A concerned parent of an aspiring PR professional asked me yesterday:  “Please give me an honest assessment of the future state of jobs within public relations.”   She added, “And while you’re at it could you also tell me exactly what is public relations?” 

For a moment, I had a flash back to my early days in PR.  My parents and mother-in-law understood what I did when I was a newspaper reporter since they saw my bylines on stories, and they had some rudimentary understanding of what I did in politics and government.  However, on more than one occasion, my mother-in-law asked me to write down what I did in PR so she could try to explain it to her friends. 

The questioning parent this week seemed relieved to hear that the long-term job prospects in PR are among the best of any profession.  Currently, an estimated 250,000 individuals are full-time PR professionals, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the profession will grow by 17% by 2016.  The current glut of available talent, especially at the entry level, creates a momentary concern that perhaps too many students are pursuing PR degrees.  But the situation is worse within most other professions.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics web site addresses many parental concerns about the outlook for PR jobs, including salary ranges. 

As for the mother’s other question, unfortunately there is no one description of public relations that has been adopted by everyone in the profession.  To keep it simple, I referenced the simplest–just 13 words from PRSA:  “Public Relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”  But that required a bit more elaboration, including the types of work performed by PR practitioners on a daily basis–media relations, employee communications, crisis management, financial communications, social media and product publicity.  More than 25 years ago, PRSA adopted a more detailed description of PR that still holds today.  Usually,  PR practitioners often spend most of their definition time explaining what PR is NOTadvertising, marketing, propaganda and flackery

I also sent the inquiring mother a link to the You Tube video featuring several PR leaders.  Produced by Ogilvy PR for PR Week’s “Next” Conference last November, industry leaders discuss skills required to be a successful PR practitioner in the future.

One of the key selling points of PR education is the broad range of jobs that are natural extensions of public relations.  Ideally, someone with passion for PR will land in a traditional public relations position, but other job categories that are populated by large numbers of PR graduates include advertising, marketing, sales, product promotion, news media, law, market research, government, law enforcement and nonprofit.  Despite the current economic mess, I remain bullish on the future of PR.