How to Explain Public Relations to Your Family and Friends

When it comes to explaining public relations, sometimes it’s best to use current, real world examples such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Photo from SLGCKGC.

How do you explain public relations to your friends? To your parents?

It’s common to have a bit of trouble explaining such a complex field. With so many different aspects to the profession, there’s a lot to mention. And with an array of varying daily tasks from designing communication plans to media relations, it’s tricky to encompass the entire scope of the public relations field.

PRSA has adopted this definition of public relations: “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

But how do you put this into real world terms so others can understand?

In order to explain public relations it’s helpful to break the profession down between the good and the bad, or the successes and the concerns. The good can include tasks like relationship building and image maintenance and enhancement. The bad can include tasks like handling publicity poorly and other client crises.

By discussing how public relations manages both an organization’s successes and concerns, your family and friends will be able to understand how the field is integral to an entire organization. To really make it stick you might want to provide some examples too.

A prominent public relations campaign success in 2014 was the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which ultimately raised $115 million for ALS research. Everyone participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge, or at least knew someone who did. It was a well-thought-out campaign that reached new heights due to the shareability of social media. It is because of this campaign that so many more people are now aware of the disease and are interested in supporting those affected.

What about an example of how public relations resolved an issue following negative publicity?

Recently, Hasbro Inc. received numerous complaints about a phallic tool in the Play-Doh Sweet Shoppe Cake Mountain Playset. One parent posted on Facebook saying, “Why couldn’t this be in another form or shape?” The company responded immediately through social media and offered a replacement part, promising to change the shape of the device.

Once you begin to look at the tasks and results of public relations, discussing your future career becomes significantly more straightforward. And by offering direct examples your friends and family are already aware of, they might finally be able to understand what you want to do for a living.

What other suggestions do you have? How do you explain public relations to your family?

Teresa Lane is a senior at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington and the president for WSU’s Jay Rockey Chapter of PRSSA. Follow her on Twitter @TeresaRHLane or connect with her on LinkedIn.

3 thoughts on “How to Explain Public Relations to Your Family and Friends

    • Author gravatar

      Very cool, practical way of explaining PR in non-PR speak.

    • Author gravatar

      I was actually just asked to do this during a writing test for a potential employer! I’m glad to see I outlined my answer like this article: started with a simple, real definition, then listed out examples. I used examples my parents could relate to, like a press conference with their favorite football coach. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is also a good one! These are great tips.

    • Author gravatar

      So good to hear this is something other people encounter in interviews and conversations! I’ve found it is challenging to talk about public relations just because so many people have so many assumptions about the field. I’m glad this article helps to break some of the lingo down.

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