So Just What Do We “Public Relate?”

Several years ago, my cousin’s wife asked me what I did to make money. I told her I was a public relations professional.

“So, what do you public relate?” she asked. I never heard the practice called that before or used as a verb. The phrase stuck with me. But as I think about her question further, I’ve come to the realization that public relations is, indeed, one of the most misunderstood professions in the modern world, aside perhaps from the masterminds who create investment tools like financial derivatives, which are only known to a handful of very rich Wall Street types. The classic definition — building mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics — often gets lost or very distorted, especially by those who equate “good PR” with color photos in “People” and coverage on TMZ. To pure publicists out there, your job is to get clients covered in the media, and it’s an honorable pursuit; but it doesn’t encompass — in most cases — a long-term strategy.

In my current job search, I’m doing the perfunctory: Networking with everyone from long-term friends/colleagues to the mail lady. Opportunities will surface through expanding my existing network and taking advantage of who knows whom. But I’ve also registered for various online job sites, because, who knows: Somebody gets jobs posted.

It’s humorous and somewhat disturbing to see “public relations” show up on keyword searches for positions involving fielding inbound calls or selling insurance. True, these jobs and others do involve dealing with the “public” on a regular basis. But they do not fit the definition of a public relations professional. Wonder when the world will relate?

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