Sunday, September 20, 2020

Don’t know what PR is?

Public Relations Officers, Managers, Practitioners and Professionals are popping up everywhere ÔÇô all big companies have them. Government has a bevy of them. But what exactly do they do? And what is it that they are trying to achieve?

Historian Daneil J. Boorstin famously said,

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers”

In short, that is what public relations (PR) is all about ÔÇô showing your client in the best light possible. But if it’s that simple, why is it so hard to explain? Why is it that after so many years in the industry my friends and family still tell people that I “work for a newspaper” or worse, am a “Spin Doctor”?!

This article will explore what PR is, what it isn’t, and how it can be useful to you. But first, let me start by saying:

Don’t know what PR is? Don’t worry!

A big part of the reason that PR is so tricky to define is because so much of the work in PR lies behind the scenes. We pitch the stories, but journalists write them. We write the speeches, but executives deliver them. We plan the corporate social responsibility campaign, but the CEO accepts the accolades.

If you’ve read a story in a newspaper or on a website about a new product, a PR practitioner probably shared the information with the journalist and lined up the interviews. If you see an article based on a great piece of research, chances are a PR practitioner gave the research to the journalist, along with a few story angles and ideas on how to cover it. When you read an article where a journalist mentions that they visited a specific restaurant, the reason that they decided to go to that restaurant is probably because a PR practitioner set it up.

A PR practitioner is a facilitator ÔÇô working quietly in the background, sharing bits of information and ideas as and when it suits their client. In fact, one of the best ways to know when a PR practitioner is doing their job well is when you don’t even know that they are there…

To further add to the slippery nature of the PR beast, it is important to highlight that PR is not only about making people / places / products look great in the media ÔÇô it’s also doing it without directly paying for it! Always remember ÔÇô people are more likely to believe what a journalist has written about you in an article, than what you have written about yourself in an advert. Therefore, PR is not about buying space in the media, but rather it is about creating it. The key to this is finding the ‘news angle’ or making it ‘newsworthy’ ÔÇô which is often what complicates matters.

Journalists have a responsibility to their readers. It is their role within society to be the ‘truth seekers’, which means that they need to be vigilant about what they put into the media landscape as news ÔÇô is the story interesting? Is it relevant? Will anyone care? These are just some of the questions they must ask themselves before putting something onto the news agenda, and this is where the PR wheels often start to fall off.

A GOOD PR practitioner will have the confidence (along with the knowledge to back it up) to tell a client that although they may find the fact that they have developed a new type of ink for industrial printers fascinating, no one else will. To put it into context – it is like when someone feels the need to share stories of their baby’s bowel movements with you ÔÇô fantastically interesting to them, the proud parents, but information you really could live without!

A GREAT PR practitioner will take something slightly interesting about their client and MAKE it newsworthy. For example, coupling new ink for industrial printers with great works of art:

The new ink ÔÇô which alone could not only be considered ‘un-newsworthy’, but down-right dull – could be used to print replicas of great works of art, which could then be hung all over the city, encouraging people to appreciate art, as well as the amazing technology ÔÇô and INK ÔÇô used to reproduce them. Bringing art to the masses with one great (technology and ink based) brush stroke!

Journalists are likely to find this interesting ÔÇô it is new, it appeals to people and there is thought behind it. Journalists will WANT to cover this story, and the PR practitioner will make sure that they do it well.

Unfortunately in developing countries, with developing media, companies and bad PR practitioners often try to by pass this ‘make it newsworthy’ step and instead try to bully their way onto the news agenda with threats of ‘we won’t buy adverting space in your paper’. This is a very short-sighted approach. As the media industries and the economies of such countries grow, the reliance newspapers and magazines have on individual companies’ advertising spend will diminish. At best, they will no longer give you any editorial space ÔÇô at worse, expose you as blackmailers.

Another common trend in emerging markets is to see PR practitioners acting not as ‘facilitators’, but as ‘gatekeepers’. This is often done in a feeble attempt to either keep out of the news completely, or control what the journalist will say. Again, this is a short-sighted viewpoint:

– A journalist who is provided with correct information and access to experts is far more likely to write a well balanced and accurate piece
– A journalist who is kept in the dark is likely to get things wrong and misquote and mislead

When something has gone wrong, burying your head in the sand will not make the story go away ÔÇô but taking charge of the information that is provided in a timely and media-friendly way is likely to lessen the blow. A PR practitioner that withholds information and spokespeople ÔÇô the ‘gatekeeper’ ÔÇô will not get you the best possible coverage out of a bad situation, but a PR Officer who facilitates, introduces and provides information will.

PR is all about showing even the ugly in the best way possible. Think of a PR practitioner as a reputation enhancer and protector ÔÇô with a variety of tools and services under their belt that are designed to make you look fabulous ÔÇô the communications version of your best pair of jeans; the ones that push and pull all the lumps and bumps into the right places to give you that perfect silhouette every time.

And if you are still in doubt as to the value of good PR, I leave you with this final quote from Mr. Bill Gates:

“If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”

For more information please contact Kylie Keevil at [email protected]

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.