It’s safe to say Christmas and New Year is the time of year where, for many ‘kidults’ of our generation, we return in flocks back to our parents homes and celebrate the festive period in the comfort, and oftentimes discomfort, of the homes we grew up in.
It’s also safe to say, over this time we will jump at the chance to have a reunion with old mates down the pub, to get out the house and see how everyone is doing in these dire domestic times.
It is at this point where I, along with countless other PR students I’m sure, am faced with the awkward, egg-on-your-face moment. The moment we face over and over again; it can happen when we are getting our haircut, perhaps when we visit relatives, or when we start a new part-time job. It takes some of us a while to learn how to tackle it, but eventually we get there. The moment I’m referring to is the moment we are asked the dreaded question!
It’s the moment where you’re with a few old friends; you haven’t seen them for almost a year and you’re all catching up on what everyone is doing. This is where one friend turns to another and asks, “So what you up to these days then Matt?”
“Oh just working. Same old, same old” replies Matt.
And Matt inevitably turns to me and muses, “You’re still in uni aren’t you mate?”
I cough, “Erm, yea that’s right” I reply, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably, aware of what is about to come next. The dreaded question.
The question approaches me like an ex-girlfriend walking on the other side of the street. I know it’s coming, I know I’ll probably stutter and pull a silly face, and I just know I’m likely to leave the situation feeling I could have responded in a better way.
“So what do you study?…”
And so begins, the scenario of the dreaded question unfolding.
“Well Matt, I study public relations… or PR”
“So what’s that then?”
Cheers Matt. There it is. He had to go and bloody ask didn’t he? He gives us absolutely no clue what it is he does, or what his job entails, (even though we should all know and remember from the same conversation we had last year) and now he expects me to explain what PR is in front of everyone I grew up with!
I ponder this question for a second. Obviously I know the classic definitions put forward by theorists such as Grunig and Hunt. About PR being a management function, aiming to build mutual understanding, and influencing attitudes and behaviours, so on and so forth. But to recite page five from my PR textbook to a roomful of my mates doesn’t really encapsulate what PR is about at all. And doesn’t in any way allude to why I want to embark in a career in this field.
“It involves politics doesn’t it?” One friend offers. A kind attempt to save me from a situation I’m clearly struggling in.
“Well no, not really, although you can work in politics if you do PR”
“It’s like what Max Clifford does isn’t it? He’s a PR guru ‘ent he?” Another friend ventures.
“Erm, not exactly, he’s more of a publicist, but I guess you could look at it that way”
Matt has a look of concentration, “Oh yea! What’s her face?” He clicks his fingers at me as if I should instantly know who ‘what’s her face’ is. “Oh you know! What was she called? Ah, yes! Rebecca Loos, she was in PR right?”
“No Matt, Rebecca Loos was a PA, she didn’t work in PR.”
My friends give up. They’ve thrown me enough rope yet I’m still refusing to get out of the lake, I’m treading water while wasting everyone’s time.
“Well go on then. What is it?” They almost say it in unison. My friends aren’t stupid, they’re old enough and wise enough to make at least two pounds on pub quiz machines and I’ve offered them absolutely nothing in way of an explanation as to what I’m studying.
“So basically PR is kinda like marketing…” I realise my lecturer will probably crucify me for saying this, after she spent two hours explaining the specific differences between PR and marketing. I carry on nonetheless, “…only marketing is more about sales and generating a profit for the company, whereas PR is about creating a feeling of goodwill toward the company.” They seem to be with me so far. Encouraged by the silence in the room I dig deeper and think about what PR really means to me. “The key word that sticks out to me is communication. PR is all about communicating with publics. True communication. You aren’t simply sending out a bunch of messages and then clasping your hands over your ears whenever the phone rings, no you converse with your publics”.
I realise publics might be a loose term here. “But when I say publics I don’t just mean the ‘general public’. I mean anyone who is affected by or can affect your company or organisation. This could be local taxi drivers, internal workers, the families of the workers, you need to account for every one of your stakeholders.” Ok I won’t bore them with the differences between stakeholders and shareholders. “PR is about planning campaigns and executing them. You set out your goals at the start of a campaign and you try to achieve them through communication.”
I look around the room. I think I’ve finally done it, I’ve finally explained what PR is to friends without them giving me that look that says, ‘You’re spending thousands of pounds to study something you can’t even explain’. The silence pleases me. I think I’ve finally tamed the dreaded question. I can now go forth and properly explain what it is I study and plan to do.
My thoughts are drowned out by a friend muttering “bloody hell mate, tell us your life story, why don’t you” as he heads to the toilet.
Matt pipes up, “Just trying to have a drink and a catch up and you go and kill the buzz by giving us all that waffle. We were happy with simply the ‘PR is kinda like marketing’ part.”
Image courtesy of Colin Reilly. All rights belonging to Colin Reilly. Be sure to check out Colin’s excellent website http://cloudplasma.co.uk/ for information on photography and mini linux tips.