How to Define PR (in 12-year-old terms)

Cedric Brown Avatar

The other day I was talking with my players as we were getting ready for a game. Well aware that I wouldn’t be able to stay for the full season this year they asked me a few questions about my future plans. A question about grad school came up and it went something like this:

Player: “So coach, you already have your Bachelors?”
Me: “Yep.”
Player: “So what are you getting your Master’s in?”
Me: “Public relations.”

 *Assistant coach busts out in laughter*

Player: “What is that?”
Me: “I’m basically learning how to make people look good.”
Player: “You mean like makeup?”

Obviously this wasn’t what I wanted my players to think I was leaving them for. So I had to ramble off a few different analogies to better explain myself. Granted, these are 11- and 12-year-olds that I coach from the inner-city, so rattling off textbook definitions wasn’t going to work here. And while I eventually settled on a definition that they could understand, the question really had me thinking on a different topic.

How would you define PR in 12-year-old terms?

As many industry professionals would agree, public relations rides a slippery slope because it often gets confused with marketing and advertising. Admittedly, I made this same mistake when explaining PR to my players. You see, when I tell people that my work is in marketing I joke around by saying that I “make (stuff) look good.” And while the concept of “making people look good” vaguely describes PR, it by itself doesn’t do it enough justice.

BRANDINGSo in order to better describe PR to my players, I thought back to this quote about reputation, or perception, and character from the late legendary UCLA Men’s Basketball coach John Wooden:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Here’s why I think this quote hits the nail on the head when it comes to distinguishing marketing from PR:

  • In PR, we are definitely more consumed with building a favorable reputation for clients so that others can perceive them to be trustworthy.
  • Meanwhile, in marketing we consume ourselves with building an organization’s character (or brand) in a way that attracts like-minded customers (or stakeholders)

In short: PR people are reputation builders; marketers are character builders. Both go hand-in-hand because eventually your character will become your reputation and vice versa.

Ultimately, I explained to my players that I’m a counselor for how people, or organizations, should behave. At the same, I concern myself with how my player and their parents perceive me. So I do my best to generate good PR by always communicating my intentions with everyone, and I market myself by treating my players, parents, coaching staff, and umpires with respect.

That’s how I would define PR to a 12-year-old. How would you describe your industry in 12-year-old terms?

One response

  1. PR, Storytelling, and Saturday Night Live « Cedric Brown

    […] as a PR professional, you’re advocating for the work your organization does so that it builds a favorable reputation with its audience. Similarly, actors (comedic or not) tell stories on behalf of the characters they […]

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