It’s now well over 10 years since I turned to the dark side with my first role in public relations, having taken a sideways step from journalism, and added photography to my portfolio since. So here are some key takeaways from my first decade in the broader communications world:
The dark side it isn’t
Like many of my newsroom colleagues, I once genuinely considered PR to be the dark side, and will freely admit I felt that some must have thought I was selling out. Some of this came from the more than daily annoyance of agency executives phoning to ask if a press release they’d sent through was of interest. In the main, these were poorly written, and even more poorly pitched. Those in London were often the worst as they clearly had zero idea of our patch, and no inclination to understand.
Luckily, I’ve found most of those I’ve worked with in the last decade to be ethically considerate, switched on professionals, many moreso than some clickbait-chasing news journalists. Unfortunately, both in news reporting and public relations, there are some unscrupulous individuals who really are on the dark side because they’re more interested in a well-placed byline under a salacious headline than in producing a well-crafted, engaging story based on fact, or exposing wrongdoing by those in power.
Thankfully, this week’s Cairncross Review into the sustainability of future journalism stated: “While journalists should think carefully about how to grab people’s attention, there’s a fine line between presenting readers with news items that justifiably interest them, and showing them titillating headlines and vacuous stories.” I’m pleased to see the review’s proposal for a new Institute for Public Interest News to protect high quality journalism and prevent the collapse of the local news industry.
When I became a news reporter, I did so to join the people’s watchdog, and not much has changed in terms of my motivations and mode of operating. I’ve worked hard to build solid credentials to reflect positively on the wider public relations profession as much as myself, and help dispel the myth of the dark side. Not least is the fact I’m individually Chartered by the CIPR, an accolade that “represents the highest standard of professional excellence and integrity…reflecting your breadth of experience and achievements, it shows you keep pace in a fast-moving profession.”
Ethics are everything
Touching upon the last point, not only is it crucial that prospective clients fully check out a potential PR partner to ensure they’re legit and operate ethically; it’s just as important that those who operate in communications take a stand on behaviour by clients that’s less than transparent.
As I stated in a previous blog, “For me…and many other professional communicators, the practice of public relations is the application of ethics. We are, and should be the conscience of the organisations we represent. More often than not, it’s the lack of understanding and value afforded public relations from outside the industry that contributes to ethical mis-steps being taken by organisations. But we must continue to challenge.”
Put simply, I won’t work with an organisation to deliver messages I don’t believe in.
PR is not a one-trick pony
There is still much confusion as to what PR is, and the differing terminology in PR and marketing, the boundaries between which are continually blurring, doesn’t help.
Many people still think of PR as media relations, and this is one specialism I continue to offer because of my track record in this area and background in journalism. Plus, I enjoy it. But public relations, or communications to some, is a broad craft that includes a raft of activities, from devising strategies and crisis management to internal communications, public affairs, event management, social media management, digital marketing and more.
Modern communications is a multi-disciplined field involving paid, earned, shared and owned media channels (the PESO model) and the best practitioners are able to offer a bespoke package tailored to each client, campaign or brief.
There’s no such thing as the general public
Because communications activity has be so carefully targeted, for us, there is no general public. Instead, there are many publics, or audiences, and before we can influence them, we need first to understand and then prioritise them. A lot of work goes into understanding the motivations of your specific audiences, and any psychological barriers or triggers that could help or hinder your message getting through to them.
These days, consumers are exposed to so many messages. Getting them to notice yours, let alone act upon it, is a complex business and extremely competitive.
Not everyone can do it
Often, people think communications isn’t a service worth paying for. Many organisations wrongly assume they can do it successfully themselves, or hand it over to the office junior. This is short-sighted.
A good communications professional can offer a crucial outside perspective based on expertise and experience. Try as you might, you can’t always understand the nuances involved in crafting a campaign that will cut through the noise and deliver measurable results. It takes time and it takes graft.
Writing in Forbes, Robert Wynne said: “PR professionals [and] smart entrepreneurs…know that public relations isn’t just difficult, in some cases, it’s nearly impossible. Reporters and other influencers aren’t going to spread your message, or promote you or your business just for fun. There’s got to be something in it for them – a great story, insight into a trend, or some fascinating information that will entice their readers and make them look good in front of their editors…Remember – advertising is what you pay for, PR is what you pray for.”
You’re doing it anyway; you may as well do it properly
That said, because public relations is the result of everything you say, do, and everything that’s said about you, whether you have an outsourced communications service or in-house team or nothing formal in place at all, you’re still communicating. So, wouldn’t it be better to take control of it and properly resource your efforts using the services of an expert?