What is it that public relations professionals actually do?

What is it that public relations professionals actually do?

If you're like me, you have family and friends who have no idea what you do. "PR for financial services" isn't necessarily descriptive. Other alternatives to smiles and nods I’ve heard:

“OH! So you ‘SPIN’ stuff.”

“So you’re the one they call in when companies mess up big time. Hahaha!”

Since we're not all Olivia Pope, here is my conversational explanation of what PR is, to help our friends and family understand what it is we do at work:

As public relations professionals, we help shape or change perceptions through what people see, hear, read, or experience.

Here are just a few ways (of the many) in which we do that:

  • Working closely with the media: PR professionals work with journalists to help companies, their efforts, executives or products appear in the media people consume: anywhere from the a business newspaper to a lifestyle magazine. We help get the word out through articles in publications.

  • Building a social media presence and voice for companies and people: We identify how a brand or person speaks via posts, tweets, videos and pictures. We also help a company figure out how it will interact with people for the best customer service experience.

  • Helping improve employee morale: Staff members have a lot of power because they can be important advocates for the business or products. We help make sure that "corporate" is communicating transparently and helping build employees’ confidence in where they work. We also help in creating a unique corporate culture.

  • Bringing the brand or company to you: Through various events, we help create a brand experience. These include conferences, speeches at colleges and universities, dinner events, product giveaways and so on. We help companies be where their stakeholders are.

  • Sharing the company's and their experts' solutions and ideas through content: Businesses can now share their insights and ideas through self-published content. Think of websites, blogs, and LinkedIn, research reports, surveys, studies and how-tos. We help articulate what people are thinking into what you read from the companies you follow.

  • Protecting a company’s brand during a crisis: Crises happen--and they will continue happening. But the companies who survive and thrive are those that communicate well and make noticeable changes and improvements. PR plays a large role in both of those to protect and eventually enhance and company’s brand and people’s perception of it.

Behind all of the ways in which we practice PR, there are two underlying concepts that are important to mention: First, it’s that everything has to be in the best possible interest of the company and its stakeholders. That’s why sometimes making decisions is really hard.

Second, and most importantly,  our efforts must be reflective of the company and its business. We can’t (and don’t) make people perceive something that isn’t true--because consumers, journalists, investors, and employees are too smart. So everything we do has to be a true extension of the business.

Next time someone asks you what you do, I hope this helps explain it easily and accurately.

Julia Sahin works in corporate communications for financial services at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She was the first to publish academic research about regulation, reputation, and banks. She plans on doing big things. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s. Connect with her on Twitter.

Photo: Businessman holding question mark via Shutterstock

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