Years ago I was asked, “What is PR?”
At the time, I replied that public relations is the art and science of getting people to learn who you are, care about what you’re doing, and be inspired to take a supporting action. PR is about protecting a reputation and strategically handling information. (Try putting that on a business card.)
I recently shared my tips for setting PR goals with marketing strategist, Meghan Maydel. I included the same explanation that I used more than 10 years ago.
The concept of PR is the same, but the methods have changed tremendously.
What does a PR specialist do?
PR is a widely misunderstood profession. Some people think PR is about planning and attending glamorous events. While that is one aspect, the daily PR hustle is much more.
PR consists of pitching (e.g., emails and phone calls), writing, interviews, meetings with editors, media training, strategy, brainstorming, publishing, etc. At any given moment I have at least 20 tabs open in my browser. It’s tough to synthesize the role of a PR specialist into a LinkedIn profile. Trust me, I tried.
If you’re not clear about the work behind the work of a PR specialist, and how we serve brands, I’ve curated 10 PR “things” you should know.
1. Community relations
PR work, for non-profit and for-profit companies alike, can involve a lot of community relations activities. For certain brands, the goal is to raise awareness, visibility and support among community members. This could mean hosting neighborhood meet-ups, attending town halls and city council meetings, collaborating with local schools, or launching city-wide awareness campaigns.
2. Committee work
There’s always a local committee that’s working hard to move the needle on specific initiatives. Actively serving on committees raises the profile of a PR specialist and the brands they work with. Being a local member also gives you direct access to key leadership and stakeholders that your clients may need access to. PR is about building long-term relationships and committee involvement is a key tactic.
3. Digital marketing
As a PR specialist it’s important to deliver high impact and memorable digital experiences. We are tasked with elevating a brands’ digital footprint. So, I’m always busy building authentic online communities to help brands connect with followers on social media platforms and more.
4. Media relations
PR is nothing without relationships. High value connections to journalists, reporters, editors, and producers can take years to forge and maintain. A great PR specialist is a skilled media relations professional.
Not only do we secure media opportunities, we also guide clients through media training (e.g., talking points, interview prep, message delivery, image building, etc.). We do more than land great press. We focus on PR efforts that place key messages with key audiences; contributing to a brand’s bottom-line.
5. Crisis communications
Sometimes founders and CEOs say the wrong thing. Facebook Live broadcasts can easily go awry. Misguided tweets can send the public into a frenzy. On a daily basis, brands face issues that risk the reputation they’ve spent years building. A PR specialist will protect and defend a company’s reputation while working to gain back any lost public trust.
Okay, yeah. Sometimes, PR is about event planning. From media tours and menu tasting dinners to Instagram meetups and galas, we’re always behind the scenes playing a part. We’re also front and center schmoozing, making introductions and meeting new people. Don’t think for one split second that we’re not working the room.
7. Content marketing
Creating and distributing content is one of the biggest roles I own as a PR specialist. From writing blog posts, newsletters and social media updates, to internal communications, intranet digests, letters and so much more. It requires extensive research, organization and scheduling. Delivering quality content to key audiences is an essential PR role.
8. Visual communications
“Color visuals increase readership by 80%. Multimedia adds feelings to facts. And 40% of people respond better to visual information than written text.” The era of media: visual public relations, is here.
“The standard stock image of your product with a boring caption simply won’t cut it. Ditto for that sizzle reel that even puts your account team to sleep after 30 seconds. You need to get in. Go big. Get out. You need to not only inform, but entice and entertain,” PRSay suggests.
This means you’ll often find me styling a photoshoot for press photos, product shots, visual-social platforms like Instagram or creating brand GIFs with Adobe Creative Suite. Many of today’s PR specialists own the visual communications aspect from ideation to production.
9. Analytics and reporting
PR measurement is a hot topic. It is also, at times, overlooked. However, a talented PR specialist will connect PR activities to bottom-line brand objectives. Studying the effectiveness of PR efforts is important. It helps us know what works and what we need to ditch.
10. Client service
Client service is a huge part of public relations. This is why I only take on clients I am personally passionate about and invested in; I have to go to bat for them daily.
I’ve filled water glasses at a restaurant table and responded to Facebook comments well past midnight for clients. My kids and I have even modeled for clients when they couldn’t find anyone else (not my thing, by the way). Client service is a huge part of the PR package.
I’ve managed to list 10 things, but there’s so much more. Curious? Let’s have coffee.
This article has been edited.
Bridget Forney is a Baltimore-based public relations and digital media specialist. She brings brands to life in unexpected ways and has earned industry nods the American Marketing Association, Public Relations Society of America, and the American Advertising Federation. She was named New Professional of the Year in 2010 by the PRSA; one of ’20 in Their Twenties’ by the Maryland Daily Record; and a ‘Rising PR Star’ by PRNews. Connect with @thepressmarket on Twitter.
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