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PR is NOT about Maintaining Public Image…

Image

… Exclusively.

I recently came across this article in the Globe where a recent graduate working in a marketing agency reveals a special interest in public relations and asks the writer to  “tell [her] more about that field?” First off, I couldn’t believe that the promising youth of tomorrow would still want to subject themselves to such an oppressive, thankless and ever so stressful job. Just kidding… kind of.

When I was in college, PR & Communications was one of the most popular majors. I think there were two reasons for that. One, was the group of students who had yet to unearth the true calling that would determine their path and dictate their life’s work. For them, communications was more of a catchall, a way to ensure that they’d graduate with tangible and easily translatable skills that they could apply to a myriad of positions and industries. These potheads… ahem…  kids seemed to have the shared foresight that communications was the basis of success for any profession.

The other group of kids, mostly females, had the very misguided dream of becoming the next Lizzy Gruman. PR was a one way ticket to socializing with Hollywoods A listers and guiding these already awesome people on how to be even more awesome. Maybe the occasional DUI crisis PR as well. Yes, these girls took up quite a few seats in my comms. classes, but looking back, I can’t think of any who are actually in PR today. Probably safe to credit that with the harsh realization that smacked them in the head on their first day in the agency that PR is NOT glamorous.  It’s a hard knock life.

But the real reason I decided to post about this article was not because it conjured up memories of days where responsibility was optional and 9am seemed an obscene time to rise. Or because I can say I’m one of the few who stuck to the plan. No, the reason this article caught my attention was because I found it incredibly misleading.

The first part of the articles response is dead on:

“In the world of marketing, public relations professionals have one of the greatest challenges of all. In short, PR professionals try to create and maintain a favorable image for their employers (or client, employed by an agency). These professionals might write media releases, act as spokesmen for companies, or both.”

A PR consultant then adds the following insight:

“The PR practice is all about creating public perception… The virtual Rolodex is key — as it’s all about the media you know. The goal is to develop relationships and guide the press into writing”.

And that’s where I stopped – held a pillow to my face – and let out a furious ROAR. This young person is interested in getting into one of the most complex fields there is (OK, maybe not as complex as Neuroscience, or Quantum Mechanics) and all they get is it’s about creating public perception and working with reporters?? What about everything else? What about identifying the real influencers who will have as much or more effect on your client’s public perception? The bloggers, social influencers and advocates. What about being a content creator who can harness their command of the written word, paired with compassion and empathy, to craft messages that are impactful and meaningful?  And then, what about the need to be versed enough to know how to manage that message on an ever-expanding variety of mediums and platforms. And where was the mention of what happens on the inside that dictates public perception on the outside? Guiding and counseling executives to create a culture that will be publicly favorable. Strategy? Research?  Shouldn’t this person have been told about those things?!

Stepping back from this diatribe, I know that this response  was meant to be higher level overview, and again, there was some accurate feedback within. But my first reaction, being someone whose been immersed in the field for some time now, was that it seemed akin to telling a med student interested in being a surgeon that “it’s all about cutting the patient open and patching things up.”

What advice/insight would you impart on a recent grad or college student curious about the world of PR?

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