I’m often asked by friends who have a different major, “What is public relations?” Usually the film,”Thank You for Smoking” (which I love by the way) pops into their head before I can give a proper explanation. Then, the conversation diverts to something about me being a spin doctor in training, and I wake up several hours later covered in nicotine patches with the song “Two Princes” playing in the background. My definition of public relations changes depending on the capacity an individual serves in, but I typically define it as managing relationships between an organization and its public’s.
An agreed upon definition of public relations is often hard to find, but most have common themes. Rex Harlow, a public relations pioneer, researched 472 different definitions of public relations before he decided on his own definition. I believe Harlow’s definition encompasses many of the facets, which make up public relations. Harlow defined public relations as a management function that “helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation between an organization and its public’s”.
We need to change the general consensus of what public relations is in the public’s eye, or get some better representations in film. I researched to see how movies have presented the PR industry and the results were interesting. I can’t say the profession is generally viewed in a positive light, as far as Hollywood is concerned. The closest I came to a positive representation of public relations was “Jerry Maguire” and possibly, “Hancock”. Then we have our other films, such as “Wag the Dog” and “Network”, which don’t necessarily paint the prettiest picture of what the public relations profession can be.
The picture I think people need to put in their heads for this profession, is most of us are not the bad people represented in the media. Most PR professionals are normal, stressed, employees. Public relations practitioners are trying to represent themselves or an organization as accurately as possible to the public. Moral of the story: don’t let a few bad PR media representations make you distrust an entire profession.