You know that question that’s always asked when you meet someone new, and so begins the get-to-know-you-question merry-go-round: So what do you do?
Most people respond with self-explanatory professions: I’m a teacher; I’m a lawyer; I own a small business; I work at a clothing store; I’m in grad school.
Then it’s my turn, and when I tell people I work for a public relations agency, I often get a variety of responses, everything from puzzled expressions to snarky remarks to wide-eyed, gleeful looks to getting laughed at in the face.
Below are some I’ve heard:
- “Oh, so you’re like Samantha Jones in Sex and the City!”
- “Do you work with movie stars?”
- “Ah, so you buy advertising.”
- “Oh…you’re a spin doctor. You make bad people look good.”
- “Do you pay reporters to write stories about your clients?”
- “So you get to throw parties for a living? Cool!”
- “Did you say public relations?”
And while some of these make me chuckle (or wince), none of the above are part of my job duties.
There are PR agencies who work with clients in the entertainment industry and who handle launches for new restaurants. I do not.
Public relations is not the same as advertising although there are times they work closely together. Some schools even combine these two in academic programs (for example, at the AD/PR Department at the University of Georgia). I don’t buy ads for my clients unless they specifically request it, though others in our office do provide advertising support for a few clients. It’s not common though.
Public relations is not about lying or being intentionally inaccurate to position yourself or a client in a positive light. We are focused on the facts and gather all relevant and interesting information available about a given product, service, person or situation before pitching a story to a reporter or issuing anything to the public.
While in some countries it is a common practice to pay reporters in exchange for news coverage, it is illegal in the United States. One can purchase space and write about his or her company – but that’s an advertisement.
And I don’t typically throw parties for clients – I’m not an event planner. I do occasionally help plan clients events, and we create a plan and put it into action.
So what do I “do”?
A lot of research, writing, planning and communicating. I monitor news coverage daily about my clients and news in general. I’m in touch with reporters via phone or email almost daily to pitch a story about my clients or set up interviews. I also track and measure media coverage, compile reports, attend meetings, develop strategies surrounding product launches, assist with crisis plans and implement PR and marketing campaigns.
And, in dramatic moments, my cubemates and I argue over who gets to use the green highlighter, or I try to sneak the last piece of chocolate cake from the fridge before my boss gets to it.
While I don’t have the seemingly-glamorous life of Samantha Jones, I have a job that brings a different routine each day and I work in a profession where I can do one of my favorite things: communicate with other people.