The Stigma Around Public Relations

640px-Social-media-for-public-relations1Recently an article in PRWeek asked, Is it time to retire the term ‘public relations?’. In my opinion I couldn’t agree more with author Jeffrey Sharlatch’s take that yes, it might be time for public relations to undergo some new branding.

As a current PR major I have heard every stigma that comes with the term. “Oh you’re studying to be a spin doctor?” Or “that seems pretty easy, do you really need a four year degree for that?” Most people are completely unaware of the true breadth of our field, or that PR is anything more than what Aaron Eckhart’s character does in Thank You for Smoking. My own father has asked me multiple times to definite my major, and often by the end of my long winded description always concludes, “so it’s something like advertising then?”

All these stereotypes are probably why most of large PR firms do not even have the words public relations in their name. Weber Shandwick, Edleman, and JeffreyGroup are just some of the many PR firms that use phrases like “communication strategy,” “public engagement,” and “dialogue” to describe the role of a PR firm.

Public relations as a field is undergoing a metamorphosis, and I would not be surprised if the term PR did as well. As firms incorporate more digital work and advertising, engage the public in a two-way conversation and use alternative media outlets it would not be surprising to see a re-branding of the field. Although unfortunately I do not see it ever becoming easier to define and explain for curious relatives.


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