Public Relations, the wild child: Commonly misunderstood and wrongfully stereotyped

Public relations may be one of the most widely misunderstood professions. SXSW® Interactive is taking place here in Austin this week and I’ve been hearing chatter about “those PR types” that are annoying to who exactly, I’m not sure. During inevitable polite small talk babble, when I get asked the “What do you do” question, I typically respond, “I do PR for high tech companies.” More often than not, my inquisitor will look at me in one of two ways:

  1. As if I just told them I worked in quantum mechanics (they have no idea what PR is), or
  2. As if I just told them I’m an evil advertiser who sucks up all of your money, sends you mail you hate to receive and interrupts your Sunday evening showing of Desperate Housewives once every 15-20 minutes with those darn commercials.

I must say that I am neither one of those. I am also not at all like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, I do not throw parties and plan events all day long, and – much to the dismay of a BCBG sales associate a few weeks ago – I could never get away with wearing a slinky, tight skirt suit that distracts from my awesome personality while I’m representing a client.

Because that’s what we do. We represent – we ARE – our clients. Everything we say and do reflects upon our clients. Perhaps the reason why PR is so widely misunderstood is because we work hard to remain invisible to those on the outside. We are essentially our clients’ eyes, ears and mouths. “What are people saying about X?” “What do we see X’s competitors doing?” and “What does X need to say to effectively and positively communicate with their audience?”

Most PR professionals aren’t evil. Lying does not come as second nature to us. In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of our work is finding creative ways to send true messages to the appropriate audience through their desired channels. We fight to find ways to be heard over the sea of meaningless, undirected noise created by non professionals, who (with new social media channels) drown the virtual environment with unproven statements that are not required to be held to any ethical standards. We care about truth and authenticity and are most concerned with connecting people to people and letting authentic dialogue flow from there.

We are the experts of all forms of communication, media and analyst relations and marketing strategy. We are depended upon by companies that have something great to offer and want to talk about it. We will always be needed and we will always be there when we’re called.

This is why I do not take offense when a misinformed person makes an unjust judgment too soon. I’ll just tell them…otherwise. 🙂