Dreaded question: So what is public relations?!

15 03 2010

I have held multiple internships and paid positions at various nationally based and boutique public relations agencies, however to this day there is no question I dread more than, “So what exactly do people in PR do?!” Why do I hate this question? The reason for this aversion is because public relations cannot be defined in a simple sentence; it is a complex, versatile, non-stop, set of practices that vary greatly on a day-to-day basis.

Another reason I do not like this question is because I feel that many people have preconceived notions about what people in PR do; some may crudely refer to those in the industry as spin doctors. The new reality show SPINdustry on E! stars Kim Kardashian as she works with a PR team to maintain her brand. Naturally, I was excited to see what the show had to offer, but after watching the pilot episode I was left with a bad taste in my mouth — the show seemed to be a gross interpretation of standard PR practices. I found myself thinking, “I guess people in PR in L.A. only plan parties, huh?” There was an absence of strategic planning, research, demographic studies, and polls. In no way did the environment of that office reflect any office I had ever worked in. Were they publicists? Maybe. Were they public relations practitioners? Absolutely not.

Getting back to the original question, what is public relations? People often confuse advertising with public relations. The biggest difference between the two is that advertising utilizes paid media, while public relations utilizes earned media. Cafe Press has created a great chart outlining the differences between the two.

Public relations has many functions such as building a favorable image for a company or organization, monitoring the media for coverage of clients, managing crises that may arise, conducting research and polls, community outreach programs, investor relations, internal communication, and publicity among other things. PR is a managerial tool to increase awareness, brand, and sales according to Know This.

The “Hollywood” image of what public relations entails is nothing more than a stereotype. I can only imagine what the industry leaders at famed firms such as Goelin-Harris, Ketchum, or Edelman are thinking as they see their industry become tainted by stereotype.

Overall the public needs to gain a clear perception of what those in the industry actually do, and how it is beneficial to the inner-workings of any company.

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