One of my rising stars in the Communication Department‘s Public Relations Concentration at Curry College posed a very interesting question recently: “How do you explain public relations to a first-grader?”
Wow! There’s a challenge for you on a sunny summer day!
The temptation for some of our brethren is to launch into a “learned discourse” on the theoretical underpinnings of the profession, referring reverently to Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Bono, et al.
To which I say, “Slow down, pardner. We’re talking to a first-grader here.”
More important, though, we’re talking to someone who maybe knows what each of the words means, but is at a loss when they’re lumped together like peanut butter and jelly.
(Side note: The first time I heard the term “peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” I thought the person uttering it was insane. “How do you mush those two ingredients together and come up with anything fit for human consumption?” Then I tried it…)
So let’s ratchet back on the scholarly definition and look at what we really do in the course of our professional lives.
Let me throw this out for a starter: “Public relations is when someone introduces you to someone else who then becomes your friend.”
Or, as I tell my students from time to time, “Public relations is like a dating service. We introduce someone to a company, or another individual, or a concept with the goal of that meeting developing into a long-term relationship.”
Before you go off on the all-too-familiar (to me!) exasperated “Kirk, you idiot…,” be assured that this “introduction” is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole lot more including preparing for the inevitable misstep that causes tempers to flare (crisis management), perhaps recommending a mutually-agreeable place for the two parties to meet (counseling), providing each party with some background information on the other (media relations), and so on.
The goal, regardless of how you describe the term, is the development of a long-term, mutually-beneficial relationship built on understanding…and trust.
In my mind, at least, it’s nothing simpler…or more complicated…than that.
“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.” – James Boswell, “Life of Johnson” [September 1777]