What is Public Relations?
We’re often asked by friends and family, “So what do you actually do?”
PR can be a riddle to a lot of people – often confused with advertising or lumped into the marketing mix – but PR can be what you make it.
“Public Relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”
That’s the definition from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. It’s a great summary of what we aim to do, but it doesn’t really explain what we do DO.
How do we look after reputation? How do we influence people? What are the nuts and bolts of this mysterious industry?
PR differs for each and every one of us. Depending on the sector, what level you’re at and if you’re in house or agency. Generally speaking, a lot of the below will apply for many PR people, but is certainly not an exhaustive list.
Essentially, PR is the bridge between a company or organisation and the people it wants to speak to. We think of ways to reach those people and then make it happen.
- Planning – Client campaigns need to be planned in advance. The PR/Comms team will meet and brainstorm ideas until they reach the best/most effective ideas. These then need to be fully planned – exactly what needs to happen, when, who’s in charge and what the outcomes need to be.
- Writing – We have to switch our writing styles depending on audiences and platforms - think press releases, think pieces, blogs, newsletters and social media updates etc. A press release is key information which is digestible and easy to understand. There are many arguments between PR leaders as to whether the press release is losing its value, but it is a credible source for information and still preferred by the journalists we work with. However, we’re not always writing a story. We manage reputations after all. It could be a comment or response from a key spokesperson regarding a current news topic or we might even be writing a response following a crisis.
- Pitching – Once a story has ‘legs’ we pitch it to relevant journalists by phone or email and then there’s the follow ups too. There are however other ways to pitch stories to journalists. We often have one-to-one meetings with journalists to give them face time with an expert and ask questions. It’s also about building relationships with journalists and making sure we know the story is right for them. The difference between PR and advertising is that PR coverage is traditionally earned, not paid for.
- Stretching the imagination – There are plenty of other ways of getting attention to spread a company’s message. Think social media, infographics, guerrilla marketing or videos. These are all ways that PR people can capture the attention of stakeholders. To give you an example of this, we took to the streets with two giant eyes to encourage people to keep their eyes safe during the eclipse and used animation to promote product benefits.
- Monitoring – There are so many ways of measuring, whether it’s the amount of coverage, key message penetration, engagement levels or sentiment on social media – the possibilities are endless! It’s up to us to decide the best methods before a campaign and ensure we get the best possible outcomes. If you can’t measure, it means nothing!
- Juggling – There are often multiple campaigns happening at any one time so PR people need to be able to multitask and switch between campaigns quickly. It’s also not uncommon for a planned day to change course with a sudden media deadline that we don’t want to miss!