A few nights ago a friend of mine invited me to their house for a bit of a catch-up. With the never ending cycle this year of dissertations and essays we’d let our usual get-togethers slide a little and now we were discussing what had changed since we last saw each other, namely my fast-approaching graduation marking the end of my degree.
Later, tucking her eight year old daughter into bed, I was asked ‘what are you going to do when you’ve finished university?’ My reply of ‘get a job, hopefully!’ clearly wasn’t good enough for someone who wasn’t ready to go to sleep and prompted more questions: ‘But what job? What are you going to do?’
‘Well’, I replied, ‘something to do with the media, like the news or something’.
‘Do you want to be on TV?’
‘No, no I do not’
‘Well, what then?’
‘I’d quite like to work in public relations, doing stuff that might get other people or companies on TV or in the news, but I’d be behind the scenes’.
‘What’s public relations?’
Oh brilliant. Here I am, trying to put a wide-awake child to bed, and they’ve just asked me the same question my lecturers did when I began studying PR. Tonight was supposed to be a night off from work, not delving back to the beginning of it. But it prompted me to think, if a group of first year university students are given the problem of defining PR as their first task (and many of them finding it rather difficult), does this mean that PR is something that nobody can really define? Is this the art to it or is it something we should be able to decipher as the general public, including eight year olds?
So my challenge began, what is PR to a child? Invisible, probably. In simple terms, it is what I defined it as above: something which may achieve news coverage for others, without propelling yourself into the spotlight whilst doing so. PR is a backseat, the glitz and glamour of it being the attention that is lavished upon the clients, and the focus is ensuring the attention from the media not only remains positive, but can quickly revert back to being positive after a spell of negativity, i.e. reputation and crisis management. I used Justin Bieber as an example:
‘Right now, Justin Bieber is very popular. Not because he can sing or dance or looks good in photos but because public relations have told the media that he is a good singer and dancer, and persuaded people to believe this’
‘But he is a good singer and dancer’
Sigh ‘Yes, but you’ve only heard and seen him because other people have told more important people about him to help make him famous’
‘So now he’s famous those people won’t have a job to do?’
‘They still have work to do because now he’s famous they have to make sure everyone carries on liking him and buying his stuff so everyone keeps getting paid. Plus, in the future when he’s a bit older and if he’s still around making music…’
‘Of course he will be’
‘Okay, when he’s older, public relations will probably do less work to make sure he sells music and tickets to concerts, and concentrate more on making sure newspapers don’t find out if he gets into trouble with *thinks of alternative scenarios to drugs and sex scandals*, erm, anything’. *fails to think of alternatives*
‘So you want a job with Justin Bieber?’
‘Not exactly, no. The thing you’re trying to tell people about might not be a person, but a company instead, anything or anyone who wants someone to be in charge of making sure people know their name for the right reasons’
She seems satisfied with this and proceeds to tell me the names of each and every one of her teddies which take up more room than she does and eventually lets me escape back to my friend and glass of wine.
Once I’m sat downstairs my friend says to me, ‘So what do you want to do after uni then?’…