Wait, what even is PR?

The dreaded question, a familiar obstacle for all college students: “What are you planning to do after graduation?”

In my experience, this question is always followed by the even more complicated: “Right, but what exactly does public relations even mean?”

Explaining the field of public relations to someone who has (1) never heard of it or (2) already equates it with publicity and cheap stunts, is a daunting task. Despite the many definitions that I have learned and memorized over the past couple years, I always end up vomiting up a wordy, clinical response that includes the worlds relationship and publics at least three times a piece.

From there the conversation often takes a detour and I have to explain how PR is different from marketing. I reiterate an emphasis on relationship building and two-way communication and reputation management and so-forth, but the definition is still foggy.

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Why is it so hard to articulate public relations to someone far outside the field? The term “public relations” encompasses so many different aspects. Two professional public relations practitioners could have very different roles and responsibilities. But, when your relative asks what PR is, they really want to know what your job will be and what you will be doing day-to-day.

It is a difficult question because there could be a million different answers. What excites me most about public relations is its diversity. It could be media relations, strategic planning, and social media one day, and crisis communications, event planning, and internal communications the next day. The reality is that no straightforward definition can answer this question and successfully cover the vastness of public relations.

Next time someone asks me what exactly PR means, I will probably give them the broad definition of PR as a series of strategic communication efforts to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship between an organization and its publics. But I will also tell them that this “mutually beneficial relationship” is not an easy task, that it takes lots of different people and lots of different strategies to achieve, and public relations is all of that.

The moral of the story is that the curriculum should include a whole course on how to articulate public relations to your relatives.

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