It was interesting to read this week of the results of research which showed a lack of understanding about what the public relations profession is about. The research by ComRes found that among 16 to 18-year-olds 70 per cent could not answer the question about what was involved in a career in PR. The details were something that hit home this week when I spoke to PR students at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The purpose of my talk was to explain about my typical day and also highlight the issues that are different when working in in-house PR. It was something that I thought would be a challenge, particularly in trying to define the elements that are involved in my average working hours. The group of about 20 were in the first year of a journey to understand about the role public relations plays in modern life and to develop the relevant skills.
So, what is PR? Is it the same now as it was 20 or 30 years ago? Is it about celebrities or is about sales?
For me the whole area of communication is about improving lives and helping people make the right connections. If public relations is working well then it will bring people together and develop relationships. The public relations professional should be about making this happen to the benefit of the organisation or company and ultimately the individual.
I am continually working to ensure that the communication activity of my team supports frontline business and if it doesn’t then we have to question whether we should be doing it at all. Often people think that PR is about ‘fluffy’ things and in the current climate that it is about celebrity and image management. In short it isn’t. It is about helping to change behaviour or improving goods and services, and these are the things that in the right way make lives better.
Twenty years ago when I was starting my working life I would not have considered a career in PR. I wanted to be a journalist and for a number of years that is exactly what I did. But when I was watching the BBC Newswatch programme this morning (Saturday 2 March) I heard a reporter say, when faced with a harrowing situation where children had been abandoned in Syria, they were there to report not intervene. For me that is where PR and communication takes a different approach. It is there to make a difference and when faced with difficult or challenging situations it would seek to act to improve what exists.
When the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) start their education programme perhaps that is what they need to demonstrate. They need to show the impact that PR and communication can have on lives and how it can change situations for the better. I hope that is something that I managed to demonstrate when I talked about my typical day to the students in Manchester. PR is about positive relationships and making connections to improve daily lives.