What is public relations? And who are the people that practice it?
The answer starts with what we put out in the world — or rather, who puts it out.
Innovators and activists, governments and non-profits, companies and issue-specific campaigns — everywhere you look, there are those who have a story to tell.
Public relations professionals are the people who help them tell it.
These PR people are the experts in getting your message out, making your nuances understood, and ensuring only the right light shines on you once you step out into the sun..
Reputation is a resource: whether it’s a single person or a publicly-traded company, the reputation you make is the one you take with you.
It’s who you are, in every encounter and endeavour. It’s how you’re seen, and it’s how you attract others to your banner.
But your reputation doesn’t build itself. Nor does your brand.
These assets are intangible, but they are indispensable. At different times they need to be built or rebuilt, enhanced or reimagined, or protected against threats of all kinds.
In the court of public opinion, or the play of daily life, the way to do this is with narratives.
Media — in the many forms it takes these days — is full of reverberating messages, across a sea of people, each on their own island of thought, emotion, and opinion.
The way you make waves is with messaging and narratives.
Whether you’re trying to plant an idea within a specific industry, or trying to shape policy from the grassroots of public opinion, what you say is equally important as how you say it.
And so is when you say it, why you say it, and who you say it to.
A good practitioner will take a good look at the organization they’re working for, to thoroughly analyze and understand what they’re doing, and what they need to say.
Like a reporter, they’ll sniff out the stories that make their client unique and impactful, and find the positive ideas and messages that resonate most deeply.
Like a translator, they’ll find compelling ways to explain the intricacies of a field, learning to speak its language and translate it into a dialect the target audience will understand.
But fundamentally, public relations practitioners are like the storyteller, gathering people by the fire, with a tale to tell and an invitation for the community to come hang by each word.
These stories have suspense, they have conflict, they have consequences, and like all great stories, they have heroes.
Just as a PR professional is called on to shape the image of the client they represent, they also must frame the mission and the message in terms that are meaningful to the people they hope to reach.
In the end, it’s often those people who are the hero of the story being told.
As PR practitioners, we want to make sure our client is well-served, but also the public.
The space where our society speaks to itself and where our stories are told, it’s a vacuum that demands to be filled.
Each day the world turns, the daily news cycle turns with it. It never stops, and one way or another, stories will fill the space.
Will it be filled with the silly, the trivial, and the misleading? Or will the space be taken up by stories with impact, products with potential, and organizations with vision?
In many ways, that’s up to PR professionals like us, as a community.
When we show up to our work with a dual eye on both our clients’ interests and the public good, we tend to tell more impactful stories.
You can’t make something from nothing and narratives are no different. As experts in how to most effectively get your story — or your idea, your innovation, your issue-specific campaign — out into the public sphere, one of our greatest resources is our clients themselves.
We shape images; we don’t create them from scratch.
We’re storytellers; not story fabricators.
We’re reputation enhancers; not reputation imagineers.
If you’re hearing this as a PR layman, or a member of the public, let this be a sigh of relief: it’s the image of the wheelin’, dealin’ master of spin that, by and large, is the fabrication.
And if you’re a company, campaign or potential client, this is a sign you’re being well-served. After all, it’s earnest stories that tend to be strongest.
And if you’re a PR professional yourself, be proud: the work we do has impact, and does good, especially in a world that runs on stories.