And What Do You Do? A Public Relations Professional’s Dilemma


I bought my first spring dress back in February.

I made a couple of mistakes. First, I “rewarded” myself after a successful workday and workout with a trip to Target. And second, a “quick trip” turned into an hour and Target had just started displaying spring inventory.

Everything in Target distracts me. I was ultimately distracted by this cute navy sleeveless dress with white and maroon hexagons and a poof bottom. Perfect. I snatched my size, paid, and put it on a couple of days later for a snowy trip to my cousin’s afternoon baby shower.

“And what do you do?” I was in mid conversation at the shower when the inevitable question surfaced. I love it, I really do. I enjoy talking about my field, and the conversation flows even better when the other party has some related knowledge of marketing or business or even the communications field itself.

But a lot of times this isn’t the case. Instead I’m met with glazed-over eyes as I become a complete PR nerd and ramble on and on about my field.

PR isn’t new. 

It’s not a recent development due to the technology and content creation boom. PR has been around forever. It’s a fundamental business and government tool. The basic elements of public relations are essentially as old as society itself.

The “founder” (depending on who you ask) of modern public relations, Edward Bernays, writes, “The three main elements of public relations are practically as old as society: informing people, persuading people, and integrating people with people. Of course, the means and methods of accomplishing these ends have changed as society has changed.”

The practice of professional public relations has correlated with civilization. Recorded history itself could be considered public relations. Primitive societies rule through fear, advanced societies rule through discussion. Add writing to the mix, and formal public relations emerges.

PR isn’t advertising. PR isn’t marketing. 

Differentiating public relations from advertising is easy. Advertising is paid, PR is not. Advertising pays for messages to be placed in newspapers, TV, websites, or radio. Publicity generated from public relations is not paid for.

Now comes the tricky part; distinguishing the closely related PR and marketing. The two are often used together. Agencies often offer both marketing and public relations services. It all comes down to their fundamental purpose. Marketing is limited to outward messages for the purpose of selling. PR involves all forms of communication internal and external to the organization, with the ultimate purpose to take care of the organization’s reputation. PR and marketing are complementary.

PR people tell stories. These stories tell who an organization is and bridge the communication gap between the organization and its publics.

Here’s to less glazed-over eyes and PR nerd rambling responses in the future.



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