PR? Hmm, what is that exactly?
Recently, I have been asked by people. So...what is PR? What does it involve and how do you kind of do it? Or I've had responses to my questions about whether a business does PR which resulted in...'Oh yes, we've done a bit of PR I think. We took out an advert in that magazine'.
So this blog aims to explain exactly what PR involves, based on my own experience and what I have been taught or self-taught over the years. By no means is there an absolute method as much like other forms of communication, PR continues to evolve so I'll just cover the basics and a bit of a jargon buster towards the end. I also want to make it clear, I am not against advertising because with that financial investment, a lot of print and digital publications would fold and I think in some cases, we have come full circle on the cull of printed magazines or papers. They are perhaps stronger than ever.
PR is...a number of things but primarily, it's about creating credible and positive awareness in the news. Whether this be through journalists, via presenters on TV and in radio or even through influencers. The point is that these media outlets exist and it's the role of a PR to tap into the relevant media outlets depending on their client needs (a PR role can exist within a business or it can be outsourced to an individual / agency, my experience is largely the latter so that's how this blog takes it's perspective). It's also the role of a PR to build relationships with journalists or influencers to better understand the kind of news they are looking for.
At the very basic level, PR will involve creating some 'news'. Now, what a client thinks is news may not always be the case but it's about finding relevant, worthy news that a journalist is willing to write about and audiences are willing to read. Equally, it's the role of the PR to educate clients about what could make the news and this will hopefully all be outlined in a lovely PR plan for the quarter or year.
Typically, creating news will involve a press release which can be drafted by the PR appointed and edited by the client (or in the ideal situation, no amends made!). The press release should have a standard-ish style as this is what the journalist will expect to see, e.g. catchy headline, summary of story in the first paragraph or sentence, a quote and a picture always helps. Beyond this, it is up to the PR to apply the tone of the client or brand and make it grammatically correct etc. The best advice I can give for writing a press release is to pretend your mum, dad or next door neighbour (someone completely detached from the subject) is reading it. Will they understand the story clearly enough in the way you have written it?
The approach to issuing the release to media varies as every PR has their own style or more importantly, they have invested the time to understand how that journalist likes to receive information. This may involve a bit of soft journalist stalking either on Twitter as they may tweet requests or looking at how they have previously covered news. I can't give all my tips away so I'll stop there! But there is still a place for a phone call and I favour this vs. a blanket email send.
Now your press release is out there, it's the role of the PR to try and secure some coverage. So this may involve re-visiting journalists you have spoken to or emailed and work out how interested they are in the story. I think gone are the days where it's about getting hundreds of pieces of coverage (yes, my earliest PR experience did involve this - hundreds!) but more so about getting quality coverage in the right titles so it can be read by whom it's intended for.
So what can go in a press release exactly? Any number of things; a new product launch, a new appointment within an organisation, a new service offering etc. Press releases can also be supported with research, consumer polls and statistics to back up the news story if applicable.
However, PR is not just about press releases and I did say at the beginning this blog is intended to just cover the absolute basics. PR is about creating awareness and getting noticed for it. This could be through a stunt or some consumer research but it's about demonstrating a cause and a purpose. The PR element of brand activity can sit alongside a wider marketing campaign. So...expect more blogs on PR to continue some of these discussions.
To finish off..some PR terms and what they mean.
"sell-in" - this is the process of initially liaising with the journalist about your press release
"follow up" - this is what a PR does when they haven't been about to get hold of a journalist at the sell-in stage
"warm lead" - explains a journalist who has shown interest in the press release
"media list" - is typically a spreadsheet / database of contacts, publications, email addresses and phone numbers, allowing the press release to be issued efficiently
"national media" - refers to newspapers, tv, radio and magazines that are available up and down the country i.e. nationally
"regional media" - refers to newspapers, tv, radio and magazines that are only available locally to said region
"coverage" - editorial content that has been secured in news sections of a publication, well away from adverts
It's probably worth checking out a couple of websites relating to the industry:
CIPR is a great one to understand PR
PR Week is brilliant for news and PR campaigns
More recently, I have become a fan of (and featured in) PR Moments