I’ve been in the public relations industry for the past 12 years. Marketing is my absolute passion and I love my job so much. However, one thing that I’ve come to realise is that many people do not understand what PR is. And more so, what it is not. Furthermore, I get incredibly irked, when someone who has never studied, worked in, or bothered to research PR starts offering this service as a freelancer. Many people think that PR is event logistics/influencer management/press pack dissemination or social media management. PR is none of the above. While we do all of the above, it is a very small part. In fact, it is the easiest part, of what we do. PR is a highly specialised field of marketing and honestly, if someone doesn’t have agency experience in this field, I would carefully scrutinise the value offering you are receiving from them.
What is Public Relations:
Public Relations is the art of changing the way a brand is perceived by the public, through the skillset of story-telling. These stories are told and shared, through broadcast, online, and print media channels, as well as through influencer marketing content.
What we do:
We craft strategies that land our clients key messages, in order to achieve a specific set of objectives. We decide how we will launch this messaging to our target market, what tactics we will use. What timelines we need to execute this strategy and how much money we need to effectively execute this strategy. The team will then start crafting what we refer to as copy. This can be press releases, advertorials, infographics, listicles, etc. We craft databases (media lists) of who this messaging would appeal to and then we disseminate it and motivate for placement (media selling). PR is not advertising; we do not pay for space on media platforms. We come up with interesting articles, that authentically appeal to certain audiences so that publications will place this copy free of charge. This is standard, basic, pedestrian PR. This does not include crisis communications, which is a whole other kettle of fish in totality.
PR strategies are usually created, in conjunction with a full-time strategist. Who has oversight of all elements involved in the marketing mix. This then tells an inclusive and comprehensive story of how PR, in-store, digital marketing, influencer management, and media buying come together. Within the given budget, to tell the same story, in different ways, targeting a similar audience, within a given campaign timeframe, in order to meet the business’s objectives.
As PR professionals, we need to provide our clients with a minimum return on investment (ROI) of 3:1, as per standard industry practice. For example, if your retainer is R30k a month, then you should be providing your client with a minimum coverage placement value of R90k (if not higher). Some months your retainer will be used for strategising/approving plans. But the agency will need to make up for coverage clippings not achieved over those months. So that your annual ROI evens out. If you are not offering a minimum of 3:1 ROI then unfortunately your client is better off paying for ad space.
PR’s hold a unique skill set which includes being able to write strategy without being strategists, being able to write copy without being trained writers, being event specialists, media trainers, media sellers, admin artists, researchers, reporters, influencer managers, social media managers, crisis communications experts and more. It takes years to build up this unique arsenal, in order to be able to effectively defend your clients’ reputation.
Measures of success:
Our main purpose is to craft strategies/plans, including influencer strategies, come up with news-worthy (news-jacking) angles, in order to secure coverage placements, big idea thinking, execution, and reporting, in order to measure results. Because people do not understand what PR does, it is difficult for us to motivate for budget for paid-for ideas/tactics. And because PR is difficult to measure, it’s often considered a grey space and a ‘nice to have’. Measurement is difficult as our coverage depends on how creative and how relevant our angles are; to the publications we propose them to. It also depends on what is happening in world / local news at that time. Think back to March 2020, when we went into our first lockdown, that’s all the media were reporting on. Suddenly, your clients’ fire-engine red lipstick didn’t seem that important. Even if a percentage of the proceeds were going towards a much deserving NGO. As mentioned, placement is not paid for and so it is never guaranteed. In the current changing and diminishing media landscape, it is getting increasingly difficult to secure free placements.
Please understand what PR is, before adding it to your professional bio and CV. Small businesses need to do their due diligence when outsourcing a PR freelancer/agency. A pet peeve is asking someone about their PR strategy, only to hear them say oh no I’ve done PR before. I sent some influencers free samples, and they posted about it on social media. It didn’t translate into sales. This immediately tells me that there was no PR/influencer strategy involved, little reporting, and the clients’ expectations were not managed effectively throughout.
These ‘self-taught’ PR’s who claim that PR is sending press packs to micro-influencers, without clearly defining what a successful campaign looks like. Are damaging consumers’ perceptions of what PR is and isn’t. If you do not have an experienced PR professional on your team, or, if you, yourself do not have PR experience, please do not offer this service to customers. And dear small businesses, please also research PR. Know what they do and how they can assist your business, do your due diligence before hiring these ‘affordable’ PR’s. It takes years to learn how to do what we do. And to build the media contacts and networks that we have. Offering PR as a professional experience when you do not have the experience needed. Is like me calling myself a graphic designer, because I know how to use CANVA.