PR doesn’t stand for ‘press release’

Media relations versus public relations – which side of the fence are you on? Most PR people I know are in the former (myself included).

We all come from a traditional comms background. To us, getting full page coverage in a national daily or a TV spot is a big feat. I have such coverage to my credit too. It made my boss happy. It even made the journalists happy; they had queued for months to get an interview with my CEO and then put that interview on their LinkedIn. I have also had the experience of hosting large-scale press conferences, product launches, consumer campaigns with speakers, slide decks, announcements and quotes, press releases, followed by a multi-slide coverage report. But what comes after that?

How did this change the perception about our company? How many people even read the article or watched the clip? How many people actively pushed the content out, recommending it to their friends or colleagues? And who are these people? In which way did it influence their perception about my company? How influential are they in their own circle of friends? Ultimately, if PR is all about managing public perception, how effective were the PR efforts?

Typically, PR outcomes are measured by their coverage and tonality, not effectiveness. In the era when digital media is diversifying and technology makes every piece of content measurable, very few companies are actually trying to manage perceptions through tailored or effective public relations strategies.

The comms profession has, for the longest time, been about media relations, not public relations. We are all able to manage relationships with journalists, but when it comes to managing public relationships, that is a different ball game altogether.

I am not saying traditional media is not relevant, but with the rise of social media and citizen journalism, mass communications experts can truly return to the original definition of PR and manage relationships with a wider audience base to influence them with communications messages.

This needs a seismic shift in the way PR is perceived and practised, or even taught. Our clients and CEOs need to change their own perception and expectations of PR and begin to ask questions about how to make company PR efforts more effective.

We ourselves must evolve – whether it is by using the power of technology to measure the effectiveness of our communications efforts; or by becoming adept at every aspect of social media, content marketing and search marketing techniques; developing training modules to acquaint our colleagues of what brings the best outcome for PR or perhaps even investing in brand perception research as a starting point to be able to develop more effective PR strategies.

PR doesn’t stand for “press release” (for many, this may be a revelation). So it shouldn’t be measured against a coverage report and clippings. If we want to become equal partners in the business decision-making process, we must become better understood to be more respected.

For starters, it is not enough to just have work “PR-ed” somewhere if it is not effective in impacting the target audience.

The writer is a senior PR professional in a major MNC.

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