So what exactly does someone working in PR do?
That’s a good question, as the inner workings of PR aren’t as obvious to an outsider like they are for say, a doctor, lawyer, or tennis instructor. As a result, answering this reasonably straightforward question can be a challenge.
When my friends bring it up, the words that come out of my mouth are always, “Um…well…” as I quickly try to come up with something that isn’t a textbook definition. When my parents ask, I preface my answer with, “It’s hard to explain.” And if my grandma was to ask, well, I would have to clear my schedule for the day to give her a satisfactory response.
As graduation neared, and I found myself rigorously pursuing post-college opportunities, this question spurred glimmers of self-doubt. After all, would it not be tragically ironic if someone looking to break into public relations couldn’t even communicate the most basic answer about what he’d be doing professionally? Especially if he had already racked up some experience in the field?
I’ve now spent several months post-graduation working at a large agency, and my suspicions have been confirmed. There is no one answer.
You could try by saying something along the lines of, “I use media, technology and other engagement tools to distribute information, connect with audiences and build a client’s brand.” However, that doesn’t describe how you spend your day. And for many people in the industry, it doesn’t always ring true in regards to what their actual responsibilities are.
What I’ve come to realize:
Describing yourself as "PR professional" is just as broad as claiming to be a "businessperson."
The biggest challenge that comes with explaining our profession is that there is no all-encompassing job title for most people working in the industry. Turns out, it’s a constantly expanding list of responsibilities, skill sets, and proficiencies that can’t be summarized in a one or two-word label. Nobody is just a "media expert," "social media marketer," or "content creator." They’re usually some combination of these things, or others. In the eyes of our friends outside the industry, this adds up to a "PR person."
The person sitting at the next desk has a completely different job.
There are still many facets of PR that I have yet to dip my toes in, and the same goes for my fellow interns. While some of us are drafting content for a client’s website, others might be securing media reservations for a conference or putting together intricate analysis reports for news coverage on a particular client. And this doesn’t stop at the intern level. People find their specialties, focus on them and develop their skills as they continue to move along in their career. Most people you’ll meet in this profession will specialize in different areas of PR. This is especially the case at Weber Shandwick, which has a team full of creative, dynamic individuals that are all able and ready to make valuable contributions to their clients’ businesses.
Each person on a PR team is a critical part of the overall mission.
Although we have differing individual roles, we’re all working toward the same goal of offering top-notch service and counsel to our clients. When we’re asked about what we do at our jobs, it’s easier (and often more glamorous) to talk about what the team does as a whole rather than our own contributions. It’s always going sound better to say, “We do PR for Client X,” rather than “I track Twitter mentions of Client X, and sometimes I also compile briefing reports.” This is due to the possibility of roles sounding small and insignificant. Every role is significant, and there’s no sense in worrying about labels. It’s not the title that matters, but rather the range of skills that you develop that truly defines how valuable you are to the team and your client.
Ultimately, if asked what a PR person does, I suggest you provide a broad answer that truly covers all the bases: a lot of things
. It might not paint an exact picture for all your friends, but with so many variables and intricacies involved with being a PR professional, no other answer fits.
As you can see, I’ve realized that the question is too difficult to answer succinctly. Because we’re constantly adapting and finding new ways to engage and further our clients’ brands, we find ourselves further and further away from being able to summarize what we do to the people we know.
That said, it’s definitely not a bad problem to have.
Ivan Vukovic is currently an intern at Weber Shandwick Seattle. You can find out more about Ivan at his LinkedIn profile or by following him on twitter @IvanVukovic. A version of this story first appeared on the agency's blog.