This past week, I have had two acquaintances from my elementary school years ask me about my major. When I said public relations, they both asked something along the lines of, “what does that entail?” And no matter how many definitions I read and how many class conversations we have about this, I always seem to struggle to find the right words.
When I chose PR as my major, I thought of writing press releases (from what other people told me to write) and being a spokesperson at press conferences (from what other people told me to say). I didn’t think I had to be the creative one who comes up with the messages, and I definitely didn’t think I had to stay on top of all the latest social media sites.
And now that I have a better understanding of what a career in PR entails, I still don’t know how to explain it to others. I started thinking about this more when I came across an old blog post from nakedpr.com, titled “What exactly is public relations?” The author of the blog also had difficulty defining PR, but eventually she was able to relate it to something else she was familiar with that helped her understand it better.
She compares PR to engineering, saying that they are essentially the same thing when it comes to problem solving; the only difference is whether you’re solving problems with your hands or with your mouth.
“Engineers have to understand the needs of a market in order to create something they’ll buy or use or trust. In PR we have to understand the needs and motivations of an audience, to develop a message they’ll understand, relate to, and also trust.”
So when people ask her what PR is, she says communications engineering. I say, that still doesn’t say it.
When I hear the term communications engineering, it still doesn’t clearly explain anything to me. Some of the people who commented on this blog seem to agree, in that they don’t think her definition fits. One guy brought up the point that her view leaves out relationships and only focuses on the message, which leads me to think of the many things that PR really entails.
How can we possibly explain it all to someone who probably doesn’t really care but is just asking during small talk? What do you say when someone asks what PR is? Are some aspects more important than others to include in a quick answer?