In a world where the realm of public relations is constantly evolving, how do we define what we do as PR professionals? Senior PR & Marketing Executive, Joanna, shares her thoughts…

At any party, networking event, family gathering, or even a meal out with friends, despite having worked in PR for over three years, the question I am often asked is: “So, what do you do?” but, I’m never 100 per cent ready for it. And simply answering “I work in public relations” usually isn’t the end of it.

Because, what is public relations? One of my favourite things about what we do as PR professionals is that no two days are the same, and you never know what is around the corner. But, that makes it all the more difficult to define our ever-changing job description.

There are, of course, many definitions of what ‘public relations’ is. PRCA defines public relations (PR) as being “all about the way organisations communicate with the public, promote themselves, and build a positive reputation and public image.” The Oxford Dictionary’s definition isn’t too different but notably expands the definition to include famous people: “The professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company or other organisation or a famous person.”

So, in its simplest form, we can describe PR as the way in which organisations or brands build and maintain positive reputations, by managing perceptions through their various activities and communications.

But, in a world where the way in which we communicate is always changing – including the rise of digital communications, such as social media, instant messenger, streaming sites and dating apps, to name a few – how should we define PR and, in turn, how can we describe what we do as PR professionals?

In my three years in the industry, digital communications has always been a large part of what I do (unlike some of my colleagues, whose first press release was written on a typewriter and sent in the post with a picture stapled to it!). Nonetheless, during my relatively short career, I have already seen new means of digital communication come to the forefront.

Video promotion has been around for decades, but has become much more of a focus for the media in recent years. Being able to supply engaging, funny or informative video footage alongside press releases may be the extra lever needed to secure online coverage with that coveted title. With this development, our role in PR has expanded – not just to advise on the best words to use or the best image to capture the news story, but to story board video content and tailor it to adhere to what we know the press is after, all the while still capturing the key messaging that clients want to communicate to their audiences. We are directors. We are editors.

Companies and brands are also using virtual reality (VR) to engage their audiences – some well, some not so well. Take a trade show, for example: if your objective is to attract people to your stand (like you traditionally might do with complimentary sweets, pens or USB sticks), you might use VR to entice people instead, with games to play or experiences related to what you do. But what are you really communicating? To have the strongest impact, you need to do something that will make visitors remember the brand and what it offers. You need to tell a story and spark an emotion.

Notably, Oxfam utilised VR technology in its fundraising activities to show potential donors how the charity spends funds, and illustrate the true nature and level of poverty and devastation around the world. So, the role of PR professionals has again been expanded: to not only understand VR technology, but to think creatively about how we can use it to convey clients’ messaging. We are storytellers. We are drivers of change.

Another medium brands have been using for some time to communicate with audiences is social media. Not only does social media give companies a way to instantly engage with followers and share the brand’s latest updates, but it also allows companies to reach a whole new target group through the use of influencers. I have had an Instagram account for more than six years, but it has only been over the past couple of years that I have noticed more and more celebrities endorsing products through their follower-rich Instagram feeds. Many argue that the influencer boom is set to crumble as the market becomes saturated and, as such, brands need to be more strategic in the influencers they use and the way they use them. As PR professionals, it is our responsibility to advise on and manage this. We adapt again. We are influencer marketers.

With new means of communication – digital or otherwise – being introduced year after year, it is clear that PR will continue to develop, and it is difficult to predict what our careers may look like in 20 years’ time. The truth is, in PR our roles are never stagnant. As the world evolves, so does our profession. As PR professionals we are writers, we are sales people, we are event organisers, we are tweeters, we are videographers and photographers, we are creative thinkers, we are strategists, we are advisers. The list goes on and on, and will continue to change as the industries and people we work with change too.

So, the next time I’m asked what public relations is, what should the answer be in 2018? I think that, like with the definitions mentioned previously, we can define PR as being about helping an organisation to get the word out about its brand, or a person to present their chosen image. But, importantly, there are many channels and many ways in which we achieve this!

I might say: “Public relations is the utilisation and management of all activity and means of communication between an organisation or individual and their potential audiences, with the goal of building and maintaining an intended reputation.”

Or, in other words, “I am a master of all communications!”

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