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I Work in PR and My Family Has No Idea What I Do

3952984450 953c33c096 I Work in PR and My Family Has No Idea What I Do

I work in PR and my family has no idea what I do.

I′ve heard my parents accurately describe the company or clients I work for but they have a hard time articulating what I actually do for these organizations.

I used to joke about this when I started my career.  I was working for a high-tech PR agency and the trade jargon was difficult for even those in the know to follow.  It cracked me up to imagine my mom telling her friends that her daughter "announced the beta of version 8.0 of a front office software platform. She′s drafting the briefing books now for some desk-side media one-on-ones"¦"

The problem is that I can′t explain what I do either!  Fortunately I′m not alone.  Nearly 2,500 folks have proclaimed on Facebook that explaining what we do is tough for us PR people.

I can′t tell you how many holiday gatherings I′ve been to where different relatives have asked me if I′m still writing for the paper.  (I did have a college internship at a newspaper nearly 20 years ago.)  More often than not, I just say yes.

My elementary school aged kids are genuinely interested in learning what I do, and I′ve taken pains to explain my job accurately to them.  The jury is still out on how successful my explanations are, though.  I overheard my daughter′s friend say that her mom drew the picture in a particular magazine (the friend′s mother works for an ad agency) and my daughter replied that her mom knew the person who made the magazine.  Our conversations are similar to the one David Moye had with his daughter when she asked "Daddy what′s PR?" although they sometimes take a hysterical turn after we discuss how manipulative the media can be.

Usually I adapt my job description based on how interested the person I′m talking to seems to be and the types of questions they′re asking.  I don′t think I′ve ever described my job the same way.  When asked what I do for a living sometimes I talk about the purpose of my job, e.g. shaping a brand, influencing demand, generating leads, and sometimes I talk about the actual activities I did that day, e.g. writing a press release, calling the media, tweeting.   Of course, everyone tries to understand my work in terms they can relate to and sometimes the conversations end with "so could you help my Uncle Rick with PR for his auto body shop?"

I′m still looking for some new answers to give my mom.  How do you describe your work in PR?

Photo credit: Helgasms!

Alison Kenney an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience.  She is based on Boston′s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries. She writes a bi-monthly PR column on Learn more her here.

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24 Comments - Add yours!

Rachel (March 2nd, 2010)

I ran into this problem all the time when I was working at a PR firm. Luckily, I did mostly business development and could boil it down to “proposals and pitches.”

The problem with focusing on just the tasks and outcomes of the work undervalues the strategic aspects. On the flipside, focusing on the strategic aspects makes it sound like we don’t actually do anything.

I wish I had some better answers for you!

Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR (March 2nd, 2010)

I laughed when I read the headline. So true. I think most people have no clue what PR professionals do. I tell people that I’m a connector of people and information and I educate people on topics and services. It seems to work.

Sarah (March 2nd, 2010)

I tend to always say “I write a lot and I work with the media.”

It’s enough that people have a general idea of what I do, but it’s impossible to truly explain it! I find this to be a weekly frustration whenever I meet someone new.

Plus, I’m tired of people thinking that I’m a publicist (akin to those in Hollywood) and/or just do events.

Mary (March 2nd, 2010)

I told my mom once that the paper in our hometown had an article that I had “earned”. My mom went out to buy the paper and then called me to tell me that she couldn’t find me in the paper.

Eventually she just printed out my corporate bio and tacked it to the fridge. Whenever anyone asks what I do, she just points to it.

Kara (March 2nd, 2010)

I was immediately drawn to this post and inspired to comment, which I usually don’t do. I day dream of writing a book called “Confessions of a New York City Publicist” and the first line will say “I am a publicist, and for the record, I don’t even know what that means.” All kidding aside, this is a very challenging question. Recently, a family member who is graduating high school told me she wanted to be a publicist. When I asked her what she thought that meant, she described to me Samantha from Sex and the City. There are a lot of misconceptions about who we are and what we do and it would be great if we could find a good way to explain it. I haven’t found it yet, but as mentioned in this post, I often tailor my explanation to the interest level of the asker. I’m enjoying reading these descriptions and making tips for myself!!

TJ Dietderich (March 2nd, 2010)

Haha, this is always a topic of conversation in my office. My family knows I do SOMETHING with the internet and they know it has SOMETHING to do with the media, so they just tell people I talk to the New York Times on Facebook and Twitter all day. Which is not true, mom and dad!

Towanda (March 2nd, 2010)

One day my 4-year-old asked what I did and my husband chuckled because he still doesn’t quite “get it.”

I told her I was a writer and a project manager. She said, “Okay… So you write and then you… make sure stuff happens.” Exactly.

Alison Kenney (March 2nd, 2010)

I love it, Towanda! I’m going with “I make sure stuff happens.” Thanks!

Chuck Tanowitz (March 2nd, 2010)

I had the same problem when I was a TV news producer. I wasn’t on the air, I didn’t write it all myself, I wasn’t the reporter. But my definition eventually became “everything you see on the air is my fault.”

I had a great moment explaining PR to my son the other day. We heard a story on ABC News one night, then heard a similar story (with different people) on NPR the next morning. He commented to me that it sounded the same, but different.

I told him “that’s what I do! I make it so stories happen a number of times in a number of places so you remember them.”

Adam (March 2nd, 2010)

Awesome topic! I was just telling someone this morning how my kid brother once told a friend that I was a cook at a restaurant chain because they were a client at the time and we were building visibility for new menu items.

I usually use client examples to help my folks understand what I do – the only times this doesn’t work are 1) when I’m dealing with B2B clients and 2) anything involving social media. When #2 comes into the picture, they think I spend all day watching YouTube videos.

cory huff (March 2nd, 2010)

I’m not officially in PR, but I manage social media for a company and I find that my job ends up crossing the lines into PR quite frequently. I have the same problem when people ask what I do.

I usually say something like, “I manage my company’s online reputation.”

Depending on the week, this can make me look really good, or really awful. :)

Lauren (March 2nd, 2010)

Great topic! When I tell people I work in Fashion PR they think I’m Whitney Port or Kelly Cutrone. I wish I was jetting off to London and having improbably long lunches, but PR means long hours and lots of people skills. I usually stick to the pat answer of communication.

David Jacobson (March 2nd, 2010)

Hi Alison,

I usually answer this question by saying PR helps:

1. Drive sales
2. Brand the company
3. Protects and improves the company’s reputation

And if you’re in public or government affairs, you can also say you help pass legislation or regulations that help your industry, and vice versa.

I usually ask this question when I interview someone. If their answer is close to what I’ve written, they’ll probably get the job.

Alison Kenney (March 2nd, 2010)

It seems like there’s no ONE answer…these are all great examples…

Linda VandeVrede (March 2nd, 2010)

PR people have it rough – it’s not easily definable, like say a dentist or fireman.
When asked, I say “I help tech companies tell their story to the world.” Sounds a bit grandiose, but it works.

Nate (March 2nd, 2010)

I love that this topic gets all the PR people to respond.

I just tell people that I’m a male nurse (see Johnny Dangerously).

Lindsay (March 3rd, 2010)

We have the same problem in the recruiting industry, but it’s pretty easy to explain. My father just told to my grandfather yesterday that “she calls people and gets a check in the mail.” Wow, I wish it was that easy!

Rupa (March 4th, 2010)

First of all, I just love this blog and specifically this post! I was just telling a friend about my trials and tribulations in describing PR. Not only do I often get the,” oh, you make billboards?” comment, but people seem to be confused with term ‘communications’ altogether. At a recent networking mixer, I asked someone if they have an internal communications team. His response was, “Our IT guys work out of Houston.” No, no, no! The most succinct way I describe a PR pro is to say that s/he is the conduit between the organization and media.

Zackery M (March 6th, 2010)

Last Thanksgiving I was talking about getting my PR degree and the freelance projects I’ve worked on. I thought I did a good job explaining what PR is, but at Christmas I found myself explaining it again. Once I had to explain to my dad it was OK that someone else’s name appeared in the byline for an editorial I wrote.

Now I just tell my family I build relationships with the people that matter to my clients. And sometimes that means I have to take a break from writing so I can go to parties. I hate my job… :-)

What’s worse than my mom and dad not getting it is when someone like an administrative assistant says he or she “does PR.” Sitting at the front desk and answering a phone does not a PR pro make.


Karen Swim (March 9th, 2011)

Allison, the headline made me laugh and for the record my family has no idea what I do either! The responses were great too and I still do not have a better answer for you. It’s always been said that the best description of our business is one that a 5 year old can understand and I tend to agree. It forces us to strip away the jargon and complexity and put it in clear terms. This one will have me laughing and thinking all week long, thanks Allison!

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[...] Today’s excellent #SoloPR tweet chat brought this gem from Alison Kenney: “I once wrote a blog post called ‘I work in PR and my family has no idea what I do.’” [...]

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Madhuri (February 26th, 2013)

Sounds like the story of PR folks all over the world indeed :) . I am based in India with about a couple of decades in the industry. To answer that last question I usually say “We consult on how our clients should influence their audience influencers.” I am sure no one understands that either – but it is absolutely accurate, sounds important enough and shuts them up :D !…

rachel (July 28th, 2013)

I LOVE this post. It will actually be featured in a post of mine tomorrow!! Be sure to check it out at!!

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