No, “Public Relations” Does Not Mean We Go to Parties and Talk to People

How to explain public relations.

Going home for the holidays? If you’re like some of us at JWC – your family does not understand what the heck you do. What does “public relations” even mean?! 

As the Public Relations Society of America describes it: “Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” 

Well, yes, that’s true. But it encompasses so much more and can be described more tangibly so the lay person knows what that means. The PRSA description still won’t help your extended family and friends understand what you do. 

This is how we each describe “what we do” to our respective no-clue relatives: 


Relative: “How’s work, Sandy?”
Sandy: “Good. One of my clients was just featured on the front page of The New York Times.”
Relative: “Cool! May I see it?”
Sandy: “Sure!” [Shows clip]
Relative: “Where’s your name?”
Sandy: “It’s about my client, not me, so my name isn’t in it. I helped pitch and coordinate it. I’ve been reaching out to the reporter for the last year.”
Relative: “But you wrote it?”
Sandy: “No, a reporter wrote it. I worked with them to create the story idea and coordinate the interviews. Took a few weeks to put it all together.”
Relative: “So you’re a journalist?”
Sandy: [Internal sigh] “Sure, I’m a journalist.” 


“I’m not the norm, as I was weaned on PR from a young age, when my mother started doing PR from our kitchen table when I was a teen. This means much of my family understands the profession. But there’s my partner’s family, and extended family. I guarantee they have no clue what I do. 

I usually grab a newspaper and magazine and show them the difference between an ad and an article and explain how each works and the benefits of each. Then, I add in something about social and digital media and how we must be very savvy and know how to run all those tools. Then we have a conversation about their hatred and misunderstanding of social media 😊. That’s about as basic as I can get.”   


“In PR, we help businesses and organizations get the word about impactful things they do in the news. I typically end up telling them about a cool event or new program a client is doing, an\d then say that’s what we’re trying to publicize.  

More thoughtfully: Using various forms of media to get information out to the public.  

My dad recently asked how we go about reaching out to media outlets, and if we have contacts there. Bingo! Once we identify a story, we also have to determine and research which reporters, producers, podcast hosts cover that topic and what they’ve written about recently. Over the 21 years JWC has been in business, we have developed strong media connections.  

In the latest season of The Crown, Camilla Parker Bowles rolls her eyes about meeting with someone she labels a “spin doctor,” who ends up being critical to her and Charles (Prince of Wales at the time). That’s what friends and family think too sometimes. That clients call us when *stuff* hits the fan. When a business goes into “crisis mode.” When someone needs “reputation management.” We do this, but mostly we get the word out about good stuff. Did you hear about the only exclusive Spider-Man museum exhibit, and that it’s in Balboa Park? Or a jaguar cub being rescued and rehomed at a San Diego big cat sanctuary? Did you know the only public K-12 school for unhoused youth in the nation is in San Diego?”    


“It took a long time to get my family and friends to understand what it means to work in PR. The best way I found to describe it: We help our clients share their stories and ideas with the public – usually through the news media or other marketing avenues like social media, their websites, etc. I also regularly joke that half of my career is spent in parking lots (where so many events/press conferences/filmings occur) and hiding from cameras. That glamorous PR life! 

My mom in particular loves to see the articles I’ve ghostwritten for clients and enjoys telling people where I’ve been “published,” even if it’s not my name on the byline. She is always impressed by the variety and complexity of the topics and issues we highlight. And because my dad is local, he DVRs every time I’m on the morning news acting as spokesperson on a client’s behalf.”  


“To put the PR and marketing field into tangible results for my parents so they know how I am making a living, I send them social media posts I write, news segments that I helped coordinate, stories that I strategically pitched to journalists and e-blasts that I created.  

I explain that we get our clients free attention from journalists and brand awareness on social media without making a sales deal or paying the platforms.”  

Hope that helps, Aunt Sally. 😉