“What is public relations?" This question feels as vague as someone asking me what majoring in Communications studies leads to. I admit that I want to pursue a career path in this industry, but I have repeatedly asked myself this question throughout my academics. In my search to find out, my experience working as a Communications Assistant in SFU’s Communications and Marketing office has given me a clearer picture of public relations.
When I got the offer from SFU, I thought, “Okay, I have no idea what I’m doing other than the general description of the position.” However, I soon realized there is more to it than what public relations entails—from monitoring public sentiment to doing public engagements; I slowly realized the answer to the nagging question I’ve been trying to answer.
Throughout my time in SFU Communications and Marketing, I had the opportunity to write SFU News articles about subjects like institutional announcements, amazing work by emerging young researchers, and creative art installations. I went into writing thinking it would be easy—especially for students like me—but it wasn’t your typical run-of-the-mill essay writing. Copywriting is a skill that I’m still learning, and the support from the whole office on reviewing and suggesting edits helped me by pointing out the subconscious essay writing style that I fall back into.
I also had the opportunity to work on an extensive public engagement project with fellow Co-op students in the office—whom I became close friends with outside of work! We were out on the streets and around campus drumming up excitement over the gondola project, and that was when I realized that this is one aspect of what public relations is about—the face-to-face public engagement of the work that you put your heart into. Not only so, but my newfound Co-op friends and I planned a whole social media engagement campaign for the gondola project by creating an entertaining video and poll on Twitter and Instagram. With some notes and revisions by our colleagues, we built up an enthusiasm for the Burnaby Mountain Gondola project through our online engagement!
I can surely say that there is no straightforward answer to the question that was nagging in my mind. Nevertheless, I know that the core of what I did in public relations was untangling complex ideas and information into something everyone would understand. I am beyond grateful to my two supervisors and all my colleagues at SFU Communications and Marketing that helped me understand what public relations is about. If you still are unsure about what it is to work in public relations, I would highly recommend going for a trial run by doing a co-op in the industry and experiencing what public relations are to you!