How to Explain Public Relations to Your Peers

Public Relations

Public relations is a pretty popular field for college students to go into, but for anyone outside of the industry, they have very little understanding of what PR actually is. Usually the joke goes something like this: "It's working on relations... with the public." After short laughter, I try to explain how it's giving positive representation of a business or client. Press releases, social media, talking on television, and building media kits are often involved. But people still seem aloof to what I'm talking about. 

So I've decided to create a list of some common topics related to PR, and how to answer them. Hopefully this will help you (as well as me) in future conversations!

What is public relations?

The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” However, most young adults may end up scratching their heads if you recite that Dictionary definition.

In my own words, I describe PR as a necessary action to giving a person, company, or brand a positive, recognizable reputation. It involves writing, public speaking, advertisements, pitching, and much more. People that work in PR are well known for proofreading EVERYTHING as well as writing constantly. They also know the latest "industry trends" whether the industry is entertainment, fashion, politics, etc. 

PR professionals have a special relationship with the news media.

My university did not have a public relations degree, but it did have a communications degree with four specializations: journalism, broadcasting, corporate communication, and public relations. When I was in college, I was really frustrated that my specialization did not have its own program and curriculum. I just wanted to learn everything I could about PR practices!

However, when I started my first job, one of my colleagues made a really good argument for this kind of program set up. Having these four specializations gives students a chance to dive into each one, and decide what they like the most. More importantly, it helps students understand their overlapping need for each other.

What do I mean by that? One example would be that taking some broadcasting courses taught me how to meet tight deadlines. Working in PR has tight deadlines as well, but the pressure to submit a trending story and have the storyboard for it edited before the 6 o'clock news is in a whole other ballpark. If you can handle that kind of pressure, then working at a PR agency will feel like a breeze! (Sort of.)

Also you will hear stories of PR Specialists having likable and not so likable reporters that they work with. And that's true! Just watch House of Cards on Netflix to know what I'm talking about.

Today's digital dependence means that social media, web development, and even graphic design are crucial to being successful in PR.

Most recruiters will find it odd if they can't find you on more than one social media platform, but PR gurus will think you're nuts! Social media used to be Facebook and Twitter, but it's become so much more than that. 

Social media has become a common way for companies, brands, and thought leaders to connect directly with their audience. Many PR professionals will work diligently to get their clients guest post opportunities which are then shared on social media platforms.

Also, I wish I would have known how crucial basic graphic design and web development skills were when I was in school. If you haven't started looking for a job yet, I can tell you personally that many jobs include "proficiency in Adobe Photoshop and WordPress preferred." But, it does honestly make sense. 

It's also a good idea to have an understanding of business and digital marketing to better understand PR practices.

Earlier I mentioned corporate communications which has become a popular industry in and of itself. It's basically internal PR, and it's found mainly in corporate companies. Who would've guessed?

Take a few business courses or do some research because understanding economics and how businesses are successful will go hand in hand with public relations. Basic understanding of terms such as "ROI" and "CRM" and how they work will really help you stand out and be more knowledgable of a variety of fields. 

Public relations practices are constantly evolving but it's definition remains constant.

Just because the work we do to perform good PR is constantly changes, doesn't mean that the final goal is changing. To be successful at PR will always mean to generate positive leads for your client.

How would you define public relations in your own words?