Almost 10 years into my tech PR career, I still have family and friends ask the age-old question – “So, what exactly do you do? What is PR exactly?”
Why do PR people feel that no one understands what we do? Because few do. And public relations isn’t always a straight path. I originally started college as a marketing major, but I soon realized that maybe marketing wasn’t right for me (the required Accounting and Statistics put me over the edge). But what drove me to PR was the idea of positioning companies or products in campaigns and saying that I had a hand in making them successful.
My career in PR has been very different than I expected, in a good way. But how should I (or anyone) explain it to people who don’t know what it is?
What PR Is:
PR has been seen as media relations by many. Of course, that’s not all it is, but it’s typically an ingredient. An organization or individual has a story and we will connect with the right journalist to tell it. Or, they don’t have a story and we help them find or create one. We work strategically to craft the perfect story and tell it through a range of media – from national to trade to local markets. These aren’t commercials; they’re news or features.
A key goal of public relations, especially B2B PR, is to position companies and executives as leaders in their industries and people with interesting and provocative ideas about it. While generating stories in the press is one way to position someone as a leader to watch, there are other ways to execute a successful thought leadership program. We often do this through written content like opinion pieces and bylined articles, or through speaking opportunities at industry conferences, and of course through social media content. Check out this piece on various ways PR can support thought leadership programs.
A close companion of marketing – but separate
Traditionally marketing and PR work close together, and in some organizations PR reports in to marketing. In most cases PR teams will coordinate with their counterparts in marketing to prepare for and support product launches and other news. The two should also collaborate on brand messaging well in advance of the start of a PR program. In fact, our CEO Dorothy has outlined occasions when PR and marketing must work together. What’s interesting is that there’s still a gulf to be bridged between the two functions. Together, public relations and marketing teams can accomplish more if they understand what role each has in an integrated marketing communications plan.
Social media engagement
Since the explosion of social media, PR professionals have seen it as a key component to any successful campaign. Social media enables brands to reach an audience directly, and it can also be a powerful way to amplify earned media. A given message, whether a TV interview clip or a simple Instagram post, can go viral in real time. It’s also trackable through hashtags and tagging. So, although neither PR nor Marketing can claim to “own” social media outreach, it’s essential to both, making PR efforts stronger and more impactful.
What PR Is Not:
News and feature stories are often referred to as “earned media” to differentiate from the more commonly understood paid advertising. But to this day, people will ask me if a billboard for a certain company is PR. When I say it’s outdoor advertising, they respond “well isn’t that the same thing?” Both advertising and PR help build brands and both reach target audiences. The most obvious difference is that advertising is commonly paid space or time, while PR’s earned media are in the form of commentary in news articles or TV interviews. Do these two work closely together for similar goals? Absolutely. Both want to position companies to a desired target audience but in somewhat different ways. PR people often claim that our earned media results offer greater credibility than advertising, but of course paid media has its own advantages, including perfect control over the message.
Celebrity relations, exclusively
The first thing some say when they hear you work in PR is, “Oh, like Samantha from ‘Sex and The City’! You work with celebrities!” Argh! What people often don’t understand is that PR is quite specialized. There are many sectors, from tech to healthcare to beauty and even, yes, talent or entertainment. Will there be opportunities to work with celebrities in various lines of work? Sure. But don’t expect to work it regularly if you don’t work in entertainment PR.
A reliable sales tool
I’ve sometimes heard clients say that the PR needs to drive product sales. For one client, we secured a segment on the TODAY Show showcasing an innovative new personal safety product as a must-have for college-aged women. The segment was posted to the TODAY Show’s social channels and was widely shared. Our client could see that traffic was coming from the show’s viewers, and they were even approached by two different venture funds for possible investment as a result of the segment. But there was no explosion of sales. On the other hand, we had an arts and crafts retailer’s product featured in a Buzzfeed story during a blizzard and their stores instantly sold out of it the day the story hit. The lesson? PR can drive sales, but it’s not usually a reliable and repetitive driver the way advertising, direct marketing and sales are.