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What is Public Relations?


With the holiday season in full swing, I can feel my young adult mind preparing for the probing to come from my parents and other relatives that appear out of thin air when the turkey sits as the table centerpiece. As a college student the most frequent question will be “What’s your major again?”


When I respond with public relations, I am often met with confused faces and the follow up question, “What is that,” “What can you do with that,” or my personal favorite a simple stare and the open mouth, “Uh?”


This is my que to stumble over the words that not so gracefully roll from my mouth to land in an unreceived pile of further confusion between me and the person asking. After last year, I reached this point where people were asking me, “what is public relations” and I just wanted to say “don’t ask me, I just work here.” I realized that if this is my major than I should probably figure out what it means and how to explain it.


Sometimes the easiest way to figure out what something is, is to establish what it’s not.

public relations is not:

  • Advertising

  • Marketing

  • Selling/Sales

Advertising, marketing, and sales are disciplines that focus on selling or promoting specific products or services to the public. Most advertising is paid for, and is a one-way form of communication; the company or organization simply puts out the message with consumers receiving it but not interacting directly with the message. Marketing is centered on the interaction and relationship between consumers and the organization's products or services, often referred to as the customer journey. Sales involves the negotiation of a purchase often reminding me of door-to-door sales, although that isn’t quite how it’s done anymore with today’s current technology.


Public relations is:

  • Clear communication

  • Relationship building

  • Truthful storytelling

  • Crisis control

Unlike advertising, marketing and sales, public relations is the promotion of an organization's identity, rather than just its products. Public relations is communicating with not only the audience of consumers, but with employees, investors, politicians, journalists and the surrounding community as a whole. Public relations is carrying companies through the highs of community events and the lows of crisis management. Public relations is fact-based storytelling at its finest. Public relations is being the voice that is heard in a world where everything is so loud and everybody talks too much.


Public Relations is me and I am public relations.


Madison Burton is a sophomore majoring in public relations. Madison is an associate with Fifth Street Communications®, a student-run public relations agency at Anderson University.

fsc@anderson.edu | Anderson University (IN)

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