How to Explain Public Relations to Your Coworkers


Public relations is the professional maintenance of a favorable public image of an entity. Like all the other things we have to maintain in life – our cars, our diets, our checkbooks – maintaining an image takes time and talent. It doesn’t just happen and it doesn’t involve only one strategy.

The word “public” can be misleading, as organizations have multiple publics they communicate to and with on a daily basis, both internally and externally. An automatic response to the mention of the word “PR” can be a visualization of magazine ads, photo ops, and positive news articles.

While those things can be part of a PR strategy, they are not the only things that make up what PR practitioners do. To assess PR within your organization, consider these three broad questions:

  1. Who are your publics?

As a taxpayer funded government agency, you might answer this question with “the taxpayer” and leave it at that. Constituents are indeed your customers, but they’re not your only audience. Others are watching what you are doing – for better or worse – so it’s to your benefit to ensure they’re getting reliable information.

First, consider which segments of the population you WANT to engage with – the elderly, parents, environmentalists, elected officials, your own workforce, etc. Then take into account others who you MUST engage with – federal agencies, regulatory bodies, news media, the business community, etc. We don’t live in bubbles where we get to talk to just the people we like, so be realistic when assessing your audiences.

  1. What is in your communications toolbox?

Now that you know WHO you are communicating with, this question will help answer the ‘how’. What tools do you (or could you) use to communicate with your various publics?

Organizations have some mediums at their disposal that are for internal communication only (office bulletin board, memos, an employee intranet, etc.) and some that are for external purposes (press releases, website, brochures, etc.), but there can be great overlap within these.

Consider social media; you probably have a mixture of internal and external publics following your pages. Look into the demographics of your followers. Do employees actively or passively engage with your company’s Facebook or Twitter pages? Who goes online to view annual reports or organizational charts? Are you actively sharing these links with your staff?

  1. What are your messages?

The most important part of your message is, obviously, what you’re saying (and not saying). The above questions should help you strategize wording, placement and delivery in a way that hopefully results in more positive outcomes for your brand. Just like in any conversation, messages should vary based on who you’re talking with. If you serve both the elderly and young adults, they will want to hear different things.

To sump up, we shouldn’t communicate with our priority audiences through just one medium. Encouraging your staff to see how communications are more intertwined can help them better understand and support your efforts.

Kim Schoetzow is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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