Friday, March 30, 2012

I write press releases, therefore I am

Recently I was at a work-related function, and a woman from another organization asked me what I do.

"I'm the director of public relations."
"Oh, so you do press releases..."

As her voice trailed off, I tried hard to make sure my outward expression did not match my inward sigh of frustration. I quickly interjected, "And also our publications, and our web site, social media. And some speechwriting."

Her view of my job was limiting, but I didn't do much to help. I suspect that a lot of PR people -- particularly those of us who work in-house -- when asked what our job entails, tick off a list of the products we produce, without addressing what is supposed to be the underlying reason for our existence: to use the specific tools of our profession (those products I mentioned above, among others) to help our organizations achieve their strategic goals.

Perhaps that goes without saying. And maybe it's self-absorbed to assume that no other profession faces the same dilemma. When someone tells me they are an accountant, I don't ask any more questions, because I assume I understand what they do, but that may not always be the case. It may vary by organization and industry. Certainly, my role as director of public relations means different things at different places.

After all, how was I supposed to respond to that woman? Tick of the new, official, PRSA-sanctioned definition of public relations, or perhaps its superior Canadian cousin? I'd come off as vapid at worst, pretentious at best. So yes, ma'am, I do write press releases.

The problem is that many of us internalize this short-hand for what do, and we let it define us, both within our organizations and without. That's the reason for wrangling over how to correctly define what we do. Too many of us think our jobs are to create these products, this collateral, when in reality those are all means to an end. Yes, I know I've spent an awful lot of time going over this subject at this blog, but it's an awfully important subject.

And it's not just about how to describe ourselves on LinkedIn. It also speaks to how we measure our results. At the end of the year, do we tally the awards our magazines and newsletters won, do we count headlines and web hits? Or do we look at the organizational results, and say, "When we did X, the company got Y." Or at least, "The company got Z because of Y, and it got Y because we did X."

Otherwise, we are mere communicators. Not that there's anything wrong that. It's just that for me, it's not enough.

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