“What is…?” Wednesday – Denise Bruce tells us “What is Public Relations?”

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This week, HMATime is pleased to have Denice Bruce as a guest blogger, responding to one (seemingly) simply question: What is public relations?

Name sound familiar?

It should – she’s about to take the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Western District Conference on a “PR safari into deepest, darkest geekdom!”

Gotta hand it to her – the girl knows how to title a workshop.

Seriously though, Denice will be a featured presenter at the multi-day conference, which will take place March 12 & 13 in Denver at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and will focus on “championing creativity.”

Denice will be joined by about a dozen other presenters and noted keynote speakers including NPR’s Carl Kasell, national news analyst and commentator Dan Schnur and author Rob Biesenbach, among others.

All members of PRSA throughout the Western United States are invited to take part and can learning more by clicking here. Abbie and I will be there – join us!

But I digress.

So, Denice, what is public relations?

I’m a nerd wrangler and engineering ethnographer.  That’s how I describe my work as a communication specialist here at Professional Engineering Consultants in Kansas.

Now, I say that in the most affectionate way possible.  If you had told me five years ago I’d be translating (into the English language of normal people) the work of 270 engineers of all stripes—and that I would love it—I would have uttered a very non-PRSA-approved response.

But I am.  And I do.  Mostly.

What’s not to love about learning that one cubic foot of something is roughly the same volume as a chicken?  How can you not embrace the fact that to generate 30 million gallons of water, you’d have to run your garden hose full blast 24/7 for seven years?  If putting that stuff in your brain doesn’t make your toes curl, I don’t know what will.

And don’t even get me started on the geometry involved in traffic roundabouts, or the energy savings clients get from computational fluid dynamics analysis.  No, you cannot be me, no matter how much you beg.

Here’s what being an effective PR/communication professional means to me.  I don’t live in the world I write and speak about – that’s where the ethnography comes in.  It’s my responsibility to mingle with the natives and try to understand their habitat and activities.  I take a stab at speaking their language now and again, and it amuses them but they’re usually gracious about my errors.

I try my best to immerse myself in the culture of the brilliant people I work with.  Then I can be brilliant for them when I tell the rest of the world what they do.  I always show a desire to embrace, respect and understand the “wow-who’d-have-ever-thought-this-was-something-someone-actually-did” work of my colleagues.  Hopefully (and this has largely been the case) they will reciprocate and embrace the many (many, many, many) communication/PR initiatives I’m advocating for the good of our clients, our business volume, and for our company as a whole.

We build great stuff here.  We do a lot of good work for our clients.  I get to tell that story, and I’m delighted to have that opportunity.  Yep, I’ve gone native.


Alison Bailin
Alison Bailin
Senior Account Executive Alison has a lot to say…about pretty much everything...all the time. From the current state of public relations to the social media impact on Shark Week to crisis communications in the sports world, Alison’s blogs are focused on “amusing through her PR musings,” and then some. Check out Alison's full bio


  1. Alison Bailin says:

    I admit it – I had to google “ethnographer!” Like you, we at the agency also take great pride in immersing ourselves with our brilliant co-workers as well as each of our brilliant clients’ own cultures. Thanks for sharing with us!

  2. Stephanie Lough says:

    I love those kind of comparison facts! I have one – did you know a full 14 oz bottle of hairspray can spray on full blast for 10 minutes? Assume an average spray is 3 seconds per use, that’s 200 uses! I know this because last night I dropped a brand new bottle of hairspray top down and I couldn’t fix it, so the whole bottle sprayed out. Reminded me of a smoke bomb.

  3. Jane Dvorak says:

    We couldn’t be more excited to have Denise bringing her engineered tweak on PR to Denver! I think you’ll find, whether you work in a highly technical world or not, the tips and tricks she’s learned as a successful ethnographer (you weren’t the only one — or last — to google that Allison! I think our whole program committee did, plus some!) to better tell your story are applicable across all PR disciplines. Don’t miss this session — or any of the others!

    Early Birds, Not Angry Birds registration is available til 2/10 for $195. Rates go up after that, but the program will still be just as grand with keynotes from Carl Kasell of NPR, Dan Schnur of USC and Rob Biesenbach, an actor & PR pro. Join us in Denver, March 12-13! http://www.prsacolorado.org/2012westerndistrict

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