According to my Introduction to PR professor last semester, it’s one of the most vital forms of writing in the PR specialist’s arsenal. Features are a form of soft news, that often delve into a specific topic to inform the audience about it. I say soft news, opposed to hard news. Hard news is often brief, and just the facts. “X,Y, and Z happened in China.” “A New Trade Agreement Was Signed Today.” Soft news on the other hand, is usually a bit longer, uses interviews and tries to present a more “readable” story to the audience about a more relatable topic. For example, a local gas station starts offering free gas to veterans, so a reporter interviews and speaks with employees and customers of the gas station to present a story on the people involved, their views and beliefs, and the effects of this free gas giveaway.
Anyway, in my aforementioned intro class we had to try our hand at feature writing. Our topic was to write a feature on what PR “really” is. We had quite a bit of liberty to make of it what we wanted, so there was a bit of diversity on what the topic alone meant to people, overall it was a great assignment to introduce the style. In the rest of this blog post, I’m going to present my writing that I submitted for the assignment. I’m going to do this for a couple reasons: one, it could be potentially helpful to visitors to this blog that still aren’t entirely sure what it is I do, or want to do. Second, I think it could be fun to keep a record of my first writing so that I can come back and reflect on it later to see how I’ve grown. So. Without further ado:
“Spinning” Out of Control: What’s the Deal With Public Relations at Purdue?
It’s certainly no secret that Purdue University is world renowned for our STEM education; our engineering clout is remarkable, and we’ve pumped out more astronauts than any other university. So, with such a huge science and technology background here, why are there so many of these kids here saying that they’re majoring in “Public Relations and Strategic Communication”? What does that even mean? They must just be in college to party, or maybe they want to be one of those weasel politician-spinmeisters you see on the news… Right? Not exactly.
Sure, as a Public Relations (PR) student myself, you may think that this story must be absurdly biased, but I felt that it was necessary for me to go out and get a sense of what the field of PR truly is. So, prepare for a factual, yet fascinating account of what Public Relations is all about. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
In order to dispel any misconceptions about PR and PR students here at Purdue, it’s important to get a grasp on what PR really is, and what its practitioners do on a daily basis. The boring official definition according to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics”.
This broad job description includes far more than simply appearing on television whenever your company is caught dumping toxic waste into the Mississippi. Public Relations professionals are responsible for a vast array of communications tasks, both internal and external. Do you need someone to organize a luncheon for your shareholders? Call your PR guy. Do you need someone to write you a speech? Call your PR guy. Write a press release? Let your employees know their jobs are safe? Create a campaign to get your brand more well known in a certain region? Establish a Twitter presence? Explain what your tech or pharmaceutical company is doing so the media and/or general population understands? Call your PR guy. It’s common for a PR practitioner to wake up to urgent emails or text messages at 4am because a client in a different time zone needs to have the copy (the actual text and words) of their website updated and a press release sent out: Now.
I could go on and on about what a PR professional does in their everyday life in the “real world”, but what about a PR student? They’re the ones that we see everyday around campus. They’re the ones threatening the engineer’s very way of life, right? What do they do with their time?
Well, I decided to find out, so I sat down and talked to one. A good one at that. I spoke with Jaqueline Logan, a senior here at Purdue and an active member of both the PRSSA (the student version of the aforementioned PRSA) and the current firm director of Boiler Communication, Purdue’s very own student run PR firm. Jaqueline is currently involved in a PR class in which she is developing campaigns for clients in the West Lafyette area. In her words, “Our client is Hammer Donuts. While our plan is not fully developed at this point, our goal is to establish Hammer Donuts as an intrinsic part of the Purdue experience in the way that Triple X, Den Pops and Fountain Runs are. We plan to accomplish that goal by forming partnerships between Hammer Donuts and prominent student organizations such as PUDM and The Grand Prix Foundation.” Jacqueline is part of a team of PR students that are working with real clients, developing real experiences creating campaigns to increase business for the organizations. She is but one of many PR students here at Purdue applying their class and life experience to real world scenarios everyday. One aspect of which you are likely quite familiar.
When you think of PR and how a company communicates with the public, one example that may jump to your mind relatively quickly would be social media. Jacqueline would certainly agree, “Snapchat and Instagram are the biggest and most effective tools of social media for college life, and especially at Purdue.” she said. In today’s digital age, it is more important than ever for a PR practitioner not only be familiar but adept with all forms of social media. Their clients rely on them to maintain effective communication with the public. Anyone can post on social media, it’s one of many of the PR professional’s responsibilities to do it right. Every time.
So, we’re starting to get a grasp on what it is that a Public Relations professional does. Knowing this, maybe we can nail down what Public Relations most definitely is not. A few of the misconceptions of Public Relations professionals is that they are weasels. Spinmeisters. Liars. Manipulative cheats. This is often due to the impression and understanding that it is their job to present their client in the best light possible. While this point is true, it is never in a practitioners best interest to lie to the public. A PR professional depends more than anything on an established trust with their stakeholders (stakeholders can be anyone that has any reason to be involved with the organization). If they were to be caught lying, this trust would instantly be shattered, and their reputation permanently tarnished. It is paramount that a PR professional always be as upfront and honest as possible. Any PR student will tell you that this is our cardinal rule.
Another common misconception, one that I have personally encountered, is that PR students chose the major because it just seemed like the easiest one, and that they’re in college mostly just to party. This is pretty common here at Purdue because of its STEM background, and it can be hard to blame many of the engineers for thinking this, as I stated earlier, we don’t do any calculus. However, many of the students in the PR program at Purdue are in fact quite busy doing more than just keg stands. Many are involved in either Boiler Communication and/or the PRSSA. They are almost always in the middle of developing a campaign, writing an article or feature story, or creating a presentation for a proposal. They’re busy bees too, be sure.
Public Relations is an incredibly large and diverse field, and to fully explain it would take an entire series of stories. Your average Public Relations practitioner is usually juggling 4 or 5 or 6 or more projects at any given time. They’re likely writing, planning, organizing and coordinating. Whatever it is they’re doing though, they’re most certainly stressed. So the next time you see them, give them a high five and buy them a coffee.