A Day in the life of a Public Relations

A public relations specialist is an image shaper. Their job is to generate positive publicity for their client and enhance their reputation. The client can be a company, an individual or a government. In the government PR people are called press secretaries. They keep the public informed about the activity of government agencies, explain policy, and manage political campaigns.

Public relations people working for a company may handle consumer relations, or the relationship between parts of the company such as the managers and employees, or different branch offices. Though the job often involves the dissemination of information, some view this cynically as "spin doctoring." There is an old saying about PR that 'Advertisers lie about the product. Public relations people lie about the company.'

Regardless, the successful PR person must be a good communicator-in print, in person and on the phone. They cultivate and maintain contacts with journalists, set up speaking engagements, write executive speeches and annual reports, respond to inquiries and speak directly to the press on behalf of their client. They must keep lines of communication open between the many groups affected by a company's product and policies: consumers, shareholders, employees, and the managing body.

Public relations people also write press releases and may be involved in producing sales or marketing material. Public relations is a good career for the generalist.

A PR person must keep abreast of current events and be well versed in pop culture to understand what stories will get the publics' attention. It takes a combination of analysis and creative problem solving to get your client in the public eye. The content of the work is constantly changing and unforeseen challenges arise every day.

As one public relations person explained, "In addition to the standard duties, a PR person might have to shepherd an alcoholic and half-mad (but brilliant) author through a twenty-city interview tour or try to put a warm 'n fuzzy spin on the company's latest oil-spill."

Here's another story:

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers," said the historian Daniel J. Boorstin. His point? In public relations (PR), your job is to make your client seem great without anybody knowing you were trying.

Of course, those in PR do more than make their clients seem great. They speak on behalf of client organizations; inform constituents; educate audiences about important issues; help mitigate harmful negative publicity; and generally represent a client to various audiences, including the media, in order to get the most favorable publicity possible.

While some use the terms "advertising" and "PR" interchangeably, that's a bit inaccurate. Advertising entails purchasing space or time in a particular medium, such as a TV show, publication, or website, and creating controlled messages therein. Public relations, on the other hand, includes other activities and types of messages-in turn often covered by the media-that help improve the subject's visibility and reputation. And in many sectors it's a fast-growing field.

What PR Is

While many people equate public relations with publicity—or more generally, garnering media attention—the field is actually quite a bit broader. In addition to media relations, PR agents coordinate activities such as events, meetings, educational programs, speaking engagements, and other forms of communication. One of the objectives in PR is to use the media to reach the target market because, when mediated by a supposedly objective third party, the message will become more powerful.

Because of their role in generating media coverage, PR professionals are sometimes thought of as disingenuous, deceitful, hucksterish flacks trying simultaneously to pull the wool over the eyes of their clients and the public at large. That's inaccurate.

Most journalists and clients will only deal with people in PR who are known for being honest and straightforward, because to do otherwise could potentially hurt their own reputations. And the fact is, in today's business world, every company, CEO, celebrity, and association wants to show the best possible face to the public, and all of them are using public relations to do so.

What You'll Do

Day to day, PR pros look for opportunities to deliver appropriate messages to their audiences. This may include planning events or speaking engagements. You may find yourself "pitching" story ideas to reporters to get them interested in covering subjects important to your client or company. Other days may have you working on the strategy of an overall communications program-in essence, what you'll release when. For example, consumer products companies may launch new products or product campaigns to tie in with particular holidays or other dates important to the retail industry. These companies' PR teams are almost always involved in these programs, as they'll be working on finding methods outside of traditional advertising and sales to get the word out to potential customers. PR professionals may also serve as company spokespeople, disseminating information about companies to the media or directly to key audiences. In the entertainment industry, the focus is more likely to be on publicity: Any entertainment figure or company in the industry will have a publicist, who is the go-to person for answers about the A-list glitterati. An actress's arrival at an awards ceremony in a hybrid vehicle instead of a gas-guzzling stretch limousine, for instance, could be a PR move to show her feelings about the environment-a well-considered one if the actress wants the public to take her more seriously, or if she wants to make a statement about an environmental cause that is important to her.

Often, public relations pros will spend much of the day working with the media. You'll make phone calls, issue news releases, and plan story angles and events. Reporters, producers, bloggers, and other media gatekeepers may have a reputation for being at odds with PR people, but the truth is that they rely on PR practitioners for information they don't have the time or budget to gather themselves.

Those with more experience in PR will write speeches, strategize the best time to announce new products, work alongside an advertising agency to position products in the mind of the public, post on blogs, create and publish newsletters, and coordinate social networking groups, among other activities.

Along with representing the client to the public, PR practitioners will represent the public to the client, helping the client understand the public's wants, needs, and concerns. They may also manage crises, endeavoring to reduce the damage done to a client or company's reputation-most of the time, however, companies will call in a crisis communications specialist for such situations.

Who Does Well

Those who do well in PR have strong communication skills, are articulate both with the written and spoken word, are able to understand a variety of people, are confident, and quick studies-you'll need to learn quickly what your clients do in order to communicate their messages effectively. PR professionals should also be quick thinkers and persuasive.

While there are some behind-the-scenes opportunities such as research that could accommodate introverted types, most jobs in the PR field require assertiveness and an outgoing personality. If you know you're shy, PR probably isn't the best career choice for you. A public relations professional who is afraid of the public won't be able to represent his or her clients authoritatively.