It’s that time of year when we chat up colleagues, family, and friends old and new at holiday gatherings. At some point, you may ask a new acquaintance what they do for a living. If the response is “I work in PR,” you might be stumped for a minute. If so, don’t feel bad. Some colleagues here have said that their own spouses can go for decades without a real grasp of what they do. Here are five tips to guide the uninitiated through any social encounters with PR professionals.
Be safe: ask if they specialize
Today’s communications sector is fairly specialized, so it’s always safe to ask if they focus in a particular area, like fashion, technology, or lifestyle PR, for example. And if they’re on the agency side, you can always follow up with a question about their favorite or most challenging client. Agency people love to talk up their clients.
Be engaged: ask what it takes to be a PR star
“So, what does it take to be a great PR person?” This is a fine question for anyone in any profession, from currency trader to social worker. Plus, it’s a way to show legitimate curiosity while discovering more about what someone does without displaying ignorance.
Be informed: ask their opinion of recent media coverage of a news event
This one may be skating too close to politics, since it seems to dominate the news these days, but that might be unavoidable anyway. The point is to appeal to the person’s expertise as a student of the media or as someone who follows specific industries, as you’ve just learned by asking about their specialist sectors. And since everyone has an opinion of the news (even if they hate it), it almost guarantees a discussion.
The pickup line: ask if they think PR is more of an art or a science
Asking something thoughtful will not only make you appear knowledgeable, but it will flatter the PR pro and elicit unguarded thoughts about their livelihood. But it’s not a safe gambit; this approach is only recommended if you can pull off a pseudo-sophisticated approach, or if you’re really interested in the person you’ve just met.
The networking approach: tell them you have a journalist friend
…who wants to transition into PR. This will tickle the PR person, who will be impressed and pleased to hear that you have contacts, even if they’re planning to move to “the dark side.” While reporters and PR pros have a real symbiosis, they also have a friendly rivalry – and lots of pet peeves on both sides.
The lame comment: mention Olivia Pope
If the topic arises, you may realize that everything you know about PR comes from the show “Scandal” or something equally exaggerated. That’s okay, but don’t conclude your new acquaintance does anything remotely like Kerry Washington’s glamorous D.C. fixer, unless she’s sipping red wine and carrying a Prada bag, that is.