Monday, January 7, 2008

What Is PR Anyway?

Maybe that sounds like a funny title to some of you, but it's been the subject of a lot of conversations -- both in person and via various listservs and groups -- that I've had lately.

So many people seem to think that PR = media relations. And yes, media relations and all that goes with it -- pitching stories, monitoring media coverage of your organization and its competitors and allies, building relationships with reporters and editors -- is part of public relations.

But PR does not just equal media relations.

True public relations professionals are strategic advisers to their organizations. They provide guidance not just in terms of media relations, but also in customer relations, employee communications, community relations, investor relations (when applicable)... the list goes on and on. (Seriously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There's marketing communications, crisis communications, you get the idea...)

All these conversations have led me to become a little worried about the state of our industry.

The best of the best whom I deal with seem to get it. They understand what their role should be and they work to make it just that. But too many others -- myself included at times -- get lost in the tactical, day-to-day details of the job. Did they get the clip they wanted? Is the text right for the company newsletter? And these details mean they stop worrying about the bigger picture.

So what say you? Do you agree with me? And if so, what tips or tricks can you offer as to how we can all better balance the two dimensions of the job? How can we become better, more valued strategic advisers?


Christine said...


Thank you for your article regarding the confusion about the public relations profession. Not only is it important for those involved with PR to understand it encompasses much more than media relations (corporate communications, community relations, marketing communications, crisis communications, etc.), it is also crucial that employers understand this as well. HR directors and senior executives are more likely to create higher-level PR positions and increase PR staff if they understand PR is truly a multifaceted field. When executives understand the same person who is responsible for getting that article in the paper can also create, maintain and defend the company image through directing all their internal and external communications efforts, they will view that position, and its supporting staff, as more valuable.

The term public relations generally has a bad rap. For many outside the field this term conjures up images of entertainment industry agents and publicists and, of course, the old “spin doctor” role. That is why I am a big proponent of phasing out this term and replacing it with “public communications.” The titles “public affairs,” “media relations” and “community relations” appear to be more respected as well. Does anyone one else have similar experience with this?

Christine Cimino
The Smithsonian Associates, Smithsonian Institution

Amanda said...

I enjoyed your article and feel that yes PR is a fast growing profession. I think understanding why PR is growing is crucial. Public relations is not advertising and it emphasizes on interaction, I like it because you get to interact with people. I am a student studying both advertising and PR major, but I feel that they are not crossing as much a people say they are. PR is a great profession with lots of opportunities in social media, the press and with organizations. Its a great profession with lots of opportunities for growth.