What’s PR these days?

March 17, 2015

nanette1-March 17, 2015


Nanette Collins
What’s PR these days? Well, it’s not the way it was depicted on “Sex in the City.” I’ve been watching the public perception of Public Relations morph since about 1998, when “Sex and the City” started airing. More than one viewer wanted to be just like the PR maven Samantha Jones and droves of viewers flocked to colleges offering degrees in PR.

In reality, Samantha’s world as a party planner extraordinaire in glamorous New York City is about as far removed from the world of technology PR as it could get. Certainly, events can be part of a PR campaign, but it’s a tiny part of it and, often, not the responsibility of a PR manager. They’re usually held in a drab hotel function room and not a swanky nightclub. For anyone planning an event, they can be more stressful than fun.

Public Relations has been a career choice since the turn of the last century and Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays are credited with being the founders of the profession. They popularized the use of news releases and Bernays, for sure, changed public opinion in his PR campaigns, something a good PR practitioner can do. He scandalized New York in 1929 when he staged the Easter Parade and models strolled down the parade route holding lit cigarettes or “Torches of Freedom.” Women’s smoking habits, formerly a public taboo, became socially acceptable.

The definition of PR’s wording has changed a bit over the years, but the basic concept of PR remains –– a strategic communication process. I could bore you with more about the wording change undertaken about three years ago by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), but won’t. Instead, I’ll point out the way the decision was made. PRSA used a crowdsourcing campaign and vote, a novel way to build consensus and an effective new PR tool.

Samantha Jones was portrayed as smart and savvy but shallow, something hard to be when the topic is parasitic extraction or 10nm FinFET. Anyone doing tech PR today needs to be able to handle any number of acronyms thrown at them and quickly pick up the jargon. They need to be able to take technical news –– say, a product rollout –– and develop a news release that makes sense to a large community of influencers who may not be familiar with the technology. The news release will go out on a wire service, reaching an even broader community, making it even more important to have the messages easily understood.

Yes, excellent written verbal communication skills are a must. Samantha had her verbal skills down pat and knew how to work the phones, also important in tech PR. And, she gets high marks for strategy and organization –– both important to tech PR practitioners as well. But, tech PR is a strategic partner able to craft interesting and creative campaigns with messages that resonate with the target audience. A sound strategy can make a company stand apart and get noticed. A cookie-cutter approach to PR is not advisable.

Social media is playing a big role in PR, something only coming into vogue during the Samantha Jones era. Blogging and web content are de rigueur in our industry, not so much with Twitter or Facebook, but I guarantee it’s coming.

The rules of tech PR –– consistent, factual communication to influence the influencers or decision makers –– aren’t changing and we’re getting more tools to make us more effective communicators.

I admit I was as enchanted with “Sex and the City” as everyone else, but the portrayal of Samantha Jones, the Public Relations careerist, didn’t come from my world. We’re not like Eli Gold of “The Good Wife” or Olivia Pope from “Scandal,” either. I’ve been amazed, however, by the effect the media has on the public's perception of the PR industry and the hoards flocking to the profession as a result.

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