Many journalists rely heavily on press and public relations officers as a source of stories and to provide answers to their questions, organise interviews and provide comments – but they don’t always appreciate what it takes to be an effective PR. In this guest blog post, branch member and PR professional Maurizio Fantato talks about his work, and the particular challenges of doing PR in the age of social networking.
I currently work in agency PR, having transitioned from in-house PR and MarCom a couple of years ago. My specialism is also B2B PR, with a further focus on engineering, science and technology. This means that I seldom deal with urgent news (except in incidents or accidents) and also that most of the information I digest and process on behalf of my clients is highly factual. My clients are scientists or engineers and my journalists are also for the most part specialists in their own fields, so precision is of the essence. Nevertheless, the message needs to be engaging (and these days also highly visual) so one of our daily challenges is how we can extract true features and benefits in a concise and absorbing manner, bearing in mind that some of the stuff may also have to be condensed into microblogs (a form of blogging but based on short content like Twitter and Facebook updates).
Occasionally we have to deal with a situation familiar to most PRs in which we are asked to produce ‘non-news’ releases. This is often the case in companies where personalities, instead of good marketing, rule. In the vast majority of these cases we are able to persuade a client that it would be against their own interest to do so, or simply apply other tactics to stall and avoid issuing such releases. However, recently my company was fired by a newly acquired client for not pandering to the wishes of their MD to publish such froth. When a month later the newly appointed PR agency managed to get that company in Private Eye under the ‘Desperate Marketing’ section, we felt vindicated.
The most difficult situations are those involving multiple approval processes across several organisations. You can guarantee that every PR and divisional manager will want to have a say and use a different angle. We have had instances of case studies having been delayed for a year or so while they were ‘under review’. Yes, not exactly the sort of cutting edge stuff that hits a newsdesk… more like the gestation of your classic academic paper!
But aside from any misunderstanding between PR and journalism, we want to work to the best of our abilities to enlighten and instruct our audiences, providing them with good sources of useful and newsworthy information. There are of course rogues in any profession.
In the world of PR, just as in journalism, our main challenge these days is the advent of digital communication. With technical media being increasingly published online, backed up by social media presence and our own clients’ social media channels, there is an awful lot of noise out there. So our job is made a little more complex as we need to spend a lot longer listening, evaluating, pushing and of course reporting too. And these days reports go way beyond basic stuff like Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) as well as entailing other metrics like Audience Engagements and more. Not that all this huge amount of data replaces the old common sense approach and an innate instinct for news… but it just makes our job easier when we have to persuade financial director on how they should spend their money. Welcome to the world of PR.
More posts on PR and marketing topics, as well as other interests, can be found on Maurizio Fantato’s own blog at http://www.mgfantato.wordpress.com