There are lots of misconceptions about what PR is and what PR people do. Quite often, I’ve heard that we’re ‘spin doctors’. That we write ‘puff pieces’. That we ‘do events’. And that if there are numbers involved, the PR person should never be asked to fact-check.
To a certain extent, I think the descriptions are accurate and that as a profession, we have ourselves to blame for not being clearer about what it is we do.
I make no apologies for this. However, for the sake of my clients, and especially for business owners who think they might need the help of a PR person, here is a no-nonsense definition. According to the Canadian Public Relations Society: “Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.”
I really like the focus this definition places on ‘relationships’, on achieving ‘mutual understanding’ and realizing ‘organizational goals’. It emphasizes the fact that relationships can be built and strengthened with good communication. That when there is a breakdown in communication, there are ways to fix it. And that the way things get fixed matters as much as, if not more than, the fact that they were fixed.
In an earlier post, I wrote about how a compelling story can help to engage people. Smart CEO’s use the principles of storytelling to engage their employees, to motivate them to achieve common goals and to celebrate with them when they succeed in performing great things. In short, to build the relationship. So do our political leaders. Who can forget the story President Obama told us in his first presidential campaign and his promise of ‘change we can believe in’?
Recently, I helped a client who was having difficulty getting her story across to her key stakeholders (including representatives from government, industry, and the scientific community). She wanted them to know how proud she was of her organization, and what they had achieved, and also as a not-for-profit, wanted to recognize the financial and in-kind support of numerous partners and donors. Working together, we came up with the idea of an interactive report to highlight the organization’s milestones, celebrate the contribution of its partners and open the door for ongoing dialogue through the use of social media. We decided what needed to be said, who should say it, and what the overarching message should be.
No spin, no puff, no smoke and mirrors. Just two people sitting in a room, trying to find a solution by looking at several commonly-used communications tools and figuring out which one would work best, given the circumstances. If you ask me, that’s as simple as PR is and should be.