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Public relations students — be prepared to explain what you do to everyone. I mean it. EVERYONE. Your significant other, your co-workers, your family, your friends, even your boss. I recently had lunch with a former student who told me that even though she’s been working for an organization for two years she still has to tell everyone what she does on a weekly basis.

Not surprising then that public relations was recently ranked number 7 on a list of the most confusing professions behind actuaries, data scientists and sociologists. The LinkedIn study showed that 42 percent of parents couldn’t describe the jobs of their public relations children. Even seasoned PR practitioners have a hard time defining what they do. In 2012 members of PRSA were asked to tell the organization what the “new” definition should encompass. The modern definition that came from that campaign was,

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Well that certainly clears it up, doesn’t it?

Image from gograph.com

Image from gograph.com

Let me give it to you in a nutshell — public relations is a management function that makes you (your organization, brand, your product, your service) look good.

image from keepingyourbalance.net

image from keepingyourbalance.net

Allow me to explain.

We manage your image

Public relations practitioners help create opinions, change opinions or enforce opinions about your organization. In some cases we help establish you as an authority in your field. Want your public to view you as trustworthy, dependable or competent? Our expertise in reputation management helps do that. In other cases we help you show the public your organization’s essence, identity, personality and voice. Public relations also helps you differentiate your brand from your competition. Either way, we are dealing with managing your image.

We manage your crises

Public relations practitioners anticipate outside threats and help your organization react properly in times of crises. Pre-crisis we scan the environment for potential threats, we provide media training to your spokesperson and create crisis plans. During a crisis public relations practitioners help contain and counteract issues as well as provide timely updates to the media and public. We help you show concern and compassion. We help you avoid speculation and the dreaded “no comment” — or the even more dreaded “I’d like my life back.” Post-crisis we help with recovery and reputation management.

We manage your publics

Public relations practitioners  listen and engage with your publics in ways that benefit both your organization and your publics (mutually beneficial relationships). Many times we shift between communicating with different publics — making sure each public gets the correct message — all in the same day. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time communicating necessary information to my husband, my kids and my students in the same day. Here is a partial list of the publics we work with on your behalf:

  • media outlets
  • customers/clients
  • employees
  • stockholders/investors
  • suppliers/enterprises/financial institutions
  • unions/trade associations
  • contributors/donors/volunteers
  • legislators/regulators
  • community activists
  • competitors (Bates, D., 2002)

We manage your communications

Public relations practitioners work to create planned, organized activities  and clear, consistent communications that provide your themes and messages to each of your publics. To do that we have to manage relationships with paid media outlets as well as your “personas” on your owned media. We also have to script your in-person and internal messages. Don’t even get me started on all the different types of communication we need to know how to create (press releases, media kits, tweets, posts, blogs, fundraising letters, etc.) or all the types of tools we need to know as we’ll be here all day. Let’s just settle for some of the multiple communication channels we utilize when reminding/reinforcing the public about your brand’s image. Listed here are just a few:

  • advertising
  • marketing
  • traditional media
  • interactive media
  • events
  • publicity stunts
  • social responsibility programs
  • sponsorships
  • internal communications
  • in-person communications

Public Relations makes you look good

Public relations helps your organization put it’s best foot forward. We counsel, problem solve, position and manage your reputation, your relationships, your communications and your activities. Public relations helps you look GOOD. Well, unless you are this guy. There’s no amount of PR that can help him.

Adolf Hitler waxwork image courtesy of reveriewit on flickr.

Adolf Hitler waxwork image courtesy of reveriewit on flickr.