I think it’s safe to say that the general public does not quite understand what PR really is, how it’s different from marketing/advertising, and what it means to “do PR” in today’s day and age. Younger people might have an inkling; they are exposed to PR content all over the web. Good PR is supposed to be undetectable, but I’m sure they pick up on some of the more poorly crafted/delivered messages. And then there’s media portrayals of PR. Many firms’ CEOs have told me that a lot of young women get themselves a job in PR after watching how “cool” it looks on Sex and the City. Then they quit after realizing that working in PR is nothing at all like living Samantha’s life. (I’ve never watched the show, but I can imagine the portrayal.)
The biggest thing I’ve learned in the past few days is the lesser known truth about what makes PR such a demanding job. What happens behind the scenes (and almost everything in PR happens behind the scenes) is more human and honest than any outsider might imagine. As a PR professional in the creative function, you are expected to create/distribute/promote content that captures people’s attention, engages them in conversation, and makes a big enough impression on them to be shared and remembered. Only content that resonates on a human level can achieve this, and only people that truly love to connect with others can create that kind of content, as far as I can tell.
But at the same time, you’re expected to keep up whatever image you and your team have fabricated for a certain account (project) when interfacing with a client or the public. And this can unfortunately require pretense (at best) and manipulation or dishonesty (at worst). This, I think, is the notion that most people have of PR and even joke about as a stereotype of those who practice it.
On the one hand, you have to be human in your storytelling, creative research, and teamwork, but on the other hand, you need to be stone-cold professional in your communications. It’s probably the most intriguing and fun challenge I’ve ever embarked on. I am still learning to traverse that territory, but I look forward to seeing where it takes me.