PR is Not Media Relations
By Nichole Culverwell ACIPR
At the risk of offending some influential people, I want to call out the Institute of Directors. The IoD website offers some excellent resources for business people, but their fact sheet on public relations is a little misleading. However, giving the IoD the benefit of the doubt, it does reflect a common perception about PR that needs to be addressed.
Let’s consider the first sentence of the IoD fact sheet entitled Effective PR. It says: ‘A good image is a valuable asset.’ Well yes, but ‘image’ is a representation of a person or organisation, rather than its true values and behaviours. If we change that statement to ‘a good reputation is a valuable asset’, we’re off to a better start.
The fact sheet continues: ‘Public relations (PR) helps you create good publicity, building your reputation with customers and others whose opinion matters to you.’
Again, the nuances are misleading. Public relations does do these things, but this statement falls short of the powerful impact of a well-conceived approach to public relations, supported by the board and filtered to every step of the business.
After that introduction, things start to go downhill. Why? Because most of the article goes on to talk about media relations. Not public relations.
The reader is advised: ‘Your immediate objective is positive publicity. PR can be used to increase awareness of your business and products. Even a single mention in a national paper can generate a large number of enquiries. You can publicise events, such as product launches, through the media. Trade publications often have sections for this kind of news. PR can reinforce advertising campaigns and other promotional activities. Favourable comments by journalists about your product are more credible than the claims you make in your advertisements.’
All of this is true, but the writer is describing media relations, just one strand of work that public relations practitioners can bring to bear.
This brings me to the crux of the matter. Public relations is not media relations. Public relations is not writing and sending a press release to the newspaper or working with a journalist to devise a story, or keep a story out of the paper.
The tactics employed by a PR agency are varied and in some cases more effective than media relations. Plus, in an age of user-generated news, shrinking circulation figures, the explosion of online influencers and shorter than ever attention spans, the focus on media relations might even be misplaced.
So, what should we reference in an introductory article about public relations? Ethical business practices that stand up to internal and external scrutiny. Strategies, based on research and proven insights, that deepen relationships with customers, influencers and stakeholders and encourage dialogue where appropriate. A plan to reach the audience, using different and relevant channels and tailored messages, and a focus on reflecting the core values of a business outwards.
To quote the Chartered Institute of Public Relations: ‘Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
‘Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’
Compare that to the IoD’s description and you can see why I believe it falls short.
Media relations is the discipline which looks after an organisation or individual’s relationship with the media, whether that is broadcast, print or online. Sometimes we might send out a press release, but in reality more often the work entails working closely with editors to write specific articles, briefing a client’s spokesperson to meet both the needs of the editor commissioning the article while also communicating the brand message or viewpoint.
PR practitioners need to think like a news editor, building features that incorporate case studies and stories, research, expert opinion and great photography. We see the potential issues that might be disruptive, or even damaging, and try and align the often conflicting objectives of the client and the editor.
We seek out op eds or profile pieces for our clients or find just the right column, in just the right article, to share a very specific message.
We work closely with clients to devise thought leadership articles and craft messages. All while advising on reputational issues, spotting the opportunities and issues that lie ahead and in many cases helping to shape internal communications as well.
We build relationships with stakeholders who might hold the key to a business’s success, identify potential brand ambassadors and extend reach through social media, using our story-telling skills to create well-written content for sharing.
We talk to CEOs, to the HR department, to business development directors and entrepreneurs. We are a valued sounding board at the highest level of an organisation. Why? Because our work creates the environment within which a business can find success and reach its objectives.
That is why, in many instances, the PR team is the lead agency in an integrated marketing campaign. PR is not media relations. Taking the view that we are here simply to send out a press release will cut your organisation off from a strategic business function that helps to make the difference between success and failure.
In short, PR is far more than media relations and we invite all directors to find out more.