Fact or Fiction: What is Public Relations?

During The University of Alabama’s PRSSA Southeastern Regional Conference, the session titled “Fact or Fiction” consisted of three professionals who answered questions about the truths and myths of public relations. Chief Communications Officer and Vice President of McDonald’s Bridget Coffing, Former Vice President of CHC Helicopter T.R. Reid and Chief Communications Officer for Children’s of Alabama Garland Stansell were applauded for dispelling illusions in regards to public relations.

When most people think of public relations, the ideas of media and marketing come to mind. Public relations is the process of maintaining a positive relationship between organizations and their publics. Public relations professionals organize campaigns to raise awareness on an issue or to promote any person, place, product or cause. Below are a few of many questions outlined during the session.

1. Should you be able to communicate in fewer words? Fact! Living in a world where 140 characters is often the limit makes it more difficult to communicate a message to any audience. Therefore, professionals must write using fewer words. Similar to any other news story, professionals still use the five W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why. If the reader wants to read more, he or she can click a link to get more information.

2. Is crisis management is a part of public relations? Fact! Public relations practitioners are problem solvers. Today, companies around the globe experience crises that may serve as an impediment to the company’s success. As public relations practitioners prepare to deal with the crisis, he or she has also previously planned the best way to overcome the issue. When a crisis occurs, it should not be the first time the company is determining how to fix it. Instead, public relations professionals should develop a crisis management plan to keep any crisis from getting out of hand.

3. Can public relations take you anywhere? Fact! The job opportunities for the field of public relations are endless. The industry is expected to keep improving in the future. Many journalists find themselves entering into the field from news studios and print publications. “PR pays more than working for radio, TV or newspaper,” Reid said.

4. Do public relations professionals only engage in media relations? Fiction! Public Relations professionals often dip his or her hands into everything, sometimes all at once. Media relations is a part of public relations, but so are event planning, public affairs and campaign implementation. Public relations is a learning process, and the more that  practitioners learn hands-on, the more chances he or she has to progress in the field. Most practitioners start at the bottom, but there is the opportunity to take more responsibilities, leading to practitioners becoming entrepreneurs, account managers/executives, communications directors and human resource managers.

With public relations becoming a growing industry and integrating with marketing, it is understood that potential specialists may become overwhelmed. Here’s a tip from Coffing: “Public relations professionals do not know everything and he or she should be comfortable not knowing everything.” Practitioners will receive feedback that will outline strengths and room for improvement. Employers do not expect for applicants to know everything about the industry because it is constantly evolving. It is important to ask questions, be tactful and learn to accept feedback and constructive criticism.

Barrie Brown is a senior public relations major at the University of Southern Mississippi. His goal is to work in public affairs and crisis management. Working with other and solving problems is his niche, which he plans to develop in the future.

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