What does a public relations agency do?

QuestionMarkNo, seriously! Perhaps you’ve come here looking for public relations help with your company or a job in the field, or maybe you simply stumbled across our blog (in that case, hello and welcome!). But either way, there’s a good chance you may find yourself asking that very question at one point or another.

And you’re not alone. There’s a reason we have a dedicated Facebook page about the fact that explaining what we do can be tough – even for us folks in the industry!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded questions from people about “ads” or “articles” at personal gatherings and family functions when the inevitable job topic arises. I don’t think I’ve ever described it the same way twice; the definition may start off the same, but it usually ends up taking different paths each time, based on the audience and the types of questions they’re asking.

And rather than give a tactical rundown of a ‘typical’ days’ worth of activities (e.g. writing a press release or pitch, tweeting, calling media contacts, brainstorming during a messaging session, monitoring client and competitor news), it’s oftentimes more effective to address the actual purpose of our job – meaning raising awareness, shaping a brand, influencing demand, generating leads, and much, much more.

So, inspired by a recent Forbes article on the topic, we decided to tackle the topic ourselves. See below for a sampling of some of the PerkettPR staff’s perspective on wrangling the ever-evolving definition of PR and what it is we’re doing here:

“One of my favorite quotes having to do with the definition of PR is from Reader’s Digest, attributed to M. Booth and Associates: “If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday,’ that is advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that is promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that is publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it that is public relations.’ But even though this definition drives at the heart of PR, what we do encompasses a whole lot more than that!”

“On a daily basis our roles are ever-changing and hard to define – from media relations, crisis communications, social media, copywriting, event coordination, C-level strategy sessions, reputation management, videography, web design, customer service, infographic creation, etc. But the one constant is the overarching common thread between them that stays the same – the value we add by earning people’s attention though a thorough understanding of our audience(s), well-crafted stories and good old-fashioned communication skills.”

“Public relations is a form of marketing where I utilize my writing and communication skills to make the public understand my company’s product or technology. It is my job to spread the word about the product or technology in a positive way to keep customers coming back again and again.”

“When I started in this business, I thought of my job as creating awareness. And while I think that’s still true, the way we accomplish this has changed dramatically. Now I tend to think of PR as a form of content creation. Whether it’s creating news via press releases; visuals such as infographics or video; events like Twitter chats or Google Hangouts; or creating community via engagement across social channels; these efforts and the resulting content combine to create awareness for our clients. Regardless of how we define PR and the role agency plays, there’s no doubt we play an important part in our clients’ success directly and indirectly.”

“Defining PR is no easy feat – especially as its definition is constantly evolving. Good PR, however, is the process of building relationships, creating conversations, influencing the news while shaping a company’s brand perception. It’s how a company engages, discusses and fosters positive awareness with the right audience at the right time using the right medium. PR is powerful, and Bill Gate’s summed it up the best when he said, ‘If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.’”

Got anything to add to our descriptions of the PR function? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Considering a career in PR? Tell your story for a chance to win

VideoInterviewCalling all future PR pros! Test your storytelling chops in a new video contest called, “Take Flight with PR,” launched this week by the Council of Public Relations Firms (Council), our industry’s trade association.

Contestants are invited to choose an interest, idea or passion they have, showing in their videos how a career in public relations would enable them to bring their dream to life. In particular, the Council is searching for the best video that most persuasively, and creatively, finishes this sentence:

“A Career in PR is an opportunity for me to: _______________.”

The contest is aimed at showcasing the multitude of careers possible at public relations firms, including career paths in brand marketing, public advocacy, video production, design, and more.

Submissions are being accepted from now until June 28, and then crowd-sourced voting will determine nine finalists, plus one “critic’s choice,” who will advance to the final round to be judged by a panel of PR pros.

Prizes will include a $2,500 cash prize, an expense paid trip to New York City for the winning video’s premiere at the Council’s Oct. 23 member dinner and online visibility on prfirms.org.

“It is critically important that we as an industry continue to educate the next generation of PR practitioners about the many career opportunities that exist in our business,” said Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms. “When it comes to finding the best people, we can’t be complacent. We need cutting-edge talent across disciplines to push our industry to new heights. We hope this video contest showcases both memorable creativity and great future PR talent.”

Persuasive Picks for week of 9/3/12

The balance of power in B2B public relations has shifted. No longer does the media hold all the cards, although they are still important influencers. Fast Company writer Wendy Marx provides some Best Practices In B2B PR to consider as the B2B public relations ecosystem continus to evolve.

B2B marketers have one of the most difficult and underappreciated jobs on the planet. Their mission is to create memorable brands out of some downright “unsexy” products. How do they do it? MarketingProfs‘ Russell Glass explains that the best B2B marketers are successful because they start with building a brand in How the Best B2B Marketers Think Like B2C Marketers: Five Strategies to Emulate.

Using social media correctly is like putting your Rolodex on steroids. Perhaps the best thing about using social media is that it allows you to communicate with all of your contacts at once through status updates. But Melinda F. Emerson at The New York Times warns there are some important lessons to learn and gives some insights on How Not to Pitch Your Business in Social Media.

Are you one of the many marketers who launch their social media programs because they feel they need to and then scramble to understand both how they will make these work and how they will be managed? Online marketing veteran Jasmine Sandler urges you to stop chasing your tail and start Your Social Media Marketing Plan in 5 Easy Steps via ClickZ.

Top 10 Do’s & Don’ts: A PR Executive’s Crib Sheet

It’s easy to play up the adversarial relationship between “Hacks” and “Flacks,” but the truth of this perennial love/hate relationship is that that we really do need one other. Although the value of PR professionals to journalists is often called into question, as this article points out, “the popularity of services like HARO and ProfNet should be proof enough that journalists have a need for PR professionals.”

That said, as PR professionals, our jobs are two-fold: Not only are we advocates for our clients, but we’re also here to make life easier on our journalist comrades. Between a non-stop news cycle, scary budget cuts and mounting competition for clicks, there’s a good chance they’re working in a pressure cooker environment, so the best thing we can do is to think from their perspective and assist rather than annoy. After all, it comes down to relationships, and there’s nothing worse than trying to work with someone who makes your job harder.

So, without further ado, here are our “Top 10 Yeas and Nays” for better PR practices. Although some may seem pretty obvious, those are often the ones that are first forgotten.

DON’T even think about…

  1. Not doing your research/reading a journalist’s articles before pitching. Know who you’re targeting, and only send something to them that you think would be of interest.
  2. Sending a pitch via email blast. The shotgun-spray approach is not appreciated; rather, think like a sniper.
  3. Asking if you can see and/or edit an article before it’s published. This is a huge no-no!
  4. Making up a response if you don’t know the answer. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m not sure. Let me check and get back to you.”
  5. Disregarding deadlines. Your journalist friend has theirs, so make sure you meet yours.

If you want to develop good working relationships, DO try…

  1. Respecting the journalist’s preferences. If they’re an email person, and you’re more comfortable on the phone, adapt. Work their way.
  2. Keeping pitches and releases short and to-the-point (and as buzz-free as possible). Repeat after me: Less is more.
  3. Thinking about how to streamline the process. Have assets and answers ready, and be available when the reporter is writing and may have a question. (Package the story beforehand as much as possible: angle, visual content, facts, references, spokespersons, etc.)
  4. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And when in doubt, hit spell check again before sending that pitch – perhaps even send to a colleague to review with fresh eyes before contacting the reporter.
  5. Focusing on relationships. I said it above, and I’ll say it again – it’s all about relationships. They make the job easier and a whole lot more fun! For example, interact with, read, comment on, share and praise a reporter’s work that you find of interest –  not just when it’s a story about your company or client.

And, as always, there’s often no better place to hear it than from the horse’s mouth. So unless you don’t mind finding yourself mocked publicly (yep, we’re quite aware of the conversations going on here, here or here), we also suggest checking out (and heeding!) veteran reporter Rafe Needleman’s Pro PR Tips: http://proprtips.com/

Which tips would you add to the list? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Persuasive Picks for week of 5/21/12

When consumers go online, they expect to receive the same personalized attention they get face-to-face, with engaging experiences throughout their decision-making process. To create those engaging online experiences, MarketingProfs guest blogger Jim Dicso gives readers Five Reasons to Create Online Videos for Your Customers.

Did you know that social media users who receive excellent service from their favorite brands go on to spend, on average, 21 percent more than non-social customers? Shea Bennett at AllTwitter posts more interesting findings from a recent study in Why First Class Customer Service Is The Key To Social Media Success [INFOGRAPHIC].

Looking for Sure-fire ways to improve your brand’s social presence? Social Media Strategist Stephanie Sholnik offers solutions to maximize your productivity to ensure your social media efforts are paying off and benefiting the business on iMediaConnection.

Social Media Overload? Focus on Your Audience, Not the Tools writes Steve Goldstein of The PR News Blog in his latest post that takes a look at how PR professionals can manage it all and show proof that the time invested in each platform is paying off on the bottom line.