain earned media coverage, which in non-PR language, means getting them in the news!

“So, what do you even do all day?”

How we achieve this goal depends on the client and their specific needs. A company’s values, mission statement, products and services all determine what their PR plan will consist of, but here are some of the examples of ways to describe your daily tasks that meet the overarching goal:

  • I spend a lot of time researching and reading the news to track trends and figure out what people are interested in, especially my clients’ markets.
  • I make and organize press kits to promote launches of new products, new services, new hires, and other major announcements. These include press releases, photos, company backgrounders, and biographies of the leaders of the company, and we usually share them with writers and news sources.
  • I write to journalists and influencers who might be interested in my client, using a unique story or exciting news from my clients or company to gain their interest and form a relationship.
  • I work with those journalists and influencers to get news stories about my clients published.
  • I drink an absurd amount of coffee.
  • I draft blogs, case studies, and articles to strengthen my company’s voice and leadership.
  • I write social media posts that reflect my client’s thoughts and discuss industry trends.
  • I develop proposals for my clients to submit for the opportunity to speak at conferences.
  • I write entries for industry awards, product awards, and service awards. When you see an award listed on a product’s label, it’s usually because a PR person helped submit them as a nominee for that recognition!
  • I create or help implement crisis management techniques for when things go wrong.
  • I help prepare for trade shows by coordinating press interviews and training spokespeople to talk about products and services.
  • I write reports loaded with analytics and data to show my clients how our efforts are paying off.
  • I do magic.

Again, these daily tasks vary based on a client or company’s goals. Some want to improve their existing reputation and public image, while others want to get themselves on the map altogether. Some want to publicize a new product launch or prepare for a trade show, and some just need a little help improving their company’s reach. Regardless of the goal, public relations practitioners help a whole slew of clients identify their needs, and then create strategies to help them meet their goals.

“That sounds like a lot of work. Why’d you choose PR as a career?”

For this one, I can’t speak for all PR pros, but I chose public relations because I love to write, and I love fast-paced, busy days. There’s never a dull moment in PR! Most importantly, I love to help great companies and people show off the great things they’re doing. When I explain this part, I like to sprinkle in some examples of cool things my clients have done recently, big wins we’ve had (if they’re not confidential!), and how my coworkers and workplace help me grow as a person each and every day.

While this crash-course in explaining public relations might still leave a few unanswered questions, it will at least clarify a lot of what we do as PR professionals and why it matters.

Follow me @lexie_gardiner and @CasterComm on Twitter for client news and updates!

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