How to Explain to Your Friends & Family What You Do: A True Tale of the Struggle Faced by Those of Us in PR
“What do you do?”
A seemingly innocuous question that I’m often presented with. My response is typically, “I work in public relations.” To which I am met with confusion, and the perplexed follow-up question, “but what do you do?”
Maybe this is my own fault. I could have chosen a profession like being a doctor, lawyer, chef, pop star sensation—a job people are familiar with and can clearly convey the specific day-to-day duties. Instead, I chose the path of ambiguity, and not only that, I also chose to major in PR. Yes, there is an actual degree in public relations, I promise—I have the student loans to prove it.
Below is a selection of my favorite interpretations of what it is I do, as told through real-life occurrences:
Example #1: When Your Dad Realizes You Aren’t A Journalist in a Top-Tier Business Publication
Me: “Look at the exclusive article I just landed in Forbes, I sent you the link! ”
Dad: “Awesome! I will look now.”
Dad: “I showed everyone at work the article you wrote. So PROUD of you!!!”
Me: “I didn’t write the article…I don’t write for Forbes. I booked the interview between my client and the journalist about the customer they were working with.”
Example #2: When Your Sister’s Best Friend Discovers You Do Not Hang Out With Celebrities
Sister’s friend: “How was work?”
Me: “Fine, long; enjoy being in college, real life is hard.”
Sister’s friend: “So do you like hang out with celebrities?”
Me: “No, I work in enterprise tech PR.”
Sister’s friend: [blank stare, slight giggling] “I don’t know what that is.”
Me: “I do PR for technology companies. Try to get them coverage, write press releases, things like that.”
Sister’s friend: “Like for Facebook?”
In the many times I’ve tried to explain PR to others, here is what I’ve come up with:
My job is to help a company communicate1 what they do to people (journalists, customers, the public) in a way that makes sense. Most of the time if you see an article in a newspaper, magazine, website or on TV, someone like me was diligently working to communicate the awesome things their client is doing that are changing the world, and inspire journalists to WANT to cover the story.
And then of course there are all the other things we do. We write press releases, draft original content, submit companies and executives for awards and speaking opportunities, plan, facilitate and staff events, develop strategic campaigns, edit documents until the cows come home and talk all day long about the intricacies of technologies that 85% (probably more) of the human population has never heard of.
Here’s the crux of the problem: it’s so hard to communicate the job of PR because the role changes every day and is constantly evolving. There is no typical day in PR. Every day presents new challenges and requires critical thinking, flexibility and an overall attitude of being able to “figure it out.” The PR persona of 30 years ago is definitely not the same one working today, or even that from 10 years ago. Journalism, business, technology and human interactions are rapidly shifting and each of these distinct areas impacts how PR operates.
To be quite honest, if I’m doing my job well then it probably means you don’t know what I do. The job of a PR person is to make someone, or something, else look good – to have them take all the credit while you stand silently in the background, internally patting yourself on the back for the awesome work you do for your client.
There is a very good chance that no matter how long I work in PR, my best friend will never be able to articulate what I do for a living.That’s ok. I know what I do and I’m glad I do it. Plus I’ve got a whole team of Bhavans and millions of people around the world who have also chosen PR as a profession that really do get it. To them I say: at least we have each other.
1. I never use the word “pitch” with lay people, it’s confusing and opens the door for additional questioning.