PR Does Not Stand for Press Release (and Other Misconceptions)

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I recently had a discussion with a man who is building a business that is aiming to help PR professionals with their biggest workflow issues.

He was very kind, and was asking me informed questions regarding the common issues I have and have seen coworkers deal with, when he said,

“We want to help press release… I mean PR professionals…”

Before answering his question, I clarified,

“PR does not stand for press release, it stands for public relations.”

Do people really think that PR professionals make an entire career of writing press releases?

I did a little research.

Remembering that Rosanna Fiske mentioned this while PRSA was redefining PR and after reading Patrick Slevin’s PR Week article on the subject, I asked the following people how they describe my career to others.

  • My mother (a retired psychiatric Therapy Aid): “My daughter does public relations and she works online.”
  • My brother (a professional Handyman): “Public relations or some s***”
  • My father (a Correctional Officer): “Kelly works on the computer.”

Note: my father is still afraid of computers

  • My boyfriend (a Ski and Snowboard Instructor/golf course Assistant Irrigation Technologist): “A publicist who does social media.”

As Patrick said, “As PR practitioners, it’s our responsibility to further the public dialogue. It’s our charge to educate and inform audiences and allow them the opportunity to reject or accept our messages, impressions, and meanings, which is the way of public relations.”

Shel Israel argued that the definition of the industry should not be the focal point, as the ‘Digital Age’ has not changed this, but rather, ”it changes the tools of engagement for the professional communicator.”

Either way, I don’t think that this exercise was (is) done enough when PR was redefined, so I encourage you all to ask your family members, spouses/partners and friends what they think PR stands for and what PR professional do, and share their responses in the comments.

You may be very surprised about the results of your own messaging. I was, and am currently working to correct it.

 Kelly is a traveler, New York native, public relations and social media professionalavid music lovertechie, and psychologist. She is passionate about enabling meaningful conversations and connections via the social web, believes that learning is lifelong and enjoys discovering new tactics to create and sustain brand identity and influence and maintain advocates.

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  • Anonymous

    Funny thing, I’m in advertising, ergo a marketer. My family answers pretty much the same. Sigh.

  • Anonymous

    Funny thing, I’m in advertising, ergo a marketer. My family answers pretty much the same. Sigh.

    • Yes. I’ve heard Public Relations be confused with Advertising too often, or compared – “free advertising” – which I’ve even done myself.

      It’s time for a concise and easy-to-understand PR elevator description, and I don’t believe that PRSA’s definition is it.

      Thanks for your comment, Shelly.

      • I’ve also used “free advertising”, but I’m sure we all agree that it doesn’t do us justice.  An elevator pitch for the industry is a great initiative!  Glad you volunteered, 😛

        • No problem – I’d love to ‘spearhead’ this!

  • Shockingly enough, my boyfriend got it sort of right. When I asked, hey what would you say I do for a living? He answered “i would say you do media placement for a pr firm downtown.” Not inaccurate.

    My Dad thinks I just look at Facebook for a living and my Mom thinks I’m in advertising. My Grandma probably thinks I’m still in college.

    It’s hard to define though, even on my end. Sometimes when I’m forced to explain my daily job, I just resort to “I send emails and fill in Excel sheets.” While not untrue, probably not helping the public define PR. 

    Thanks for the article! Great read this morning. 

    • Thanks for reading and for your comment and feedback, Chelsie! We need a new 

  • I think we confuses my family the most is that I do public relations in student affairs.  I need to double-check, but I’m sure the message they’re sending is somewhere between event-planning and teaching.

  • Julisboat

    “Assistant Irrigation Technologist” ??? LOL

    • Indeed:

  • I love that you addressed this. Public Relations encompasses so many aspects, and often depends on the specific company as to what that employee does.  I agree with @twitter-27933625:disqus who said it’s hard to define even for the PR professional. I was once introduced by a co-worker as the “Person who does our Facebook.” If that was what I did, I’d only work an hour-totwo a week.

    • Well, said Angela. I have also been introduced as that person.

      Thank you for your comment!

  • My boyfriend said, “You play around on the internet for a living.”
    It’s not playing – Pinterest can be serious!! 🙂 

    • It sure can – especially to clients!

      Would love to hear what he says after a bit of ‘coaching’.

  • Ford Kanzler

    Kelly – Seems PR pros keep exclaiming about not being understood or respected. Google your article’s headline and you’ll see many others’ perspectives on this on-going problem. I wrote this story ten years ago and its still holds.
    Many others have since. Overuse of the media announcement/press release as a tactic remains epidemic, as well as shot-gunning them at far too many media people who can’t use them. This is a great way to continue tarnishing our collective reputation.
    Good luck with new definitions. There hasn’t been agreement on that for decades.
    My own, when people ask is, “I’m a communications strategy coach and corporate story-teller…hopefully non-fiction.”

    • Ford,

      Thank you for your comment, and for sharing your article – I totally agree with the perspective.

      The lack of agreement on a industry definition is, in my opinion, far more important than the time devoted to it. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • Darren

    My Mother tells people that I go to lunch all the time!! That’s apparently what I do in PR!!

    • Lunch is a very important part!

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Darren

    My Mother tells people that I go to lunch all the time!! That’s apparently what I do in PR!!

  • It is a disappointment that the public sees press releases
    and PR as exclusive to each other. As a PR student, I find myself more learning
    about effective communication and relationships than right the “perfect” press
    release. To write the “perfect” press release, I believe communication and
    relationships between PR professionals and the client are more true
    understanding of PR.

    • I’m glad to hear that the importance of relationships is prevalent in the U of O PR curriculum. Say hi to Dr. Gallicano for me!

  • Prdude

    Pimp. That’s how I describe myself so they get it.

    • Pimping (and publicizing) ain’t easy.

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