PR by any other name

When I started my convoluted path into communications I asked my boss at the time — a vice-president of marketing — “”What is PR?”” I thought I’d get a fairly straightforward answer. I got this. “”If you ask 100 people to define PR you’ll get 100 different answers.””

Great — I left the ivory

tower of academia to pursue a career in communications because I had a desire for clarity, and I get this? I got a sense that it would be a long road.

That road took me through a wide variety of corporate communications experiences and situations, from both the ‘client’ and the ‘agency’ sides. And a lot of that was working with the IT industry here in Canada. Subsidiaries of multinationals . . . Canadian companies wanting to be heard south of the border . . . and those that wanted their message told to audiences ranging from local to global.

Thanks to that less than clear start, I kept my eyes and ears open for valuable lessons in the realms of PR and marketing. That’s what this column will offer you: agency-side lessons and insight on PR strategy, realistic tactics, hot trends, tips for surviving agency life, pointers for working with a wide range of clients, considerations for subsidiary PR programmes and even some industry gossip. Once in a while I’ll turn the focus to the client side and get into ‘things to think about when selecting a PR agency,&#146 managing your agencies talents, Web site communications, online press rooms and tales of woe. And I invite you to share your stories, strategies and questions.

To kick things off let’s go back to that first question. What is PR?

When people say ‘PR’ what they usually mean is media relations. And quite frankly all that is, is the facilitation of information exchange between media outlets that desire/require info and the organizations with appropriate information to give.

Ultimately, the power of PR lies in the fact that the information is being presented in an unbiased way. The audience see the media as an informed and trustworthy source that presents information simply to inform, not to satisfy someone else’s corporate ‘needs.’ I can already hear you saying ‘But . . .’ Yes, we’ve heard stories of ‘If you advertise, we’ll run the article.’ And sure, this happens . . . but not nearly as often as some folks think.

The truth is, it is in the media’s own best interest to provide information in an honest unbiased manner. And, if as communicators we can get pertinent information into their hands, then not only are the ethics of the media upheld, but the messages we want to deliver — be it product, service or brand — reach the intended audiences.

If only it were that easy, right? So how does one go about doing that? Stay tuned! We’ll deal with the nuances of media relations in upcoming columns.

But before we leave the subject, realize that PR can, and should, go far beyond just media relations. PR can be said to include any initiatives by which a company or organization gains awareness with a target audience — things like events, sponsorship, customer communications, speaking opportunities, image building, brand recognition, etc. If you really want to extend the definition of PR, it is any relationship established with the public that generates awareness for the organization.

The significance of understanding what PR can be is seen firsthand in a meeting where the person across from you has a different definition than yours. Be sure that when you are discussing PR and developing your communications plans that everyone is on the same page.

This seemingly trivial point can often be critical to making a connection and even between success and failure of your efforts. Because if your definition of what PR is differs from whom you are supposed to be working with, you’ll quickly find frustration, disappointment and lost budgets!

You’ve heard it said before that communications is the key. This is true, even in planning PR/communications itself.

Jack Wojcicki is a freelance PR practitioner and is PR Counsel for HWB Marketing Communications Inc. He volunteers his PR skills to the image management of spiders.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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