Jason Sprenger – President, Game Changer Communications

“Ummm…you’re those people who get their clients in the newspaper?”

“Oh yeah, you guys throw some great parties!”

“You’re the pros who people call when they’re in trouble and they need to make it all go away.”

“Huh?  You do advertising, right?”

Believe it or not, these are the most common statements I hear in discussions about what public relations professionals do for a living.  These are people inside and outside the business community: friends, family, business leaders, trade organization officers and many more.  And the looks I get from people, well, it’s like they’re deer in headlights.  I am not a lawyer, but I imagine that’s similar to what they see and hear!

Two main themes come through in these statements.  First – no matter who you ask, PR is very hard to define.  Ask 100 PR pros how to define what it is they do, and I’m sure you’ll hear at least 95 different answers.  Second – people’s opinions of PR are grounded in common stereotypes, some of which date back decades.  Of course, these are issues that lawyers deal with every day as well; this ambiguity doesn’t help our cause.  It’s hard for outsiders to take us seriously or invest in us when we can’t really describe what we do or clearly articulate the value we can bring to the business community.  So it’s up to us to somehow break through and make a difference anyway.

Umbrella of PRFor example, in an effort to help PR and marketing pros solve these challenges, I’ve developed and introduced the Umbrella Model of Public Relations.  This model presents the entire spectrum of ways in which organizations build, maintain and grow stakeholder relationships using communications.  It’s incredibly helpful in illustrating for someone what it is we do in the world of public relations.  It’s also a wonderful tool to use in thinking through what kinds of programs we want to build and what activities could add value in particular situations for particular clients.  It’s the kind of model that I think can help people in any discipline understand what we do and start conversations that bring new levels of value to the organizations we work with.

In this line of work, it’s our responsibility to know about all of the ways that we can help our clients – and to be able to apply them appropriately.  For those of us in PR and marketing, this is where the Umbrella Model can be a big asset: it reminds us of what’s possible for us and the organizations we work with.  I’d encourage the legal community to think about how it can represent and communicate what it does as simply and intuitively as possible, as well.  Maybe there are attributes of a model like this that could be useful.

I also believe that by talking more about what it is we really do, we have opportunities to legitimize and elevate our disciplines to new heights.  I think PR can begin to add more value to the business community by simply showing as many practitioners as we can what’s possible in the first place.  Then, with a better grasp of the tools in our arsenal, we can set the bar higher for ourselves and our work, and ultimately do more for the organizations we represent.  Also, as we deliver on this potential with results, the collective reputation of our profession will only improve.