How to Explain PR to the Public

October 21,2015

After more than 20 years in the public relations business, you would think I’d have a pat answer rehearsed and ready to deliver when people ask me what I do for a living.

Yet, I don’t. Well, not a tidy, one-word answer, anyway. As in, the kind that doesn’t require further explanation.

Usually, the exchange goes something like this:

Them: “So, what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m in PR.”
Them: “Ahh,” said with an “I’m going to nod my head and act like I know what that means when, actually, I haven’t the foggiest idea” expression.

Even my own mother is a bit fuzzy on what I do for a living, although she knows it involves working with newspaper and television reporters in some capacity.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was a newspaper reporter, it was easy to explain my job. I wrote stories about interesting people, places and things. These days, I’m still in the storytelling business, and that’s usually how I start my explanation of PR.

In its simplest sense, public relations pros help our clients strategically tell their stories—to consumers, to their business-to-business customers, to their employees, to their investors and to anyone else who matters to them. Sometimes that involves helping our clients get into the news. Sometimes it means keeping them out of the news.

At times it involves ghostwriting articles and speeches on our clients’ behalf. Or coordinating special events that help them engage with their stakeholders. Or helping them expand their online footprint—and communicate directly to their various audiences—through online channels, such as websites and social media. All in all, public relations is about relationship-building and communicating, in lots of different forms. It’s an important piece of a marketing effort that often includes advertising, digital communications, branding and other disciplines.

For example, our PR and advertising teams collaborated on the Don’t Trash Arizona campaign to catch the attention of 18- to 34-year-old men, a demographic identified as the most prone to litter. While the ad team developed a series of eye-catching print, broadcast and rolling ads, the PR people arranged for three Valley mayors to work Whataburger drive-through windows to talk with patrons about trash disposal. They also let the media know about the campaign, and managed online and social media communication.

The campaign earned extensive local media attention, saw one-day Facebook impressions hit 10,000 (up from 661 the day before) and increased website traffic by 8% over the previous month.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) sums up PR like this: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Strategy. Communication. Relationships. All helping businesses and individuals relate to their publics. Yes, that’s what public relations people do for a living.



Linda Obele is an Arizona native whose love of a good story started in elementary school, when she landed her first “job” as a reporter on the school newspaper staff. Since then, her nose for news has netted her a journalism degree from ASU’s Cronkite School, an early career as a print journalist, and a fulfilling transition into public relations. She is married to a fellow Arizona native, and busy raising two tween daughters.

Back to all Stories