People often ask me what the difference is between marketing, advertising and public relations. Plenty. Advertising is paid for—the biggest difference … like millions of dollars of difference. Public relations campaigns require a budget, but nothing close to that of advertising campaigns, and marketing also requires a much larger wallet than PR. Sometimes marketing campaigns need some good PR after they have created problems, like in the case of the Cartoon Network’s late January incident that shut down the city of Boston.
There are many things public relations is not. It is not a magic wand, able to work miracles for those looking to get exposure. In the end, journalists are the gatekeepers of information and the final word in whether an event, person or product gets some space in tomorrow’s paper.
As a profession, it can be exciting, with very satisfying day-to-day work goes, and it has the potential for earning a decent paycheck. The ambiguity behind the art of PR is a common problem, as other professions take on the characteristics of public relations but are opposite in many ways as well. In today’s media-driven society, public relations is important to understand as it is becoming vital to the dissemination of information. As a student of PR, soon-to-be unleashed into the “real world”, I continue to understand the influence this profession has and its ability to be used as a tool for the Lord.
The textbook definition for public relations involves mutually-beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics in order for both to be successful. In practice, this is an accurate definition and the essence of public relations. As a PR practitioner, it is my job to form relationships between a client who wants to communicate something and the public. They can be journalists with the power to put information into print or broadcast, consumers who have the control to use that information or anyone who is affected by the information I provide. Once those relationships have been formed, the flow of information is opened up, and everyone has the potential to benefit. Like a sociologist, a PR practitioner must be in tune with behaviors, attitudes and values of individuals in order to determine how to communicate with human beings, not just consumers.
Public relations is both formulaic and creative. While the press release is one of the most direct and convenient ways to alert the media of important news and live events to build excitement for attendees, public relations goes far beyond that. New media on the Internet is creating a whole new space for public relations to be creative, with blogs becoming popular for CEOs at major corporations and those hilarious internet videos we all send to our friends being platforms for PR departments to get information out to the public. Popular social networking sites are used half the time for musicians, products and many more to promote their latest work.
The skill of pitching a story idea to a magazine can be the most thrilling, or most humbling, experiences of a PR practitioner’s job. Like walking a tightrope, formulating and then pitching a story idea is a delicate balance of timing, trend-spotting and knowing when not to call a journalist on a deadline who probably does not want to even talk to their mother, let alone someone with another brilliant idea. But when it does fit, the excitement and sense of accomplishment one feels is almost enough to get them through the next 10 rejections.
Public relations is not just a party. It is a full day at the office, and once five o’clock rolls around the creativity and ideas do not shut off. Inspiration is all around, and PR requires a person to always be willing to receive it wherever they are. As an intern in New York in the summer of 2006, there were more hot days sitting at the desk than nights socializing with celebrities and other PR professionals (but thanks to the demands of my job I did see several celebrities on the streets of midtown Manhattan).
PR is not manipulation and lies. My favorite client will always be Christ whether or not I work in a Christian professional environment or otherwise, and doing anything to label myself as a “spin doctor” of “flack” would go against this. There is nothing worth promoting more than the Gospel of salvation and peace between God and man, whether in print, song or through conversation with acquaintances in the business.
As a student and PR professional, the most exciting part of my job is helping other people realize their dreams and goals. At the end of the day, I can hopefully say that I have done my job to the best of my ability, and that is good enough. But, as I have experienced recently, when close friends and family hear about a client through publicity I have worked to gain, this is when I feel that I have done my job in order to create excitement in others for a musician, a product or even the Bible.