Alex Dease, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “When you tell someone your major, how do they respond? Are they impressed, surprised, judgmental, or curious? What stereotypes do you think surround your major? In what ways are the stereotypes accurate and in what ways are they inaccurate?”
“Wait, so like your major is manipulating people?” my sister announced during a particularly large bite of toast at a family breakfast my first Christmas at college. The first time I announced to my family that I had declared a public relations major, they definitely had a few questions about my intentions. “But why, Alex? You’ve always been so interested in history and politics.” To them, public relations was all about the spin; a clever way to persuade people to do what you wanted, when you wanted. While I suppose there is an element of that description that is true, public relations is more than that for me. You see, what my family failed to discover during their initial game of “20 Concerned Questions About Our Daughter’s Future” was that I didn't love public relations because of the manipulation factor. I loved public relations because of the way it made you think differently, learn how to craft messages to be most effective, and most importantly, to make people listen.
For a major dedicated to teaching students about the preservation of reputation and image, public relations gets a pretty bad rap. For a lot of people, it’s simply the “easy major” or the one that “all the sorority girls take so they can pass.” Well, you won’t hear me complaining about the workload and I definitely wouldn't compare it to astrophysics, but I think there are some key aspects of the major that often get pushed aside. In spite of all of these things, public relations forces you to take the eye of the audience while you’re playing the role of the performer. An effective public relations practitioner emphasizes analysis of what tactics will work best and constant research being done about the target audience. You have to know what their favorite things are, what makes them tick, what they spend most of their time on, etc. In fact, when you think about how much information you have to know about a generalized population group, it kind of becomes a little creepy. More than that, however, public relations displays an acute dedication to learning exactly how best to communicate with people.
Alex is a senior at Pepperdine University, majoring in Public Relations.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.