PR means different things to different people. Spin is a word that comes readily to mind for some, whereas to others it’s a valuable communication tool. Lunch and champers are two words that are also inextricably linked with the profession, but sadly in a northern industrial city, and in these post-apocalyptic, sorry recession days, these words are rarely uttered.
To me of course PR is my livelihood, for the time being at least, and therefore being acutely aware of what it is, how it works and what it is capable of is paramount. It’s something I’m still learning and there is a long way to go, but I’m getting there, slowly but surely.
Over the last 16 months however there is one thing I have learned which stands above all else in determining the outcome of PR activities, and that is the attitude of the client.
Take for example a firm I occasionally work with. A typical phone chat which occurs every few months would go along the lines of: “We want a press release doing about XXX, how much will it be?”
My first response is an honest appraisal of how newsworthy XXX actually is, which is sometimes taken as me being awkward. But this is not the case, I simply want to achieve two things – maximising the chance of coverage, and build a personal reputation among journalist for only pitching quality stories.
If we do broker a deal the release gets written and distributed to various press and usually achieves coverage. The bill is paid (eventually), my ideas for follow ups fall on deaf ears (after all, its only The PR Company trying to get more business out of us), and I don’t hear from the client for another few months, whereupon the whole exercise is repeated.
This to me is the worst approach to PR – worse in fact than doing nothing. That’s because it yields unspectacular results and leaves the client a few hundred quid worse off, fostering the belief PR is not worth the money and by association damaging the profession.
In my view however, the problem here isn’t the agency but the client themselves. Essentially they view PR as external to the day-to-day activities, as an after thought, something they think they ought to do but are not entirely sure why. There are no specific goals, no long term, coherent strategy, just a vague sense that “… we should to do a press release about that.”
I have tried explaining this, by the way, and they nod, make all the right noises, then continue to act in the same way they always do, so now I just accept it and bite my lip.
But like charity good PR begins at home. Contrast the former example with some of my most successful accounts and the difference in client attitude is striking. The businesses that get the most out of PR are those that embrace it as a philosophy from the top down – it pervades their culture. It is not an external add on to day-to-day activities but something at the core of what they do. It doesn’t comprise of the occasional press release but an attitude that touches all areas of the organisation, from internal issues, to customer relations, to suppliers and to the press.
And it is through the good feeling they generate they ensure they’re talked about, which is often more powerful than any degree of press coverage.
Whether an organisation simply has this quality or not, or whether it can be developed, I do not know, but it doesn’t come from arrogance, aggression or ego. It is a product of honesty, integrity, a willingness to listen and learn, genuine positivity and plain old-fashioned decency, and quite apart from appointing agencies, press releases, social media campaigns and all the other things PR does, to me this is precisely what good PR is.
Placing it at the centre of your organisation is the fastest way of building a reputation envied by those who will never understand the nature of true PR and the value it can bring them.