Countering the public’s poor perception of PR

In a society where instant communication is the accepted (and expected) norm and where citizens are actively engaging with brands, it’s no surprise that Public Relations has become a key component of any business’ communications strategy.

That being said, PR as an industry is known for having a less than favourable reputation thanks to a few unscrupulous actors who have been falsely assumed to be demonstrative of the industry as a whole – Yes, we’re blaming you, Max Clifford…

Do not assume Ab Fab is accurate… its not. Credit: Sports Relief 2012

The irony of this poor rep is not lost on us.

Contrary to the misconception, PR professionals are not evil propaganda merchants weaving a web of lies for the public.

Viv Segal (Managing Director of South Africa’s Sefin Marketing) said that “PR means telling the truth and working ethically, even when all the media want is headlines and all the public wants is scapegoats. Public relations fails when there is no integrity”, and that’s a statement that is heartfelt amongst many of my peers.

Yes, what we do is centred around managing our clients’ reputations, and yes, our aim is to promote their brand and the work they do. But rather than some sinister plot of lies and spin, we do this by paying attention to what the public is interested in, finding solid connections with the work of our businesses, and by building relationships with those who matter whether they’re journalists, influencers, celebrities or Joe Bloggs from down’t road.

The main issues we face can be isolated in a variety of ways but at the end of the day, it all boils down to a lack of trust.

We have a symbiotic relationship with journalists – though they remain the gatekeepers to our securing media coverage. By lazy PRs – or those new enough to the industry to not know any better –sending out swathes of badly-written, untargeted, and often unsound press releases with often little actual news value, this relationship is being eroded.  When you consider how many of these they must receive on a weekly basis – given that there are approximately 55’000 PR professionals currently working in the UK according to the most recent ONS Labour Force Survey – is it any surprise why they are becoming increasingly cynical and unwilling to work with us.

Counteracting this issue is one that can only be tackled by good work being created on an agency by agency basis, with experienced PR professionals teaching those more junior what is and isn’t appropriate.

That however is not the whole picture. Its not longer enough for agencies to just come up with great creative content. Although this is indeed the first step, we must additionally assess and prove the impact of our work.

That means… METRICS.

Everything we do for a client must be measured; and measurement must be methodic, regular, segmented, accessible and agile. We may generate customised PR reports containing our outputs and then create clipping decks to trace how these outputs performed. The primary focus of most measurement for PR professionals is qualitative i.e., how our clients look, where our work has been published, the tone attached by the journalist to our clients information. This is the core challenge for us to meet as clients often find it easier to understand and appreciate concrete quantitative information on the number of press releases published, number of attendees to an event or number of ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ to a page.

No matter what type of measurement we use however, tying our results to our overall objective(s) is imperative. After all, outputs that don’t relate to what we are attempting to accomplish are really just wasted energy.

By applying the principles of good communications to our own industry, businesses and careers – rather than just to the work we do for our clients – we can better challenge the next person who jokes about our industry being full of spin, and perhaps educate them a bit more about what we actually do and what our work can accomplish.

Do you have any bigger ideas on how we can change the perception on PR? Let me know in a comment below.

I’m nice when you get to know me, honest!

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Day in the life

Making that transition from education into professional life can often be a struggle. Suddenly, you’re expected to hit the ground running and put all that theory into practice with often only the support of your colleagues and online career advice to guide you.

That being said, it’s important to get an idea of what you’re jumping into as an Account Executive so – taking into consideration that no day is really the same in PR – I thought I’d grant you all a small exposé as to what a normal day at London’s Houston PR (the agency which gave me my ‘break’ into the world of professional public relations) would involve.

6am – My first alarm which (unsurprisingly) I would snooze… repeatedly. Suffice to say, I’m not a morning person.

7.10am – Leave for the bus, usually running because I’d rather do that than spend an extra second standing out in the cold/wet.

7.30am – The bus arrives. It’s supposed to be an hours journey by (perhaps typically for the London rush hour) it never is; luckily I’m early enough on the route to regularly manage to get a seat for the majority of the journey.

8.40am – Arrive in central London and buy coffee no. 1 of the day as well as a bagel or small salmon baguette. The baristas in both Pret and Cafe Nero know me on sight, but Cafe Nero wins the morning coffee slot with their extra shot – something I definitely need.

8.45am – Arrive at the office (just around the corner) and check national news websites, my to-do list for the day and my inbox (both in-case of something urgent that needs attending to and also in case I’ve heard back from any journalists).

9.10am – Weekly staff meeting to discuss updates on all clients as well as where we are within our new business pipeline.

9.40am – Quick briefing with my direct superior to go over my notes and discuss direct actionables for the week which I add to my to-do list in order of priority. I also provide an update on the progress of the bi-weekly insight sessions I currently run on social management and analytical tools.

9.50am – Check keywords for whether any coverage has been achieved overnight and (after verifying them) add any new pieces to the clients’ cuttings files and coverage documents alongside their respective details. We have a couple of clients who prefer daily updates so this is a common (and relatively simple) task for when I first get into the office.

10.10am –  A few responses have come in from a couple well-known magazines requesting more information about a client’s product line. There are also one or two blogger requests for items to review. I check their circulation; one has a high enough reach to be suitable so I fire off an email checking how the client would prefer it handled in terms of logistics.

10.30am – Called into an impromptu meeting by an Account Manager to discuss a new client whose meeting they want me to sit in on later today.

11am – Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. And I finally get the chance to eat the breakfast I’ve been picking at for the last two hours.

11.15am – Back at my desk and client has called in needing a list of all major technology publications so I start going through our online databases pulling out titles that are appropriate for their market, outlining their circulation as well as contact information for the most appropriate journalist, and collating them within a report to mail over.

12pm – A call comes in from a client requesting feedback on something I have been involved in but not directly enough to be able to help. She sounds stressed and expresses that it’s needed within the next day or two. I make a note of her request and forward it to the appropriate colleague with an offer to handle it if needed; they’re in meetings for most of the day but will most likely be checking email periodically. I also make a point to reassure the client and give a fair estimate of when she can expect to hear from us. I’m hoping that after a month or so of emails, she might remember me – she doesn’t, but she sounds a lot more positive by the end of the call so I hope she will do soon.

12.10pm – Back to trawling databases for leads. I’m now cross-referencing the list I’ve compiled against publications’ reach and the names of journalists with whom I know our agency has a pre-existing relationship. It’s always nice to skip the introduction stage after all.

12.30pm – Proof and make edits to a press release that is due to go out. It needs bulking out with more facts and/or quotes so I trawl through the hivemind of Google for something appropriate and tweak it before sending it back to my colleague to go out.

1pm – The coverage report I sent out for one of my clients was missing a couple of items that didn’t show up on our media monitoring. The client noticed the omission and – given that its the second time in as many weeks that our cuttings service hasn’t picked up everything it should – understandably they’re pissed and (because they know it’s not an oversight on our end) I’m tasked to recify the issue and liase with the media monitoring agency to try and find out where the gap is in their scope.

1.20pm – Lunchtime! Due to living in a glorified box without kitchen facilities, this is my main meal of the day so I take my leave of the office for a short walk and some “me” time (often used to plan these blog posts) before making a choice on what to eat… working on the Strand means the options are endless so today I swing by Koshari Street (an Egyptian street food cafe on St Martin’s Lane) for a Lentil and Swiss Chard soup.

2.20pm – Social media is an important and essential tool for both our clients and our business. To keep ourselves up to date with the myriad of tools and tricks out there, I host a bi-weekly insight session on key tools that would benefit specific clients but this means taking the time to research and assess their relevance before adding the relevant details to the powerpoint I’m designing.

3.30pm – I sit in on a client meeting with a manager and the MD. We have a couple of international clients so despite the difficulty of juggling timezones, regular conference calls allow us to better understand their needs and expectations as well as making sure they appreciate our role and where we are within their campaign.

4.30pm – The meeting took longer than expected so I start finishing up today’s To-Do list and make my final calls to journalists following up on coverage or pitches.

5pm – Before I leave, I tidy my desk space and write up the key actionables for tomorrow morning.

5.30pm – Leave the office and grab a sandwich or soup before I get to the bus stop. I can already see that the traffic is insane and – as more people leave the office – I know it’s only going to get worse.

7.15pm – Home. Finally.

7.30pm – Shower

8pm – Blog and skype my family and friends.

9.30pm – Put on a film and try to relax. More often than not I end up scrolling through Twitter and industry news sites.

11pm – Sleep.