It’s that time of year when you get together with your family and catch up. You can smell the turkey cooking in the oven, the fireplace is roaring, and the football games are on the television.
Everyone’s doing their best to avoid those taboo dinner table topics (some more successful than others), and somewhere between that second helping of green bean casserole and the pumpkin pie, someone asks you once again, “So, tell me, what do you actually do in PR?”
We’ve all been there. Our families often hear us use words like “public relations,” “marketing,” “communications,” or other terms like “social media,” “digital,” and “integrated.” They want to show an interest. Maybe more accurately, they want to be interested. Your mother may even produce the business card you gave her two employers ago to show you she’s always thinking of you.
Now it’s your turn. What do you say this time? How can you make it clear once and for all what you actually do for a living?
If such a question causes frustration for you, let’s take a step back and consider the questions that are really being asked. When a dear loved one asks you what you do, they don’t usually want to know what you really do in terms of tasks. Here’s what they are really asking:
- Are you happy in your work? Is it rewarding?
- Is the stress of work having an effect on you?
- Do you have time to enjoy life?
- Is there a future at your current employer or in your field?
- Is there a chance you could be laid off?
Then, of course, there may be a small bit of curiosity about how public relations people “get away” with making large sums for “typing on a computer.”
So here’s my recommendation.
So, when you get the inevitable question, don’t plunge into a description of tasks you do at work. Don’t use jargon like “digital content” or “market share.” Don’t drop the names of famous people or well-known brands and companies you may cross paths with through your work. All of that is a big turnoff and likely to get people to turn the sound down in their minds when your lips are moving.
Instead, try to package your response to answer the questions they are really asking. Let me offer a hypothetical example for your Thanksgiving “elevator speech” that (I’d like to think is true) may address the questions behind the Thanksgiving question, “What do you do in PR?”
“I love my work. Every day I’m always doing something new and meeting new people. I like the people I work with. I work with the media, and develop my skills with technology and writing talents. It’s very rewarding.
I work hard but have great friends and coworkers. We do things away from work together. I’m taking an art class just for fun, and I joined a gym to stay healthy and fresh. I feel really great and have learned how to balance work and life.
My field is very exciting. Whether it’s with my current employer or somewhere else, I hear about opportunities all of the time. Of course, you get out of it what you put into it, but I’m seeing progress.”
OK, I know. Some or all of that may not be true for you. But the point here is at the very least to know the questions behind the question and to answer those questions honestly and sincerely.
Also, I realize that this still does not get at how the field of PR works. Trust me. I’m a veteran of many Thanksgivings.
Unless you want to clear the dinner table so you can conduct an impromptu Powerpoint presentation on the history of PR, starting with Edward Bernays, I’ve got another idea. When someone asks you, “What is PR?,” just say, “Pass the stuffing, please.” Works every time.
As always, if you’d like to talk PR with someone who knows how it works, please let me know. I’d be happy to talk turkey. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Also published on Medium.