When I was younger, I never really understood the point of public relations. The first time it was described to me, I thought it was a more upscale and esoteric version of advertising, with the occasional writing task and a lot of PowerPoint presentations. With that uninformed perspective, of course, I thought it sounded easy. But as I grew up and eventually started working at Clearpoint Agency, my prejudgment of the industry was replaced with immense respect for it. According to the Public Relations Society of America, “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Although people say they understand it, I still hear people confusing public relations with other professions or dismissing it altogether. With that, I want to dispel a few misconceptions people often hold for public relations and hopefully give some perspective on what PR professionals do (I’ll tell you right now, it’s a lot more than just PowerPoint presentations).
Not just a cubicle job
There is always one question people ask when you tell them you work in an office: what do you actually do all day? Stereotypes from Office Space and The Office make people think every office job consists of sitting in a cubicle, endless memos, countless water cooler breaks, and more slow days than full work days. But working at a PR office is not a normal office job; actually, working in a PR office is hard to compare to any job. It’s like the beach: a wave of tasks come in, leaving you to dive into work, and as soon as you come up for air there’s another wave (and occasionally, a break between swells). Even if you go to shore, sometimes the tide is still high enough to reach you. Essentially, work at a PR agency is continuous and ever changing, which makes it varied and interesting. And if a client needs something completed, whether we are at the office or away, we get it done!
If you like sameness, PR is not for you
At a PR agency, day-to-day projects are never the same. You will spend some days pitching journalists, drafting social media posts, or creating media lists; however, most days you will spend doing all three, along with many more unique tasks. Unless you work at a specialized agency, most of your clients will have different expectations for your work. Sure, the process of writing a press release is similar every time, but the subject matter depends on your client’s audience and brand. Our job is to represent our clients, to build the reputation they want. Of course, we provide input when necessary, but we do not make decisions for our clients, as some might assume. PR pros carve the story, present compelling arguments and communicate to target publics.
“I’m a people person”
Along similar lines, prospective PR employees often qualify themselves for PR based on their people skills. After all, the term “public relations” ought to suggest a fair amount of relating to the public. However, PR is a grossly hybrid occupation. It involves social skills in addition to writing proficiency and time management among other things.
Social skills go beyond “being good with people.” At a PR agency especially, it means thinking strategically, handling criticism and being a diplomat. Every piece of original content is read at least twice and edited accordingly to ensure it matches the client’s brand and goals. People who cannot take criticism (or worse, cannot criticize constructively) do not last long in the PR business. Most accounts require work from multiple types of people, meaning there is a decent amount of teamwork involved with PR. We communicate with clients, journalists, other agencies, and coworkers on a regular basis, not just when we feel like talking, to maintain clarity between the many people involved with the business process.
PR practitioners are writers
Still, social competency does not alone make you good at public relations. Many of the services we provide our clients (press releases, website management, media relations, digital marketing, social media campaigns, etc.) require a strong writing ability. It’s not about being a clever writer who can use metaphors and rhetorical devices. It’s about clarity and making sure people understand our client’s message.
Time management is critical
While anyone can understand the merit of time management, most people do not recognize how much time creating relevant content takes. Contributed articles take hours of research, writing and editing. Even the process of creating a single Facebook post begins with a decent amount of research. PR agencies research trends and developments in their clients’ industries, which means looking at analytics from previous posts in addition to competitor and consumer posts. After finding the right content, it’s time to dress it up: proper wording, eye-catching imagery, hashtags, and buzzwords among others decide whether your post is seen at all (and even if it is, there is no guarantee).
The entire process for creating strong content often takes hours between research, writing, approvals and edits; and even then, most posts can’t gain a fraction of the attention generated by a single cat photo. In browsing sites like Facebook and Reddit every day, people have grown into “highlight snobs,” sometimes ignoring substantive posts and looking at content that has already generated volumes of attention based on a fad. Since PR firms create original content for their clients every day, they must adapt to this environment full of memes, trending topics, expectations and judgement in hopes of gaining exposure for their clients. Businesses sometimes hire PR agencies specifically for content generation and social media management because of strategic thought it requires and how time consuming it can be.
These are just a few of the many misconceptions about the public relations industry. It is not, as I once thought, a different form of advertising; nor is it a single-variable profession. Understanding the truth behind the myths will show you that public relations is an important element to communicating what an organization stands for and what it wants to communicate. I know my time at a PR firm has shown me the incredible value a good PR firm provides to its clients; a value not measured in dollars, but in sense.
This blog was contributed by Clearpoint Agency intern, Conner Shaw.