Public Relations — or PR for short — basically refers to an organisation’s communications with its many stakeholders, or with the “publics”. Publics can refer to shareholders, consumers, business partners or the general population, depending on the context and the nature of the business.
PR is not to be confused with advertising or marketing, which refer to very different business functions. Advertising involves the designing and publishing of commercials in various media, while marketing is primarily about identifying the target customer for a product or service, and how best to attract them to the product. PR, on the other hand, is all about communicating key messages.
Here’s an example that depicts the difference between marketing, advertising and public relations:
Take for instance, a company launching a new handphone. Marketing staff will figure out who the product should be targeted at. Is it for teenagers or business managers? The target customer will play a large role in determining how the handphone will be marketed. Is it going to be the latest ‘in’ thing (to attract trend-conscious teenagers), or will it be defined by sophisticated functionality (suited for busy managers)?
The advertising crew then goes through the creative process of designing advertisements and publicity materials geared towards the target group identified by the marketing team.
PR professionals will then try to garner as much positive coverage of the product as possible from the media. This is commonly done by encouraging journalists to try out the new handphone and subsequently write a (hopefully positive) review, or holding a product launch where celebrities and other high profile public figures can help attract media coverage and increase the handphone’s visibility in the market.
In essence, PR is about communicating a desired message, for a specific purpose, to a selected target audience. Communication with these groups can take place in various ways — either through the mass media, dedicated communication channels such as newsletters or emails, a firm’s website or even through blogs.
Public relations at work
Public relations professionals can be found in PR agencies (also known as consultancies), or as an in-house practice, which is usually part of the corporate communications or investor relations department of a large company.In a public relations agency, consultants typically service a number of accounts. In the larger firms, they may also be divided along different practices. For example, at Weber Shandwick, the largest PR firm in Singapore, there are various practice groups including corporate, healthcare, finance, consumer, technology and public affairs.
A typical day at the firm usually begins with media monitoring. This refers to scanning local and foreign publications, websites and news wires for news pertinent to the firm’s clients. The PR consultant must remain up-to-date with news about the client, its competitors, industry news, regulatory matters and other such issues. He has to be quick on his feet, and clarify any erroneous reports that appear in the media.
PR consultants also develop publicity materials for clients. These range from write-ups for corporate collaterals, text for websites, speeches for clients, to FAQs (Frequently-Asked Questions) and holding conferences for media queries. It goes without saying that a PR consultant needs to have a firm grasp of the language, and must also enjoy writing.
Coaching and counselling
In addition, PR consultants provide media training for clients. They need to ensure that their client’s spokesperson is prepared to tackle media interviews, for example. These training sessions are useful as it helps important personnel such as the CEO, CFO and other designated spokespersons feel more confident in handling media queries, or to prepare them for television appearances.
Most importantly, PR consultants provide counsel to their clients, as their job title implies. They work closely with clients to develop key messages that are consistent and in line with their clients’ overall strategy and positioning, and help to promote the company to a target audience.
For instance, a small public-listed company may be doing very well in its business, but remains unknown to investors and analysts because it does not have a proactive communication strategy. This is not unusual because there are hundreds of stocks listed on the Singapore Exchange, and only a handful of attractive companies will catch the attention of the financial community.
However, a PR consultancy can help translate the company’s profi t figures into a fact sheet or press release, and actively engage the financial press and its analysts. The company’s profile can be raised through positive media coverage and analyst reports, encouraging investors to take notice of its progress, thus improving the value of its stock.
PR agencies are hence engaged by companies for a variety of reasons, ranging from the need for strategic counsel on a particular issue, using PR as part of marketing & promotion efforts, to other specific tasks such as communication audits and media analysis.
It’s in the house
Besides communication consultancies, PR professionals can also be found in-house. They are usually a part of large organisations which have corporate communication departments or investor relations teams.
It is often the case that in-house PR professionals have less hectic schedules than their counterparts in a PR consultancy, mainly because consultants in PR agencies serve multiple clients, while in-house PR teams have the luxury of being the “voice” of a single organisation.
However, that does not mean they have less work to do. In-house PR teams also have to deal with the daily load of corporate correspondence, media queries and liaisons with
external stakeholders. Depending on the business, some PR departments also have specialised functions such as investor relations.
In-house PR departments are also usually in charge of the organisation’s internal communications. They need to ensure that corporate information is conveyed accurately and effectively across all levels of the organisation.
PR consultancies typically offer great exposure to many different industries, and this is beneficial to fresh graduates who have just started their careers. Not surprisingly, many see it as a glamorous career. Be prepared to face a lot of competition for a limited number of positions.
Once you have joined the industry, you can choose to specialise in a single practice, such as technology or healthcare communications, and still get to work with a variety of clients, handling different products or services. In contrast, in-house PR professionals tend to acquire more in-depth experience due to their focus on a single organisation.
In either case, you will eventually become an expert in a chosen area of expertise. The business acumen accumulated through experience is very valuable for any PR professional, as your clients are counting on you to know the right people to talk to, and the best ways to deliver a key message.
And, needless to say, you will need to be articulate and media-savvy, be an outgoing individual who likes interacting with people, and a team player who works well with clients and colleagues. A career in PR will be challenging, but with the right skill-sets, you can make it very rewarding at the same time.