Defining Public Relations to the Non-PR Savvy

Unlike many professions, most members of the general public have no idea what public relations is, or what PR practitioners do. After three years of studying public relations, I’ve learned that one of the fastest ways to end a conversation with an acquaintance is to tell them I’m a public relations major. The statement is often followed with a head nod, smile and a facial expression of cluelessness. Nursing majors do not have any problem like this, nor do the similar students who are studying the marketing mix. Tell someone you are learning about advertising, and they know exactly what you are talking about.

We are frequently taught that PR is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and their publics. “So why are you studying how to build relations?” Anyone who knows public relations knows that the duties and responsibilities of a practitioner are far more than building relationships. We are storytellers; we create narratives to enhance the reputation of our clients through the media, social media or self-produced communications. A good practitioner does research for the organization, finds the positive messages and disseminates them. When the news is bad, we formulate the best response and lessen the damage.

Another part of the reason why people scratch their heads when you mention PR is probably due to the fact a that lot of our work is behind the scenes. We pitch the stories, but journalists write them. We create campaigns, but hardly receive credit and are overshadowed by the organization. Our work can cover such a broad range of activities it’s difficult to even think of where to start in explaining PR to the non-savvy.

The broad range of skills needed for a public relations practitioner go far beyond needing proficient writing skills. Practitioners are innovative, they are constantly required to come up with new and unique ideas every day. Organizational skills are a must in the field as well. The attention to detail could determine the effectiveness of the job. Lastly, public relations practitioners are confident. The amount of behind the scenes work a practitioner does is rewarding, regardless of the notoriety.


Zac Sniadach is a senior public relation student and a student-athlete at the university. Zac is a member of the WUPRSSA Executive Board, serving as treasurer.  He also serves as a representative of Waynesburg’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

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