If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”

Bill Gates 

This is one of the most frequently cited quotes that PR professionals like to band about, but unfortunately there’s a fair bit of scepticism as to whether or not Mr Gates did in fact utter such a phrase. So think about it this way – if it is true, what a great endorsement for the PR profession! If it’s not true, I would very much like to meet the person who started spreading the rumour because the fact that so many people have bought into it makes the originator a PR genius!

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) defines PR in the following way:

“Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

CIPR

It’s clear, relatively comprehensive… and a bit dull! So what’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words ‘Public Relations’? – parties, celebrities and afternoon meetings over cocktails? Or how about new product launches, speech writing and ‘spin doctors’? Well truth be told, in small doses these are all true. Just try to resist the urge of picturing the SBPR office as an episode of Absolutely Fabulous!

Then again perhaps you muddle PR up with marketing, advertising and journalism? After all, we do share some common ancestry – it’s just that we go about pursuing similar goals in a different way.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power.”

Edward Bernays (‘The father of PR’)

Stick with me here. Whilst marketing aims to create exchanges with customers and may employ some PR tools along the way, public relations seeks to develop and sustain mutually beneficial relationships with a public who could impact on business success. Whilst advertising is about presenting a persuasive message to increase sales, PR aims to increase public understanding with a much more subtle approach. This is why we (the PR squad) write press releases, advertorials and features which you see alongside traditional ads.

Undoubtedly there will always be a degree of overlap between all four professions, we work together, borrow from each other’s toolkit and each sector adamantly and whole-heartedly believes that they’re the most important!

So what do PR practitioners actually do?

…How long have you got? But in short:

  • Develop communications plans looking at where a person or business is now, where they want to be and how the two pictures can be aligned.
  • React to emerging issues and crises.
  • Respond to enquiries from the public, media or various other shareholders.
  • Identify and utilise industry influencers and opinion formers.
  • Look for opportunities to create positive media coverage – through interviews, press releases, product sampling and the like.
  • Copywrite – for publications, brochures/ prospectuses, posters, websites, (e-)newsletters, social media networks and much more.
  • Write speeches and presentations.
  • Coordinate events.
  • Provide media and communications training.

“All the president is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing, and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.”

Harry S Truman

PR has become an ever evolving profession, running – like every other industry – as fast as it can to keep up with the latest trends and technologies.

  • It’s become more affordable – with an increase in email and social media, printing and postage costs have gone down.
  • It’s instantaneous, reactive and we’re more aware than ever before of the speed at which news stories can go global.
  • Press releases are changing too – with the development of the ‘social media release’ it’s now vital that you include photos, videos and SEO friendly text.
  • Bloggers – should not to be underestimated! They now get media status at conferences and often have a strong relationship with their followers, making the right endorsement priceless.
  • Finally, the tools we use are different – after all, who knew what Google Analytics, #hashtagging or Apps were 10 years ago?!

So we’ll end with our favourite of the PR quotes that we stumbled across whilst researching this blog post…

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.”

Daniel J. Boorstin (American historian & professor)