Imagine you work for the coast guard, flying over the Pacific Ocean in a rescue chopper. You see one person fighting for their lives against an unforgiving current and another person trapped on an island. But you only have enough fuel to rescue one of them.
The PRSA definition is “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
You take a deep breath and fly in for a closer look. You realize you can only rescue one of them and so you save the person on the island because you could land on the beach.
They thank you for your heroics, but tell you that you should’ve saved the person about to drown because they were in a worse situation and the person you rescued had enough food on the island to survive for a week. Now, the pit of your stomach turns and twists, you turn back to look at the person in the water, but they’re no longer visible. You have fear, uncertainty and doubt for their survival.
Was the choice you made good or bad? Who you are reflects negatively and you wish you could do it all over again to not have a bad reputation. The reputation of a rescuer has been killed and now every rescuer worldwide are believed to be incompetent life savers. The person you rescued was a public relations professor and informs you that your decision has affected how he perceives everyone who wears your uniform and everyone who makes a living by helping others live.
The professor explains that public relations is more than merely a one-man-show, while it only takes one person to make everyone look bad, pending on the situation and parts that help make it whole. How do you make up for looking like an incompetent life saver and one who’s soiled the image of every rescuer?
The answer’s simple. You tell the professor that you made a decision in no time at all and knew that only one life could be saved. If you hadn’t saved the professor, you couldn’t have known there was food enough for one week. You’ve regained confidence and told him you’re a trained professional who’s saved thousands of lives and knows how to weigh difficult decisions more than most people. The professor thanks you and you’ve restored your image.
But has every rescuer had their image restored now that the professor knew he was wrong to critique your work ethic? Yes, but how? Because you know who you are as an individual and telling the truth, telling it all, telling it fast, and moving on helped ensure the professor that all others in your field are confident, skilled, and competent in their work.