What is it that you do again? Explaining PR to family and friends.

January 12, 2017

If you were with family and friends for any part of the holidays, then you were likely asked about what you do for a living at least once. And unless you come from a long line of publicists, then your answer was probably followed by a confused look and a follow up question like, “PR, isn’t that like…marketing?”

This complete lack of awareness is due to the most ironic issue of all – the PR industry has done a terrible job of doing PR for itself, leaving most people without any clue about what PR professionals do on a day-to-day basis.

Well, it’s time to close the knowledge gap between the industry and the rest of the world. Consider this a step-by-step guide to explaining what you do to family and friends in 2017.

1. Start by explaining what PR is without comparing it to advertising.

Too often people fall back on comparing PR to advertising, using the good ole “pay to play” versus “pray to play” explanation. The problem is that people are left thinking that PR is the cheaper alternative for companies that can’t afford big ad buys. Instead, tell your clueless friend/relative that PR is the practice of building relationships with public influencers, including traditional media, bloggers, analysts and other thought leaders, to help successfully communicate your client’s message to their target audiences.


2. Next, share how you use strategy to get your clients on the cover of Forbes.

So, you finally made progress on explaining what PR is, but now you’re facing the next question, “How in the world do you make people write about your clients?” Instead of focusing only on the pitch process, start from the beginning. Explain that a successful PR program starts with a larger strategy that identifies each company’s target audience and determines what their most trusted channels are, then develops custom messaging to address each group. In other words, we figure out who our client’s target customers trust most, whether that’s an anchor at CNN or a famous Instagrammer, then develop relationships with those people, opening their eyes to how our clients can provide interesting value or insight that enhances their audience’s experience.

3.  Leave everyone with an example of the power of PR.

We live in a world of DVRing, “Skimm”ing and unsubscribing, leaving companies with almost zero opportunity to use traditional advertising and marketing strategies to attract and retain customers. But people are scrolling, sharing and posting more than ever and consumers are quickly weeding out companies that fail to customize their messaging to meet their needs and provide them with valuable content. Take $2.4 billion outdoor lifestyle retailer REI’s “Opt Outside” campaign, which suspended all retail activity on Black Friday and gave their 12,000 employees a PTO day. The campaign used PR tactics like turning the site into a resource for discovering outdoor activities on Black Friday, social media integration and clever supporting videos to successfully take over the national media landscape. “Opt Outside,” which reached more than 1.4 million people and increased social media impressions by 7,000% in the first year, is a great example of how a brand can make a huge impact through PR, even while risking sales on the biggest retail day of the year.

Let’s face it, some people may still think that all PR people do is write press releases and tweet, but hopefully this guide is a step in the right direction demystifying the illusive industry we call home.


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