The implicit assumption is that a lawyer is schooled in and understands the law and the process behind it, and works toward protecting their clients’ interests, providing value for their service.
The world of public relations is arguably similar: schooled in the world of media and trained in the court of public opinion, public relations professionals provide service and expertise on everything from how to get a message out about a new product or service (think Apple) to how to navigate and fight back when the court of public opinion has already rendered judgement (think Volkswagen).
Of course, navigating the legal world and public relations world are two very, very different things. Yet few opt to navigate the legal system without representation. Indeed, explaining why one doesn’t step into the courtroom without a lawyer remains a much easier ‘sell’ than explaining to a company or individual why handling their own public relations isn’t necessarily the most prudent course of action.
Yet public relations as a profession continues to struggle with explaining the true value that it brings to the table, for companies and individuals alike.
Why spend the money?
As a still-practicing journalist, I completely get it. In the shrinking world of media, where reporters and producers are increasingly strapped for time and resources, going through a third party on the surface seems like a waste of time. Same goes on the corporate side: Why not just fire off an email or pick up the phone and reach out to a reporter directly to get your message across?
Why spend the money?
Through my Master’s Degree in journalism and communications, not once were the letters ‘P’ or ‘R’ even mentioned. Objectivity, analysis, the “lede” and numerous others tenets surrounding the responsibility of conveying information to the public were drilled into our young and idealistic minds, but not once did anyone discuss what a PR person was, nor how they might actually help us do our jobs.
Through my years of reporting for various news organizations, I learned the value of some PR professionals: those who got the CEO on the phone faster than I would have been able to on my own; those who gave me the research and information I was looking for in a flash; those who thought of really interesting and compelling stories that my editors and I hadn’t considered or paid much attention to.
But for the most part, public relations people were a bane in my in-box, literally getting in the way of my job of connecting to a source or obtaining needed information, and in more than a few cases actually making my job even more difficult (Read, ‘No Comment’).
The “Dark Side”
My move a few years back to what’s affectionately referred to in journalism as the “dark side” has more than illuminated the value that a good public relations practitioner can bring to the table: Understanding what reporters, editors and producers need, and their deadlines; understanding how to shape a story that not only resonates with media, but more importantly resonates with the audience they cater to; understanding how to write a “pitch,” “op-Ed” or even talking points in a way that makes the media’s job just a little bit easier.
More than that, my time in PR has vividly illustrated the good, bad and downright ugly of what businesses and people expect to achieve through earned media: A front-page profile in the Wall Street Journal, an hour-long segment on CNBC, and off-the-airplane, on the tarmac, media “scrums” on a cross-country product roadshow, to name a few of the the more interesting expectations put forward.
To be sure, proving the actual value of PR remains a challenge. Despite all kinds of new and exciting ways to measure “engagement,” “impact,” and “reach,” no one has yet figured out a way to prove that getting on TV or getting mentioned in a newspaper article has directly and unequivocally led to a “sale.”
Indeed, to go back to the legal profession comparison, a lawyer’s mettle is typically easier to measure – by the simple virtue of whether they win or lose your case.
The Top Five
Here are five reasons why PR adds value:
1. Doing it yourself doesn’t pay. Public relations is not a do-it-yourself project, nor something to take on without guidance and support. There are some things best left to professionals, particularly those both immersed and versed in the world of media and public relations. Pilots are trained to fly airplanes, not you.
2.The message is the medium. Journalists and producers are generally nice people, and they may well talk to you. But what’s your message? What are you trying to say? Having a professional who knows how to tell your story – and place you in stories that make sense for you, your firm and your brand – and in front of the right audiences for you, is the better way.
3. Hitting the right target audiences. While the message is the medium to work with, it only works if you’re targeting the right audiences for you, your firm, your product and your brand. Being on the front page of the Wall Street Journal might seem like the ultimate PR target, but not if your audience doesn’t actually read it.
4. Four hands (or more) is better than two. Everyone knows a little extra help can go a long way. Few think of public relations as part of that. From social / digital media monitoring and outreach to content writing and support to proactively or reactively fielding media inquiries, a PR team can help with all your communications – and let you get back to your day job.
5. Because the court of public opinion is harsh. Having experienced counsel to help navigate both the good and potentially bad is what public relations is all about: making sure the message – the right message – gets in front of the right people in the right way. Having a public relations professional at hand to help navigate what hopefully will mostly be good PR is a worthy investment. Not having one? Again, would you go to court without a lawyer?
6. You may not have social media or think it's relevant to your communications, but social media may end up having you, if it hasn't already. Social media is a great tool that can be used to engage your target audiences and manage your firm or your brand's reputation. However, it has become the proverbial, modern-age soap box: anyone and everyone now has the power to talk about you, and how you handle these engagements will be on display for the world to see. Again, leave it to the professionals. Let your PR firm manage your online presence and communicate your message in a way that best represents you and your company,