Not too long ago, a senior associate decided to enlighten me on the role of a PR professional, because apparently, my almost AUD30,000++ Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication with double majors in Communication, Technology & Policy and Public Relations was not substantial enough. (Thankfully I’m a scholarship student and didn’t have to bear much of a burdensome student loan, although I still have loans to repay)
I was having trouble grasping the urgency of a certain assignment and the delightful email noted my lack of ‘ownership’ and continued with a lesson on being a PR professional.
The email wrote “If I may enlighten you on the role of a PR professional, our specialty lies in securing editorial space, which is highly valued, due to its reliability in disseminating information to the public. It is not an easy task when it comes to securing editorial space, but with persistent follow ups and reinforcing strong media relations, nothing is impossible.”
I highly disagreed with that statement and it boggled me how shallow and narrow-minded was the understanding of pubic relations. [This raises a huge red flag, man! As a young blooming person, I don’t want to be misguided in my career path and neither do I want my personal development to be hampered.]
Now let’s not get conceptual and start quoting Grunig, Cutlip, or even Bernays, but as Wikipedia simply explains Public Relations “is the practice of managing the flow of information between an individual or an organization and the public.” [The information is most important!]
It continues with “Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.” [Note the keyword “topic of public interest”]
“The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions. Common activities include speaking at conferences, winning industry awards, working with the press, and employee communication.” [Activities are not limited to working with the press.]
Nowhere in the article does it describe PR as “specialty lies in securing editorial space, which is highly valued, due to its reliability in disseminating information to the public.”
The term Public Relations also does not specifically refer to the general public, but rather specific groups or publics that have a relationship with the organization, which includes but NOT limited to, the general public.
For that reason, our job as PR professionals is not merely “securing editorial space”, because there is a fairly effective way of securing that space, a.k.a. advertising. Instead we should be the experts and advice our clients on the best way to communicate to the ones who matter.
If your services can benefit the medical industry, get in touch with publications and associations related to that industry, why focus your resources on trying to gain a few articles printed in the dailies, which will be forgotten the next day?
Having said that, one of the obstacles the PR industry face is probably the lack of understanding of PR itself. There are still many so-called PR firms out there that believe (traditional) media is the way to go and that coverage is all that matters.
This could be due to the fact that the understanding of public relations is communication to the ‘public’ and although it’s true that mass media is the best way to reach a wider audience, at the end of the day, who exactly do you want to reach?
One of the key lessons I gained from my studies and my marketing stint is that you need to identify your target audiences/market and from there, strategize a plan on how to reach them.
Unfortunately, most often times the tactic is basically to cast a wide net into the sea, and hope to catch something. But the thing is, even fishermen know how and where to cast their nets because they know where the fish are in certain areas.
So why are we as communications specialist, not being strategic and communicating to the targeted and right audiences using the right ‘net’?