Parents Just Don’t Understand PR

Parents Just Don't UnderstandIn a recent poll on LinkedIn, public relations ranked as the 7th most confusing job for parents to understand. That’s not surprising to any PR professional or student. We are all too familiar with the glassy-eyed, open-mouth blank stare that occurs anytime we try and explain what it is we do. Comments like “Oh, you just play on Facebook all day” or “So are you on TV?” are commonplace. Perhaps that’s why LinkedIn is sponsoring a “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” on Nov. 7 in 14 different countries.

But it looks like we are in good company. The top 10 most misunderstood jobs, with the highest percentage of parents who aren’t confident in their ability to describe the job, are:

  1. UI Designer (82%)
  2. Data scientist (63%)
  3. Social media manager (59%)
  4. Actuary (59%)
  5. Sociologist (53%)
  6. Sub editor (51%)
  7. PR manager (42%)
  8. Investment banker (41%)
  9. Radio producer (39%)
  10. Software developer (34%)

When I was an undergrad PR student, my dad was convinced that I wasn’t pursuing a “real” profession and constantly hounded me to get a teaching certificate as a backup. I completely ignored him until two years after graduation when I needed a job – and became an English teacher. Oh, the irony!


Eight years later when I decided to return to PR and go to grad school, I found myself once again trying to explain the field of public relations, except now it included the world of social media. I tried to explain the industry as best as I could, but 20 minutes into my definition my mother cut me off mid-sentence to ask me if I wanted something to eat. I had obviously lost her.

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The fact that my mother had no idea what I was talking about after 20 minutes just proved how difficult it is to understand our industry. PRSA finally decided to update their definition to a simpler model but that didn’t seem to help much.

I started thinking about what it is we do, but soon it dawned on me that the only thing our parents care about is knowing how we make a living so they can rest assured that we won’t be mooching off of them forever. So here it is in terms that any parent can understand:

  1. We write all the time. We write about virtually any topic and sound like a credible authority on the subject. We write for a variety of audiences, taking into account political correctness, cultural sensitivities and the standard writing conventions for the media we are utilizing. If we work for an agency, we could write about heart attack symptoms, public transportation, hamburgers and telecommunications all in the same day and sound like we know what we are talking about. That means we spend a lot of time reading, researching and verifying facts in addition to editing and proofreading everyone else’s work.
  2. We work in every industry. The best thing about working in PR is knowing that we can work in any industry we want. We represent Fortune 500 companies, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, schools, energy and gas companies, nonprofits, religious groups, politics, human resources – you name the industry and somewhere is a PR job.
  3. We are planners. We always think ahead, strategically planning our next move. We advise caution and push to take risks. We gamble sometimes and play it safe other times. But we never make a move without a well-thought out plan of action and an even more thoughtful response to the “just in case” moments.
  4. We are rarely, if ever, on TV. Sure, some higher profile PR people are on TV regularly but they are the 1%. The majority of us will never see camera time and very few of us will ever see our name in the byline. That’s because our job is to make other people look good. We coach them for their TV interviews. We write the press releases and pitch the stories that someone else is going to write or produce and take credit for.
  5. We are NOT liars and spin doctors. We keep the public informed through other people’s voices sharing the words we spoon fed them. Our messages are designed to put them in the best light, of course, but we don’t lie and or act unethically. Those who do are the minority and there are always a few bad apples.

4 thoughts on “Parents Just Don’t Understand PR

  1. tjarrett3 says:

    This was a very interesting article. I also find it true that most people think that Public Relations is confusing. I even agree that it is confusing. However, public relations is a field that I can relate to. I write a lot, I am a planner, and the good part about PR is that there is always a job that needs PR professionals.

    • ambermfreeland says:

      That’s what I always tell my parents – this is a job that will allow me to work in almost any industry. People may not “get” PR but they understand the meaning of “job security.” Thanks for reading!

  2. Chelsey Bough says:

    So true! My parents have always been very supportive of my life decisions, but it took them a little while to catch on to the whole “PR” thing. I think it is definitely an underestimated field. I am always getting asked what it is exactly that I am studying and even after I explain it the puzzled looks don’t seem to go away. It was nice reading something that assured me I wasn’t alone on this and gave me a better way to discuss my future goals to others.

    • ambermfreeland says:

      Thanks so much for reading, Chelsey! I’m on my second PR degree and I find it easier to explain as digital or corporate communications or media relations. There is just so much stigma wrapped around the phrase PR that it’s easier to just call it something else sometimes. Thanks for reading!

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