Guest Post: What is PR?

Andrea Meyer was a client of ours about 10 years ago.  Our client relationship developed into a friendship and we’ve stayed in touch over the years.  She is sharing her thoughts here on the age-old question, what is PR?  She is certainly well-qualified to answer the question as she has worked on both the agency and client side of PR with experiences in traditional media relations, internal communications, marketing and social media. Andrea has had the privilege to work on a host of stellar brands including Allstate, Cartier, Lucasfilm, Sony, Toyota, Verizon, and Weber.

In her words, here is her explanation of what is PR.

I think public relations (“PR”) is one of the most misunderstood and/or not known professions.  Countless times I have been asked what I do and when I say PR the reactions vary, but I usually I get a blank look.  I have been working now for more than 20 years and have seen quite a few dazed expressions.  I will explain that the stories in a newspaper or on television were likely set up by someone like me.  We pitch companies, products, and services and offer executives to reporters to tell a story.  That is a really simple way of putting it, but it provides a tangible example that most people should be familiar with and hopefully understand.

TV shows have made terms like “flak” and “spin” too common, and I cringe when I hear them. Spokespeople for companies and elected officials tend to get more airtime when they are bad at their jobs. And we all discuss PR blunders and question company responses as headlines tend to draw attention to failures more than wins. Fundamentally it comes down to storytelling and timing. If you have a unique company and a spokesperson who is engaging, it is easier to connect with media as they know who is responsive and reliable. Addressing an audience with information succinctly goes a long way.

Let’s dig deeper!

There likely are differences in perspective based on being in an agency vs. on the corporate side of the business.  When you work in an agency you are surrounded by like-minded people while in a corporation there are many people who think they know what we do (and certainly like the results) but often do not understand all that is involved. As newspapers get consolidated or closed, the pool of working reporters is getting smaller. Beats change and you need to keep up with who covers your business. As digital media has expanded, there are more channels and informing business leaders about those options is another task. Getting everyone to agree on media target priorities can be a negotiation.

The growth of the Internet has expanded the PR job description with a host of other tasks: responding to consumers online, website content creation, social media monitoring, as well as working with influencers.  The news cycle is 24/7 and stories can be posted at anytime.  The traditional, close-of-business-day deadlines are less common.  And corporate structure can place social media functions into different buckets (customer service, marketing, or corporate relations). Policies for handling matters will differ from company to company and what gets paid for vs. earned, so lines can get blurred.

Planning and strategy are constant. Both short-term and long-term initiatives will be juggled. Product launches tend to be on a set calendar. Layer those with executive speaking opportunities, thought leadership pieces, event participation and suddenly the calendar is getting full. Unexpected crises or current events can change the plans in a heartbeat. Breaking through the clutter requires work. Paying attention to trends and cultivating brand differentiation are fundamental to success and not everyone does this well.

Going Viral

Social media has shown the importance of integration within an organization. People working in silos will not serve companies or brands well. Just think of the past year and if I mention Ocean Spray cranberry juice you probably can visualize the TikToks that were viral last summer. What began with a consumer, then showcased a company executive. Not to mention what it did for one of Fleetwood Mac’s iconic songs. Listening and engaging across social media and internally can result in some amazing opportunities. But if a team is not responsive, the opposite can happen.

At day’s end, I will continue to review the conversations I have had with reporters, or consider how announcements will be received, and I wonder about the impact of my actions.  You see, for most people if they screw up on their jobs, they worry about their bosses discovering it.  My mistakes will be public.  The audience size grows now that information lives on the Internet and it does not go away.

Every year, there are rankings of the most stressful jobs in America, this one had PR executive as #8.  It was reassuring that mine is among the top ten according to this study.  I am not sure if that will bring me any sympathy, or better awareness by friends or family, but at least I can validate those nights when insomnia strikes.  I am not alone.

Proto provided by Andrea Meyer

Written by
at May 5, 2021

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