What exactly is PR?

There was a really valuable post recently on the PR Place website (“Public relations for absolute beginners”), where Richard Bailey responded to a challenge about the need for the industry to get better at explaining what it actually is all about – and appealing to a wider cross-section of people who have yet to consider a career in it, or studying the subject.  Click here to read it.

It flags up crucially how it believes PR involves helping influence people to think or behave in certain ways, as opposed to simply being about persuasion.

It also flags up PR’s central concerns with ‘content‘ (in lots of different forms); ‘conversations‘ (in lots of different environments); and ‘community‘ (whether building, reaching, or resolving issues, for example).

Case study – PR supporting community festival, working with local school on a regional media appearance.

With a recent community festival held in my neighbouring village, the organising charity needed to raise raise awareness of the cause behind the bicentenary of the birth of novelist and social reformer, Charles Kingsley it was marking.  It needed to create ways for the local community and other stakeholder groups to keep in touch, and get involved with the festival (for example, through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook); and above all, it needed to keep a focus on selling tickets, which media coverage, like this piece on the regional news helped with.  Much of this is about being able helping to create or clarify ‘the story’, or simplifying messages, and making them consistent.

I still think it will be a long time before that part of the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) definition which says PR is “the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you” will be bettered, because it roots public relations activity in our daily lives, and the reality of our actions, even in the digital age.  In doing so, it reiterates the ethical dimension, without it having to be a ‘bolt-on’ – and, of course, views it all through the prism of ‘reputation’ which underpins it all.

PR secures coverage – and community conversations about the bicentenary festival.

It is crucial that the public relations world does more to explain what it does, and makes itself more accessible as a career option to young people in schools, sixth forms and FE colleges.  It is crucial, if we are to do something about systemic issues with lack of diversity in PR, and how PR plays its own part in putting up barriers to social mobility, especially through blocks to access, but also through reinforcing power structures in how it is delivered.

While we have seen some advances through the PR Apprenticeship (led by the PRCA), PR does promote itself as being a career which is almost exclusively degree-level entry – although I was always impressed by the diversity of backgrounds, and ultimate destinations on graduation of students I had the privilege to teach on PR degrees, with a long list of them now in fantastic positions, whether in-house or in agencies; or working in the corporate, consumer, entertainment, sports, defence, automotive, or health sectors, to name but a few.

I always thought that the CIPR Foundation course could form the basis of some kind of offer, if it was made a little more accessible – and cheaper.

And it’s not just young people.  If we are to do something about the reputation of PR, and help professionalise the delivery of public relations, we would do well to offer such short courses in the subject via adult and community learning across the community, and across generations.

More and more people have direct routes to delivering (or even responsibility for) public relations, particularly because of the democratisation of communication through social media.  Those in the industry might question that – but if we are serious about spreading understanding and best practice, we need to do something about sharing skills across our communities – and this too might do something about opening up new, diverse routes into PR as an ultimate career destination.

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