According to the Oxford English Dictionary, public relations is “the business of keeping a good public image by an organisation or famous person”.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) definition is, as you might expect, a little more detailed, but is basically summed up as: “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.”
However, ask a general business audience the same question and you will probably get a wide range of answers.
While some will talk positively about PR in terms of reputation and image management, others will dismiss it as “writing press releases” or talk patronisingly about “spin” or the stereotypical “glitz and glamour” view of PR.
The truth is even seasoned PR practitioners often struggle to sum up what their profession is about and what their job entails.
So, as someone who has only recently entered the world of PR (18 months ago to be precise), and who admittedly had some misconceptions about PR in his previous career as a journalist, let me try to explain what public relations is and what it is not.
Public relations isn’t:
- Writing press releases
Ok, so writing press releases can still be an important part of the job, especially for clients who value traditional media coverage. But there has always been so much more to PR than just press releases, and in today’s multimedia environment they are even less relevant. Even in terms of producing content the press release is looking distinctly old-fashioned. With fewer journalists producing a greater amount of content for a wider variety of media than ever it is essential to carefully tailor your pitches and offer a broader but more targeted range of content including opinion pieces, listicles, how to guides etc.
- All glitz and glamour
Yes, occasionally you might have the opportunity to get dressed to the nines and attend a glamorous awards ceremony, a glitzy drinks party or the launch of a trendy new bar. But on most of these occasions you will be working on behalf of a client and representing your company at the same time, so you will have to be on your best behaviour.
For a much more grounded view of PR, picture intense desk-based research, hours of social media management, energetic team brainstorms, creative content production and client meetings. Each of which are important but hardly glamorous tasks.
Managing an organisation or individual’s reputation means having to portray them positively in the public sphere. This involves sharing their good news and successes, building relationships with influencers and minimising the impact of any negative stories. It does not involve immoral or underhand practices such as “spinning” the truth, “smearing” competitors or outright lying.
Public relations is:
- Hard work
Journalists like to talk about the long hours they work but they probably don’t realise that PR professionals work just as hard. A typical PR day can involve a wide variety of work including planning, researching, content creation, media monitoring, social media management, brainstorming sessions, client meetings, contact building, pitching and new business development, to name just a few. Like journalists, PRs often have to work outside normal hours, including being on call during the evenings and at weekends, on behalf of clients.
PR is a career that is constantly rewarding. There’s nothing like achieving a great result on behalf of a client, whether it’s securing a piece of coverage, devising a successful multi-media campaign or completing an award-winning project.