By: Emma Honn
As a senior in the public relations program at the University of Central Missouri, I am often asked “What is public relations?” I get the question at family functions, social gatherings and different events around campus. Sometimes, I get tired of the question and think to myself “How do they not understand?” I have realized that people do not know what public relations is because PR professionals have been doing PR for their clients, and not for the profession itself.
Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” To a public relations professional, this makes sense. However, to someone who knows nothing about the industry, it may not. Here are a few things you need to know about public relations.
We are strategic storytellers. We use narrative to build our brand and relationships with our intended audiences. It can be through social media, brand specific communications or the media. We tend to try and humanize a brand, meaning we add a human element to a story or brand to help our audiences relate. For example, instead of saying “buy this product,” we say, “this is important because…” We do this to build trust between our company and our audiences.
We work with the media. Read that correctly: we are not the media, we work with the media. The goal here is to earn media placements. We build a story with a human element, and earn media coverage on the subject. This gets our brand in front of our audiences for something that may not necessarily be our products. Although there is no guarantee of media placement, when we do earn a spot, there is a third party validation of our brand, our products and our story.
We write press releases and speeches, and plan and execute events. A press release is typically written by a public relations professional with the goal of it being picked up by a media outlet. These, however, are written with much thought, newsworthiness and human element. If you are ever listening to a speech, chances are, the script was written by a public relations professional. The basis of speech writing is solid writing skills. PR professionals have an eye for detail and design, two things that are essential to a great speech. Public Relations departments typically handle the planning and execution of events meant for public outreach and media relations. If you are ever at a large event, it was probably handled by someone who works in PR.
We manage social media and handle crises whenever they arise. Social media is a tricky subject. Since it is a relatively new thing in public relations, we have had to learn how to adapt and work with ever-changing platforms. We handle crises that may come up for organizations. For example, think of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. Every statement given by VW, press conference held, you name it, was planned and handled by a PR team. Crises can range in severity, but whatever the crisis may be, a solid PR professional can handle it.
We are strategic storytellers, work with the media, write press releases and speeches, plan and execute events manage social media and handle crises. These topics are all under the public relations umbrella, but this just scratches the surface. Now, the next time someone says “I work in public relations,” or “I am a public relations major,” you will know a little bit about what they do.
by Maria Schomer
“What do you do?” It’s usually the first question I get asked when I tell people I am a public relations major. My friends, who know little about PR, assume that I take the easiest classes and all I learn is the structure of a press release and how to manipulate the public. My family, however, believes public relations takes a lot of skill and that I know how to speak in front of a large crowd without getting nervous.
So what do public relations majors actually learn? Social media? Event planning? Sure, we cover that (among other things). But what people and other students don’t realize is the amount of time and hard work we dedicate to being a public relations major.
Thinking back to the simpler, less stressful days of my freshman year I realized how my understanding of different aspects of public relations has changed.
AP writing can consume you
When you think about public relations, do you think about writing? I didn’t. What about writing in a different way than standard English composition? I really didn’t consider that either. The Associated Press (AP) is a style of writing that is used by all public relations professionals. It’s not quite like learning another language but you do have to learn different ways to punctuate sentences, whether or not a word needs to be capitalized, correct use of titles and a whole lot more. Fortunately, we do have a reference book, or survival guide of sorts that we can use to help: the AP Style Guide.
How hard can social media be?
You use it everyday, sometimes multiple times. Social media is easy to understand, right? Take Facebook: you just log in and update people about what is happening in your life. How hard is that?
In reality, as public relations majors, it’s much more complex. You have to grasp the latest social media platforms and trends. You must have an understanding of where different publics generally traffic social media platforms and why. You may think that Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are what companies mostly use to share news with followers, and you’re not wrong. However, social media is much more than a weekly status update, it can help build relationships between a company and its publics. Creating a dialogue like this helps build costumer loyalty and provides valuable feedback.
To put the importance of social media into perceptive, Lucas Miller, a PR specialist at Fusion 360, believes you have to show the return-on-investment while working with social media for an industry. This is because, although social media continues to grow every day, companies are still skeptical about the effects social media can have on their publics.
It’s a networking world
Getting to know others in the public relations field can be a valuable learning experience. There is no better time to network with a professional than when you are in college. Professionals are often willing to help a college student out because they know what it’s like being a student with little to no experience. Additionally, most professionals are willing to be a contact if you ever have any questions or want them to look over your résumé.
But how do you network when you’re still in college? There are several options that a college student can use to network. They can join their campus chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Also, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is a national organization that hosts networking and workshop events for professionals and students alike. Students often don’t realize that networking can help further their career and the more they attend networking events the better their connections will be.
Is Public Relations the easiest major out there? No. But can it be the most rewarding? Absolutely.