Public relations is a very misunderstood profession. Since I declared it as a major, I heard conflicting speculation from the media and relatives alike about whether it is dying, growing or even relevant anymore. After three years of public relations courses at the University of Florida, I went into this summer with what I thought was a pretty good grasp on the industry. After spending almost three months at Gravitate PR, I learned hands-on what was true and what was all hype.
There has been lots of speculation in the past few years about whether social media has eliminated the need for a press release. The truth is the press release is evolving. While it is still a vital part of PR used to pitch to journalists and give them full information on a topic, it is important for a brand to also stay timely with social media. Today, a press release is used when there is time to gather data and quotes, planning and proactive pitching involved. Social media can be used for a quick announcement or for something that is so time sensitive or breaking newsworthy that it looks suspicious or unethical to wait and release a crafted statement.
In school, I had always heard that marketing and PR serve totally different functions in an organization. While it is true that they have different tasks and benchmarks, they work together under the same goals for a successful communications team. In fact, most PR agencies report directly to CMOs on media opportunities and coverage.
Most people think of PR as Samantha Jones from Sex and the City drinking cosmopolitans while promoting the latest restaurant opening in New York. While this isn’t the reality for most PR pros, B2B companies that few people outside of the industry are aware of can be just as interesting as consumer products that everyone is familiar with. B2B companies operate in spaces that most consumers don’t even realize exist and may power a lot of things you use as a consumer. Working in B2B is like working behind the scenes for lots of industries!
Crisis communication is no doubt an important role of public relations, and it is important to quickly release a statement and monitor conversation during crises. However, proactive PR makes up the vast majority of work. Pitching journalists to talk to senior executives during related news cycles to position them as thought leaders help to establish the client as a leader in the space. In addition, product updates, funding announcements, and data or survey reports are all topics PR agencies are expected to help with that are generally not the life-or-death matters people imagine.
There are countless blunders tweeted out by journalists where a PR professional accidentally addresses a journalist by the wrong name or pitches him or her a topic that is totally outside of the correct beat. It is important to research a journalist’s previous coverage and areas of interest to know if he or she is interested in a topic before pitching. Journalists can get thousands of emails a day, so doing your research will save both your time and theirs.
There is a news story daily about an industry that millennials are either destroying or creating. Companies are being forced to rethink their models and trajectory for millennials as they have different needs and desires than previous demographics. Brands are increasingly ramping up corporate social responsibility programs and taking stances on important issues to relate to millennials as lifestyle brands. In addition, every major brand is trying to produce more content such as blog and social media posts that millennial consumers will want to follow and engage with since most get their news and build relationships with brands that way.
Almost no journalist will blatantly write about your client in a way that does not relate to a newsworthy topic. If it seems promotional, it likely will not get published. However, if your client is related to the breaking news of the day, it is a great opportunity to pitch a senior executive’s comments about the news or the company’s plans to deal with the outcome. It is important to be sensitive about whether or not the client is really related, timely and proactive when looking at newsjacking.
While some seem to think that communications as a field is dying as newsroom staff numbers are reduced and consumer trust in the media is in decline, it does not mean media relations is not still an important facet of PR. In addition, positions exist in PR today that have not in the past, such as social media manager, brand journalist, etc. The industry will continue to shift as new mediums evolve, but it will always be relevant for reputation maintaining and brand relationship building.
Public relations is a field for those who enjoy strategic thinking, planning, writing and relationship building. Every company needs someone to tell its story, and public relations professionals set out to do that every day. Upon reflecting on my years of studying the profession as well as my time working in it, I can rest assured that the field is certainly headed in a great direction.