I declared my major as public relations during my sophomore year of college. Admittedly, at the time I wasn’t quite sure what exactly public relations entailed. Well, surely it involves dealing with people, right? I’m outgoing. I can do that, I thought. Three years, hundreds of writing assignments and a post-grad apprenticeship later, I’m realizing that a lot of people may not understand what public relations is—I know I didn’t. When I say that I work in public relations, I usually get responses like, “So you’re an event planner?” or “That’s cool, my aunt is also in marketing!”
Yes, part of my job is event planning, and digital marketing can go hand-in-hand with public relations to create an integrated campaign. But neither of those things fully describes what public relations professionals do. From the outside, the profession seems confusing. I experienced that confusion myself. I am now in the third month of my public relations apprenticeship at Riggs Partners, and I just finished planning and managing two huge events in two weeks alongside Kelly Davis, our public relations director. Together, these events have given me firsthand insight into what public relations professionals actually do.
1) Planning – A crucial part of public relations is strategic planning. Planning encompasses almost every other aspect of public relations within itself. Planning for public relations includes research, establishing goals, formulating outreach and response strategies, implementing communications tactics, and evaluation. Public relations professionals must plan for what will happen and what probably won’t happen. In the words of one of my favorite professors, “Nothing just happens—if you are at all related to it, you are responsible for it.”
2) Writing – In college, my professors always stressed the importance of writing in public relations. It is imperative to be an effective communicator in this profession. A large portion of my time is spent writing news releases, media advisories, story pitches, and social media posts. Proofreading is essential.
3) Educating – One responsibility of public relations professionals is to educate and engage the public. From an agency perspective, this task varies greatly from client to client. In my experience, educating the public has meant spreading the word about a free service that people may be eligible for, informing people about an upcoming industry conference and encouraging them to register, or simply raising awareness about an important issue in the community. Another quote from that same professor, “In public relations, information is power.”
4) Media Relations – One way to educate the public is to engage media participation in spreading the word about different issues and events. Part of our job as public relations professionals is to help the media do their jobs well. Media relations is much more than writing a fill-in-the-blank press release and distributing it to as many media outlets as possible. Instead, you must consider the audience you are trying to engage and focus on the media outlets that would be the most in-line with their needs. It is important to provide media with all necessary information and to connect them with the appropriate people for interviews to best tell your story. If you leave media hanging, they’re left to draw their own conclusions—which isn’t beneficial for anyone.
5) Monitoring – Another large part of public relations is monitoring media coverage. If you sought media coverage of an event or story about your organization, it is important to check the coverage you earned for accuracy. Monitoring allows you to see which aspects were conveyed well and which aspects may not have been, and may teach you what to avoid for next time.
So yes, public relations professionals are event planners. And yes, they can be involved with marketing. But they’re also storytellers, crisis managers, media contacts, writers, researchers, educators, and so much more. As we wrap up a hectic summer, I feel incredibly thankful for the knowledge I’ve gained so far here at Riggs. These three months as a public relations apprentice have given me hands-on experience that has changed how I see public relations as a profession.
And perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned the importance of coffee (for those 4 a.m. news shots).
Kelly and me meeting the TV stations before Dental Access Days at 4 a.m.