Don Draper, the star of the hit television series Mad Men, has a famous line that he often uses to clarify what exactly he does– “I don’t sell advertising. I sell products.” While his debonair and misunderstood character has many flaws, crafting memorable creative concepts certainly isn’t one of them. In fact, Draper has landed numerous accounts because of a killer pitch. But while his killer pitches land clients, they’re also slowly killing the public’s perception of the PR industry.
In fact, Mad Men has a lot of influence on the way public relations and advertising is relayed to the public. Thanks to the media, the public has been led to believe that PR people work to cover up the truth, control spin (think Komen crisis) or create it, design ads and down martinis with clients (think Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce). These assumptions have cast a negative and dark shadow on the industry. So, despite my love obsession for Mad Men, I’m insisting Don Draper move over while I share the truth about what PR folks really do.
If you recall in December I blogged about the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) quest to update the definition of public relations. I’m proud to say that after much debate, PRSA leadership has finally decided on a new one!
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
With the new definition, PRSA was able to capture the essence of the industry and its practices without getting caught addressing each and every task. It’s important to remember that although strategy may shift and outlets may change, PR professionals will always be responsible for a set of core actions, most of which include communicating a message with the public. If Don Draper were a PR man he might even say, “I don’t sell communications, I sell brands.” In order to do this, public relations professionals handle many job tasks.
- Trusted Council: PR professionals are often well versed in a variety of topics. In fact, they have to be! As corporate boards and CEOs demand real-time answers and subsequent solutions for dealing with dirty laundry, PR people are often the go-to person for problem solving and crisis communication.
- Research and Implementation: PR people research facts, figures and statistics in order to create a positive and successful communication strategy. From the strategy stage, public relations people push plans through to implementation. Finally, as trusted council, public relations professionals study the effectiveness of a PR campaign or communications strategy and report the facts and findings to the proper people. This sometimes means delivering bad news.
- Internal Communication: PR professionals engage employees with each other by building bridges between departments, the “higher-ups,” and stockholders. Building trust is a big part of internal communication.
- Media Relations: This might seem like an obvious job function, but it is easily misunderstood. Yes, public relations professionals coordinate interviews and bylines (and often write them), but they also work hard to strengthen a company or organization’s relationship as an industry thought leader with the media. In return they gain the public’s trust and support.
- Community Relations: Just as important as media relations, community relations is a vital part of a business or organization’s communication efforts. Companies who encounter crisis situations fair much better if they have a strong relationship with the community. This relationship is possible because of PR people.
- Crisis Communication and Issue Management: Remember BP’s oil spill in the Gulf? Or most recently the pink slime issue with beef providers? Both of these crises were handled by public relations professionals. The best PR professionals know that complete honesty and a forthcoming nature earn the public’s respect and trust. Some do this better than others.
- Publicity and Special Events: Party! Where? Calm down, Don Draper! PR professionals have everything covered. From stockholder meetings to press conferences, PR folks gather the media, community members and important leaders inside and outside of their organization for special events. This also means writing speeches, compiling bullet points and coordinating last minute details.
Of course, public relations is an expansive field. My list of tasks could go on and on and on… but, in true Draper fashion, I have a lunch appointment.
Mad Men aires on AMC on Sunday nights at 10 p.m./ 9 p.m. CST.