Why Does a Career in Public Relations Interest Me?

Why Does a Career in Public Relations Interest Me?

To answer the question why does a career in Public Relations interest me? As well as why did I chose a Public Relations degree to study? The answer isn’t as straight forward as the questions, there are a number of different reasons and answers, for how I ended up on this career path. In this blog I’ll be (roughly) explaining my story as to how I ended up studying and enjoying the field of Public Relations. I will start by explaining what interested and attracted me to the industry in the first place as well as, how I chose my degree and what I have learned over the course of my studies.

For another who doesn’t know what public relations is, it can often be confused with advertising and mis-defined as being just about promotion. Grunig and Hunt define Public Relations as “Management of communication between an organisation and its publics”. Charted Institute of Public Relations defines it as “the discipline which looks after reputation, “It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.” It can be argued that there is no distinct definition of  what Public Relations is, and in many ways it is so broadly scoped it is undefinable. Personally I believe it is about the management of multiple different relationships within an organisation/person of interest and how they use this to communicate, promote and attract attention in their interest across a range of multimedia platforms.

When leaving high school I initially accepted an offer to study Law and marketing, as in the past I had always been torn between what I wanted to study. Soon after beginning my Law degree I quickly became bored. The copious amount of reading, referencing and interpreting became boring to me. The only aspect of law I was interested in was the real life cases and how they were resolved. I was still curious about marketing and business but I had realised I was also very interested in social psychology. I decided to change courses and I began looking for something that would interest me more, within a number of universities. When I came across the course Communication Management and Public Relations I was initially struck by the many different areas of study that it involved. I wanted to learn more about communication and I also wanted to know more about how to use communication in a professional context. I also researched into the career opportunities and found them interesting. I have always been a very confident person and that is why I thought that public relations would suit my personality better.  

Originally what attracted me to Public Relations was its communication aspect, how fast-paced and current the industry is.  Another aspect of public relations I liked was that unlike marketing, they don’t push promotions in an informal fashion towards consumers rather convince consumers by creating connections and relationships that are mutually beneficial.  Take Edward Bernays as an example. Bernays is often described as the father of Public Relations and his work and campaigns were not only successful, but they changed the world that we live in today. For example Bernays was employed by American Tobacco Companies and in 1928 he created the revolutionary  “Torches of Freedom.” Campaign. Smoking at the time was a Taboo in America for women and “smoking by women in North America and Europe had long been associated with loose morals and dubious sexual behaviour.” Bernays thought he could change this idea and he believed “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.” Bernays organised multiple demonstrations of women smoking these women included debutants as well as prominent figures from the Women’s Movement and Churches. The demonstrations obviously attracted huge media attention and as a result newspapers across the country published stories on it. It’s crazy to me that through this occupation it was quite literally possible to change the world! 

During the course of my studies into to Public Relations, I have learned a lot about its uses in politics. I fascinated by the work of spin doctors and I was intrigued at how these people were able to take something that felt like bad news and turn it into something they could use for their benefit. While people often have mixed opinions over whether or not the use of spin particularly in politics is ethically correct Ludlam and Smith define it as “new strategic thinking”. I agree and, I think that there is an art to spin and it requires a great deal of knowledge as well as the ability to work on your own initiative. The labour party in England has often been accused of spinning facts to their own advantage, For example back in 2015 when Ed Miliband was the leader of the labour party, he took part in an interview which was held in the kitchen of his supposed £2 million house. These images then surfaced in an article published by the Daily Mail. The kitchen was in a modest state considering the price of the house, and the Daily Mail article compared it to a “utility room”. The article also went on to suggest that this might be the work of spin doctors as at the time Ed Miliband was running in the general election and he had just promised to introduce a mansion tax if he won. It was thought that by placing him in a less expensive looking kitchen it would favour the idea that he is a man of the people. Another example is throughout the course of Jeremy Corbyn’s time in office he was accused of spin multiple times. Back in 2016 when Owen Smith became the main leadership challenger for Corbyn. Smith gave a speech at the time condemning Conservative spending towards the NHS as well as accusing them of having plans to privatise the NHS. This was in order to present Smith as a socialist and an advocate for free health care, the only problem with this is that Owen Smith had spent five years working in big pharmaceutical companies as well as spending some of that time working as a corporate lobbyist. He also previously had the role of  head of policy and government relations for Pfizer. As this information was being brought to light in the press Corbyn timed a policy announcement well, which was to remove tax relief for pharmaceutical innovation. The idea was to frame Corbyn as someone who was anti/against big pharmaceutical companies compared with Smith the “lobbyist”.

From the examples I have given I can understand as to why someone would question the ethics of the use of spin. However, I believe that spin is a strategic thought process that involves a lot of planning, timing and driving of the news agenda. This skill requires a good judgment and knowledge about the industry you are working in.

Another aspect of Public relations that I find interesting is crisis communication. When an organisation gets into a crisis situation it usually contributes to public distrust. It is the PR practitioners job to ensure as little damage as possible is done to the firm. For example Pret a Manager dealt with a severe crisis in 2016. A 15-year-old girl died after having an allergic reaction to one of Pret a Manger’s baguettes. She collapsed on a British Airways flight and went into anaphylactic shock which caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Pret a Manager became the centre of the scandal as the baguette did not have any allergen advice on its wrapper. At the time food allergen advice was produced on site, and there was no legal requirement to provide it on the label. It was expected that staff deliver allergen information orally when asked. Pret a Manger received heavy criticism from both the press and the public. In this case Pret had to take some of the blame, in the beginning they tried to blame the British airways staff but in order to save company reputation the company CEO realised a statement saying that the firm was “deeply sorry” and that they were making “meaningful changes” to prevent something like this happening again. As a result Pret called for changes on the food labelling laws, gave the family compensation and encouraged other businesses to create change in their food allergens labelling. This is a successful example of the skill involved in crisis communication and how they were able to create a positive out of the terrible situation by getting the law changed.

A career in public relations interests me deeply. Although, I’m not entirely sure as to what direction or aspect of PR that I will end up working in. I feel safe in the knowledge that it always interests me, sometimes this is a quality I think people over look when planning a career. I think if you’re interested in what you do not only will you do well but you will enjoy your work as well.

Alicia Fox is a third year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at Linkedin and Twitter.

Why does a career in public relations interest me?

Why does a career in public relations interest me?

Oliver, S. (2010) claims “if you asked a hundred people to define public relations you would get a hundred different answers.” To begin, when describing relations, I believe it has numerous definitions and it simply cannot be labelled to one.  Different people in society would have a range of perspectives and opinions on defining “what is public relations?” However, I personally agree with the definition provided by Bernays, E. (1923) in which he states “information given to the public, persuasion directed at the public to modify attitudes and actions, and efforts to integrate attitudes and actions of an institution with its publics and of publics with those of that institution.” Bernays definition explains public relations perfectly for me as he clarifies that based on what we hear and see in the media and on the news, we then proceed to form our attitudes and views on the particular matter in question even if we are not knowledgeable in that field. We then tend to form our opinion on the topic. Bernays emphasises how the media plays a huge role in influencing our opinions and behaviour on different areas in the way it is portrayed via public relations.

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Why public relations really interest me is because it is an industry that is forever changing. There are always new and exciting things happening in the world that you can never predict. For example, let us consider COVID-19. According to the CIPR (2020) “ the impact of Covid-19 and the opportunities it presents for the communications profession finds the pandemic has accelerated changes already underway within practice and concludes it has demonstrated the strategic role of communications.” This emphasizes that with the pandemic happening it has impacted public relations massively. It is so important to be up to date with new rules, covid-19 death rates around the world and in Northern Ireland, reports from the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, updates from Boris Johnson along with updates from the public health agency. It is equally important to report about the hospitality sector which has been significantly impacted by covid-19. It is so important that public relations provides this information to the public and allows them to gather important information that is very relevant and essential to know when it comes to something as unprecedented as Covid-19 and allow people to develop their attitudes, behaviours, opinion and plan. From here, they will determine what to do with this information and make vital adjustments to their life.

Grunig, J. (1989) claims “public relations is the management of communications between an organisation and its publics.” A career in public relations interests me because I have a passion for strong communication skills and being able to strategically communicate within the workplace because I know it is integral when working effectively with your colleagues, different companies, brands and media agencies. These key factors are all linked to PR and are therefore essential to develop your communication skills and how to use them effectively. Additionally, another key topic I am very passionate about is having strong organisational skills because by having both communication skills and organisation skills combined it provides you with the underpinning knowledge to nurture a relationship with your co-workers, companies you work with and essentially, it allows you to develop connections in the industry which is very important. Building relationships in public relations is key because it helps manage your reputation which is another important tool to have when working in public relations. Building a strong working relationship with a brand for example, allows you to develop trusted media connections which is vital to have in this industry. By having media connections, you can issue a press release in times of a bad advertising campaign or during a crisis when you may need crisis management support for example therefore, your trusted media connection can help you repair the damage.

Today more than ever your online presence is crucial in a world where everyone is digitally connected. “Much of social media is done in public, by the public, and the dynamics that have shaped public relations in the past media relations, interactions with opinion leaders and influencers, and of course, crisis/reputation management are not only present in social media, but often accentuated and amplified by it.” (Breakenridge, K.D 2012). This is another point to why I am interested in a public relations role because when looking for a job, promoting a product or brand or networking in the world of marketing and advertising, it is vital to establish your online presence. Having a strong online presence allows you to build connections digitally, ultimately opening the window to partnering with other brands, gaining advice from other PR professionals, and obtaining a portfolio of connections, to better identify how to maximise your content and market yourself online.  Public relations are concentrated on public opinion and today social media is a forever expanding market where PR is becoming an integral part of marketing communications. Ultimately, PR effects the performance of marketing. Therefore, to achieve greater success, building connections digitally with a PR agency is an essential path.

I enjoy the strategical and planning process leading up to a campaign, and public relations covers all these components.

The PR strategy consists of:

  • Context
  • Situation /Issue Analysis
  • Objectives
  • Publics
  • Messaging
  • Planning
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

“Having a sense of direction and of what is important is part of well-being at work and indeed being able to mark off progress and milestones is an intrinsic element of job satisfaction.(Gregory, A. 2010) For example, when creating a campaign, I thrive on having a strategy in place and establishing on how to successfully market a campaign and make it successful. A career in PR appeals to me as I enjoy looking at the brand ethos and ensuring that is promoted relevantly and speaks to their vision and mission. When carrying out a piece of work I enjoy looking at the strengths and weaknesses of a brand/campaign, establishing what the brand is trying to achieve, narrowing down target audiences to ensure it is a success, creating a powerful message and ultimately  delivering it to the public, through creativity, planning, delivery and  evaluation. “Public relations play a role in assisting the organisation clarify its purpose and values”. (Moloney, K. and McGrath, C. 2020) Additionally, as I enjoy this process, I believe I would thrive in a PR role and apply the PR strategy to everything that I do to make any future job roles enjoyable and  importantly successful.

Overall, a career in public relations interests me because I enjoy strategical processes, planning, organising, creating ideas and coming up with crisis management tactics because this allows me to learn more about the industry, how to create a successful business plan and make it a huge success , which is any organisations ultimate goal. Social media is a wonderful resource for PR and media communications today as it allows you to not only access an extensive network but also to take advantage of advertising and marketing opportunities in order to build awareness of your business or campaign. I have experience working in the social media and marketing world through my placement year therefore, doing this in PR environment is something I would love to be involved in.

I also enjoy keeping up to date with the latest trends and monitoring other brands and seeing how they are contributing to the “woke” era. I would love to bring this into my PR career and ensure as a brand or company we are relevant with the current times, where the outcome would be establishing a solid reputation and a great online presence in a world which is ever changing. I am interested in organisational communication as this is very relevant to a PR career where you must be able to strategically communicate and have effective interaction. Personally, a career in public relations grabs me because I enjoy industries that are evolving, and public relations offers just that. It is never the same and that is what makes it exciting, innovative and current. This ultimately, retains that enjoyment in a career where public relations keeps creativity levels high and engaging.

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Tara Hamill is a final year student in Ulster University studying Communication Management and Public Relations. She can be found on Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram