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Have you ever been asked, “What do you do,” only to get a blank stare when you reply, “Public Relations?”

We sure have!

And here is why – we do a lot, and many of us do it differently. While we can all define public relations for people based on our old journalism textbooks or with the help of Google, it is time people understood it in simple terms from each of our perspectives.

Throughout 2011, we are going to do just that.

So, as part of our regular “What is…Wednesday” feature each week, we are posting answers to the question “What is Public Relations?”

And it won’t just be HMA doing the writing!

Instead, we are asking public relations folks from across the globe in all walks of life to contribute.

Today, we hear from Carly Froyum, a public relations and advertising student at Northern Arizona University, where our own Scott Hanson (an alum) is the professional advisor for the student chapter of PRSA.

Carly, take it away - What is Public Relations?

On the very first day of any public relations course, our lecture is started with: “Public relations is not a subset of marketing.”

The next thing we are told is, “The main goal public relations professionals have is to enhance an organization’s reputation. PR professionals are skilled publicists that are able to use their skills to present a company or individual to the world in the best light possible. Often it is said they protect reputations.”

So then the question becomes not “What is public relations?” but instead, “What is good and effective public relations?”

We are taught that PR professionals need to be skilled writers, who can efficiently write and communicate with clients, publics, and journalists. The most key part of public relations is remaining consistent with a company’s value-based mission. What is important to them? Why do they do what they do? What are their goals? What is their story? All companies look to expand their businesses and widen their markets. A key way to do this is keeping their consumers aware of their values and what they stand for.

It’s almost like hiring someone for a job. Someone can hand you an application, but isn’t it really nice when you also know many people who know them very well, and are reiterating to you who your applicant is, what they like to do, what they have done in the past, etc.? Basic human nature allows us to label things in our mind based on what we know about them. When I say “deer” many people think Bambi because Disney has portrayed him as a kind and gentle animal, instead of an insurance liability waiting to happen.

While PR professionals aren’t exactly Disney animators, they use their skills to create news releases, newsletters, websites, speeches, media kits, blogs and more that all have one thing in common- consistency of values.

Public relations professionals are the face of an organization. They maintain and develop relationships between corporations, individuals, consumers, the government, and the general public. As the “face” they don’t always have to personally believe in a company or individual’s values, however most good PR professionals will not support the values of a company if they are morally wrong or illegal. While they instill values of other companies to their publics, they must also let their own shine through.

As a student we are taught that PR professionals are like safety gear. When companies decide to go rock climbing wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a harness? That way if they do accidentally slip a little, they aren’t falling all the way down to their base. They can regain their footing and recover back up the mountain.

Public relations is about planning for the future and planning for the “what ifs” that might be thrown at companies. PR professionals can act as damage control when an incident arises and can help stimulate forward motion when times are good. They are a sister to marketers and can help ensure success and positive ongoing relationships.

So “What is good and effective public relations?” Truth is, it can’t truly be measured. In marketing you can clearly see if you reached a goal. Instead in public relations you can set strategic goals and compare, however, there is no value or number that can be put on a relationship. That’s what makes PR unique and exciting.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio


  1. Liz Johnson says:

    Great post! As an NAU grad with a degree in PR, it’s great to see a continued legacy of excellence in that department.

  2. Tamara Nerdrum says:

    Thank you for the clarification! As a communications student, it is important (to me) to be able to understand the differences in all areas of communications. They are very subtle, but distinct and each have very important roles.

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