As a (relatively) seasoned PR veteran, SDM invited me to share some of my thoughts on the PR industry. Given the audience, I thought the best place to start was with my thoughts on what Public Relations (PR) actually is. It was also a good opportunity for me to attempt to define what it is we do all day…
While some people may disagree with me on this, I have always considered PR to be an extension of the marketing function. In the private sector at least, our aims are largely aligned – to ultimately support the sales of our company’s product or service. While public sector PR is a bit different, private sector PR is ultimately about selling. The only difference is the tactics we employ. In PR, our main weapon is advocacy. It is our aim to educate anyone who may influence our company’s success, be it a shareholder, a customer, potential customer, employee, analyst or a journalist. We therefore aim to deliver our influence via proxy, since, after all, endorsement of a product or service by a respected third-party is more credible than when a company says it themselves.
Traditionally, the PR function spends the majority of its time dealing with the press, but I would say that PR stretches far beyond media relations. PR is about influencing stakeholders, and as I said above, journalists are just one of the many stakeholders out there. It is more by tradition that PR focuses on media relations, and it’s not just because the media was traditionally much more powerful than it is today (although that is a big reason of course). It is also because the media is a stakeholder that can be more easily and commercially outsourced to an external agency. It also requires more specialized knowledge/skills that are more cost-effective to outsource than to develop in-house (media contacts, media knowledge, scalable resource etc.). Few companies would want anyone but themselves speaking to their customers or employees on the other hand, so those functions tend to remain with the internal marketing function. Analyst relations and financial PR can also be outsourced to specialist PR agencies for the same reasons.
So in a nutshell, PR is about generating sales by influencing the influencers. It is our job to go where the influencers are. In my next blog post I’ll look at how PR is changing as these influencers become more diverse, fragmented, and increasingly offline.