Public relations professionals are handed many difficult tasks, yet sometimes the most difficult part of the job is explaining to people not in our field what we actually do. Our families and friends know that our career requires us to be at the office from 9-5, but what we do during those eight hours is a huge question mark to them. Here is a list of a few of the misconceptions of how we spend our time.
1. “Public relations is social media.” While it is a part of public relations, we don’t sit on Facebook and Twitter for hours on end. We may encounter it a few times during our day, but sometimes we aren’t even the ones in charge of it. While it may be a good excuse when snap chatting at the dinner table, we can’t tell mom we’re “working.”
2. “Public relations is advertising.” That billboard or commercial for our company? We didn’t have anything to do with it. Public relations is two-way communication whereas advertisements are one-way. We’re glad you saw it or thought it was cool, but we can’t take credit for it.
3. “Public relations is throwing parties.” Yes, a lot of times we have a hand in preparing for events, but it’s not our main focus, and it’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. If we’re working an event, we aren’t chit chatting; we’re re-filling champagne glasses and responding to guests’ passive aggressive tweets about why it’s taking so long.
4. “Public relations is spin and manipulation.” One of the first things we learn in the Introduction to Public Relations course is the importance of transparency. Even if we did use it, with advanced technology and social media, any spin or manipulation would backfire. Try spinning Justin Bieber’s DUI or Lindsay Lohan’s various life choices in a positive way. It just wouldn’t work.
5. “Public relations is Samantha from ‘Sex and the City.’” That show is a poor representation of what public relations is, mostly because Samantha is never actually at work. While we might wish all we did was go to parties with celebrities while wearing fantastic designer outfits, this fantasy isn’t the case. Public relations encompasses much more and usually takes place in an office setting, not the hottest, new restaurant with Johnny Depp.
After explaining what public relations is not, it’s important to clarify what it actually is. According to the Public Relations Society of America, “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This broad definition is perfect, since public relations encompasses a variety of things, but it is also hard for non-public relations folks to understand. So the next time people ask what it is you do, use this list as a guide to frame your explanation of what it is not.
By Lauren Vahldick
PRecisely PR is the blog of the Illinois State University Chapter of the PRSSA. We write about Chapter events, the public relations industry, member profiles, and more.