Behind the scenes of every well executed PR campaign, every swift recovery from a PR disaster, people are working fast to craft effective messages for the public. They are PR specialists, experts at devising communication strategies to influence public perception of brands and organisations. Read on to discover what exactly they do, and the skills necessary to achieve it.
A public relations specialist is a media professional who is responsible for creating, planning and executing public relation strategies. Their main concern is that of perception. A PR specialist works very closely with their clients to understand the value of their brand or organization, and works to communicate this value to the relevant audiences, creating campaigns that will affect how that client is perceived.
Traditionally, these PR efforts have been about maintaining a positive perception of a well-established brand. Here at PRLab, we are also interested in how you can create this perception, which is why our work is focused on startups and scaleups, and how PR can be used to grow businesses.
There are two very important concepts to PR when it comes to growing your business. These are brand authority, and brand awareness. If you have read any of our guides on PR for startups and tech companies, you may know the difference between these concepts or perhaps as a seasoned marketer or business owner you are already familiar with them. For the uninitiated, let’s quickly go over the differences between these important definitions.
Brand awareness is the extent to which your target audience both recognises and recalls your brand. The more awareness people have of your brand the more people can identify it and have in mind when associating it with certain services, products or desirable qualities.
Brand authority on the other hand, is you or your company’s perceived expertise within an industry or on a topic. It is all to do with trust, if your audience trusts your knowledge and expertise, then they will feel confident giving you their money.
This element of trust is a big part of PR, in fact we would go so far as to say it is one of the most important concepts of how PR works. For the aim of a PR specialist is to close the gap between trust and potential clients and customers for your business. This is what makes PR a long-term process. PR isn’t focused on making a sale, the aim of PR and a PR specialist is to build and maintain the relationships between.
In the past, public relations was considered very different to marketing. The primary difference is that PR is focused on building and maintaining the overall positive perception of a company, whereas marketing is focused on promoting a specific product, service or idea to increase sales. When it comes to advertising the main difference from PR is that advertising space is paid for while PR is earned media through the provision of information in the form of press releases and pitches.
While this difference used to be more clear cut, the rise of social media and digital content has challenged this traditional separation.
This is why at PRLab we use what we call an integrated.
So what skills do you need to become a public relations communications specialist? First of all, you need to be able to understand the value and the power of a brand. Your job is communication, in particular the communication of a brand’s positive qualities, so before you start your PR campaigns, you need to be able to analyze a business and understand it’s key core values, mission and purpose. You can read more about this in our guide to purpose-driven PR.
However, this understanding alone won’t make a good PR specialist. People don’t like to just read about how great a company is, they want relevant and engaging stories. That is why timing is one of the most important skills of a PR specialist.
By timing, we mean being aware of the news at the time. PR has to be grounded in a larger societal context in order to be picked up by a journalist, so you need to be well-read and have your finger on the pulse of what is happening in the news. Newsjacking is a good example of a PR strategy that is incredibly dependent on timing, one you can read more about here.
The next important skill is relationship building. Even if you have the most relevant, engaging story, it might fall flat simply because a journalist doesn’t know you, and this is another reason for the long term nature of PR. Relationships aren’t built overnight, and while journalists are looking for interesting stories, they are also looking for credible ones.
In a report from Cision, it was found that 71% of journalists think the public mistrusts them. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why they are not publishing anything that falls into their inbox, they are under pressure to deliver truthful content, particularly with the rise of fake news.
What does a PR specialist do to manoeuvre past this? They build relationships with the journalists and act as more of a friend who passes along information. Even if their pitch doesn’t get accepted the first time, by continually contacting a journalist, they will eventually see you are actively engaging with the news, and will gradually view you with more authority. However it’s a fragile relationship, one dishonest or incorrect story could completely undo your hard work.
PR specialists need to be able to skillfully write enticing pitches and create stories that journalists want to respond to. They need to master the art of storytelling to create newsworthy press releases that journalists won’t be able to resist.
At the start of 2021, we published an e-book that talks about the most up to date strategies that PR specialists need to consider, including some practical guidance on how to write a story, amongst other trends you should be aware of. We also have a guide on how to pitch to journalists that not only talks about the purpose and common practices of a good pitch but breaks it down structurally to help you write your own.
Here at PRLab, we have a community of PR specialists who regularly meet up to discuss all things PR. Exciting I know. But these meetups were attended by public relations specialists from Facebook, WeTransfer, Sony & Ace&Tate to name a few, as well as a multitude of innovative startups based in Amsterdam, and they share insights with us about the trends in PR and where the industry is going.
Accountability has been the main issue in PR since the beginning. How do you actually measure and set goals for something, as important, yet intangible as awareness? The truth is, growth hackers and PR professionals are now becoming important partners. As this relationship gets closer, we’ll need to open ourselves up to new ways of thinking.
It’s not just about growing your numbers, to be truly successful at growth marketing you have to adopt a growth-focused mindset. Workshops like the Growth Tribe Academy are teaching professionals in every area, including PR, how to adopt this way of thinking. Instead of being satisfied with using established methods that bring in results, the idea is to always be experimenting and A/B testing. This means tracking everything.
In PR, an industry in which creativity and innovation are so important, adopting a growth-focused mindset will be a game-changer, particularly as in the past concrete metrics have been a challenge for PR specialists to measure.
An executive working for a major consumer brand explained how important influencer marketing has become in the last few years. Rather than added value, influencer endorsements are now a must-have. It’s a particularly effective strategy in the Netherlands where there’s an abundance of influencers – especially vloggers – who have a lot of exposure.
However, he conceded, managing these relationships also requires a lot of work. When you’re working with well-known influencers especially, they often expect you to be on hand with continuous and immediate comms. Much like working with agencies or freelancers, you need to invest time in getting them familiar with your product and brand.
The idea is to create long-term relationships with people who really embody your brand’s ethos and lifestyle, rather than one-off collaborations. This means that you really have to be highly selective with who you decide to build relationships with.
In the past, you had to manually check the reach and authenticity of each influencer you brought on board. The good news is, you now have tools that can help you find the influencers with the biggest reach and authority in a given niche. Some of these tools include Buzzsumo, Klear, HypeAuditor, Klout, Upfluence and Buzzstream. You can find more insight into influencer marketing in our guide to social media.
A common accomplishment in the room was moving away from earned media. Earned media is a type of media that gains attention through promotional efforts. If people are genuinely interested in your company won’t have to chase them, they will be chasing you. Create a good enough product or a compelling enough story, and the journalist will come knocking on your door.
For example, Fairphone shared how they are constantly being mentioned in the media, specifically podcasts, with or without asking for attention. Fairphone is a phone designed to create as little environmental impact as possible. The battery is replaceable so when that dies on you, you can just get a new one. No need to replace the whole phone. It is an innovative sustainable product that no one else has done, making it a great topic to cover.
In the future, PR professionals will move away from standard press releases and move more towards storytelling. This role will be more focused on finding out what society wants from brands and relaying this internally.
Consider this: When you don’t have regular product updates, it can be difficult to catch a journalist’s attention. At that point, it becomes all about creating unique stories that differentiate your brand from others. Instead of approaching stories from the perspective of your product, look at the wider impact your product and company aim to have on society. Are you committed to bringing greater sustainability? To help people reach their fitness goals?
Even if thought leadership focused pieces may seem like a lot of work for little recognition, they will ultimately help you build stronger relationships with journalists who know they can go to you for stories that provide value, over sales.
Today, we’re even seeing brands take political stances in response to the demand for brands to align with our values. Consumers used to ask ‘who are you?’ yet now we are asking ‘what do you think?’ and as always, it will fall to the PR specialist to communicate these answers.
A public relations specialist is a media professional who is responsible for creating, planning and executing public relation strategies in order to manage public perception of a brand, company or individual.
A PR specialist works to understand the core values of a brand as well as the needs and values of the relevant target audience. They research trends within the niche markets of these brands to create content and identify core publications and journalists to pitch the content to in order to secure media coverage for their clients. They are increasingly integrating PR strategy with other marketing tools such as content marketing, social media, and the general development of branding and branding assets.
While a degree in PR is certainly useful and a degree in marketing or communications wouldn’t hurt either, you don’t strictly need a degree to become a PR specialist. While a relevant education will make it easier and give you a significant understanding of how PR works, if you have the skills, it is certainly something you can do yourself. Being able to research effectively and stay up to date with market trends, understanding the value of brands, and mastering the art of storytelling will get you on your way to being a PR specialist.