“So, what exactly do you do?”
I looked up at the screen for inspiration, then to my colleague, and back at the screen again. To my dismay, there were 3, no, 4, bullet points that my colleague had already chalked off.
I desperately hoped that she’d take the lead on this one, and thought that I’d conveyed as much through subtle eyebrow twitches, but alas, I proceeded to ramble, speaking long enough to suggest that I was an expert in my craft, but not too long so not to bore the dozen or so PR hopefuls who were in attendance for my advice on getting into the profession.
The truth is, summarising what PR is is a challenge. Ironic, that in a profession that so often demands succinct elevator pitches and expert elucidation, explaining the basics of the job itself is a stumbling block for many professionals, myself included.
Of course, PR can easily be broken down into a series of ‘to-dos’ and checklists. You make press lists, pitch journalists, staff media briefings, handle crises, manage client expectations, and bring creative ideas into reality – but that’s all a bit, well, granular.
It’s compounded by the fact that, year-on-year, so much seems to change. Tweeting journalists is now an acceptable, and sometimes more successful, avenue of contact; video content is becoming more and more popular, requiring agencies and individuals to expand their toolset; and influencers are now more of an, erm, influence on the success of a creative campaign than ever before.
So, what is PR in 2018?
Merriam Webster defines PR as “the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution”, while the Oxford English dictionary says it’s “the professional maintenance of a favourable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person.”
That doesn’t exactly shed too much light on the situation.
We know that, ultimately, the majority of clients will judge agencies on the coverage they may or may not secure, but there needs to be a paradigm shift from us as professionals, moving away from focusing on securing coverage for coverage’s sake, and instead asking ourselves “what does my client actually need?”
Is their workload overbearing? Are they securing the right sort of leads? What are their business outcomes? What kind of audience do they need to be put in front of to help achieve those outcomes?
It’s about going above and beyond; whether that manifests itself in the form of news jumps, handling an inbound email to declutter their inbox, on-boarding employees, and, most critically, being honest and knowing when to say no, even if it’s the kind of brutal honesty that has you wishing you’d descend into hell there and then.
If we insist on boiling it down to simple checklists and to-dos, our relationships with our clients will forever lay subservient to robotic to-ing and fro-ing, leading to little more than a pat on the back when things have gone well, and an awkward phone call when they haven’t.
Adopting a more holistic approach, grounded in a genuine desire to understand and help your client, is the foundation of any successful PR professional and institution in 2018.
Or maybe that’s all a load of fluff and nonsense.
Hey, I do work in PR after all.