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.