Having taken the leap into my own PR business, after 35 years of working for others, I’m quick to share my business card with anyone who might have even a passing interest in hiring a PR guy.
Almost inevitably, the first thing they ask is: “What exactly to you do?” The sub-text to this question nearly always: “What the heck is PR and how can it help me?”
In one sentence, PR counselors help individuals and organizations do a better job of listening to—and communicating with—the key audiences on which their success, and perhaps even survival, depends. (See my blog “What is PR?”)
Here are six practical examples:
Crisis Communications: Unless you’ve been sleeping in an old hollow log, you know about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Penn State sex scandal, the two Carnival Cruise disasters, and the Rutgers’ abusive-coach firing. The events themselves were bad enough. But they also resulted in PR disasters. Why? The “offending” organizations were caught flat-footed. They had either failed to prepare or deploy a well-thought-out, crisis-communications plan. These plans, prepared with the help of PR pros, anticipate disasters and come up with a plan of action to respond quickly, honestly and effectively with affected audiences. Especially in this day of instant social media communication, a company should be ready to respond effectively within hours or minutes, not days.
Return on Investment: The PR industry is quickly moving towards a more bottom-line approach for its clients. If your PR counselor isn’t asking you how your PR needs fit into your organization’s business goals, they should. Any PR program worth its salt today should start with measurable goals that, directly or indirectly, can help a company grow or become more profitable. (See my blog on PR measurement.)
Communications Management: Organizations frequently do not have the money or staff to handle all of their communications needs in-house. These needs might include everything from writing strategic communications plans to handling media relations, newsletters, social media and the like. Many PR firms also have industry specialties that make them very good at developing industry-specific communications programs.
Media Relations: Virtually anyone who hires a PR counselor relies on their media relations expertise. Talking with reporters and editors can be a tricky business and many business people who have talked to reporters end up feeling like they got “burned.” PR firms know who to talk to in the media to give your story good play. Just as importantly, they know how to talk to reporters, and they make sure reporters get all of the background material they need to report a story accurately …most of the time. (Reporters will always make some mistakes.) PR professionals can also coach your spokespersons on how to handle media queries and interviews.
Political Savvy: Good PR firms are also politically savvy. Many PR programs are deployed within a politically sensitive environment. If you don’t know who the players are—whether they are mayors, legislators or behind-the-scenes power brokers— you run the risk of communicating messages that will backfire and hurt your chances of success. This would apply especially to PR clients like real estate developers, regulated utilities and high-profile corporations.
Storytelling: I’ve saved the best for last. PR professionals—or at least someone on their staff—are expert storytellers. They know how to tell your story to get the results you want. Writing is as much an art as a skill. Powerful storytelling captures the attention of the news media and the public like nothing else. Everybody likes a good story. Nobody likes a dull story. A feature writer who was a mentor to me in my cub-reporter days once said: “I can write a story about an ant crawling on the ground and make it fascinating.” She could!