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What do you actually do all day?

by Lauren McNeil

Girl at a concert
I have long grappled with the best way to explain to people what I do. My sister once asked me at the dinner table, “So, what is it that you actually do all day?”

Public Relations is one of those mysterious professions that evokes one of two responses in people during a conversation. The most common is a blank face and a nod, accompanied by an elongated “ooooh…”. The second being, “So, it’s advertising, yeah?”

Don’t get me wrong, PR involves a level of customer understanding and storytelling that is hugely important within advertising as well. However, to dismiss PR as another version of advertising is an unfair, and incorrect, assumption.

PR is a profession that produces a different day, every day. No two clients are the same, and no two pieces of work are the same. In my short career, I’ve done everything from pitching client news to journalists to writing content on behalf of some of Australia’s leading executives, creating media kits and list, running roundtable events, interviewing case studies – even sending underwear to influencers, and scrambling across floors to get the perfect picture for Twitter.

As much as PR is diverse, it’s equally a fast-moving profession. The way we do our day-to-day roles, the technology we use, and the way we communicate with people is consistently shifting. More and more, journalists are as likely to respond to a Tweet as they are to respond to a formal written pitch email with media release attachment – perhaps even more so. Additionally, an individual influencer these days can have a further reaching audience base than The Australian newspaper.

In 2012, when I began my University studies, PR was a very different beast to the profession I work within now. Over the past five years, the industry as a whole has moved away from traditional ways of working and ‘best practice’ textbook theory towards a much faster-moving and agile form of PR.

If you don’t have influencers, do you have anything?

In 2017, the role influencers play in achieving earned media is paramount to a successful PR campaign. In 2012, when I began my studies, the idea of using a blogger (the word ‘influencer’ wasn’t even a thing yet) to produce media coverage wasn’t even a consideration – journalists were the almighty. These days, journalists continue to be pivotal for earned media success on a day-to-day basis, however, influencers now give brands currency and reach.

We tend to follow people on social media who we feel relate to us, or who we identify as having similar values to ourselves. In a society where the majority of us get our news from Instagram and Twitter, influencers are able to contribute to that news cycle and social conversation, giving brands the opportunity to appeal to a huge online network of people, who previously would have been unreachable. 

Insta-famous

In PR, the exploding influencer scene works hand-in hand with our ever-expanding social media landscape. Remember when Instagram was that weird new social networking app that very few people knew how to use? Well, that weird little app is now one of the most widely-used platforms for both influencers and brands, more often than not surpassing Facebook and Twitter.

The visual platform has evolved to include the functionality of Instagram Stories, similar to Snapchat, with image stories that sit on the platform for a 24-hour period. The changing functionality of this kind of platform alone shows just how agile PR needs to be to work within an evolving 24-hour news cycle.

In the ear of the CEO

If you look at the bigger picture, PR capabilities have become much more valued within companies. PR teams’ primary role, aside from achieving positive media coverage for clients, is to offer strategic counsel to the executive team, acting as the link between a company’s stakeholders, internal decision makers and the outside world.

PR is moving away from being a little division within companies that receives the call up when something goes wrong, or when there’s a party to plan, and has become imperative for building brand value and managing reputation. Reputation and brand value are two of the most important elements for company success, and they both rely in part on the voices of regular people being heard. PR teams bridge that gap between the C-suite and the outside world, giving them prime position to build advocacy and activism.

As I say all of this, the world continues to change, values continue to change and the format of our news cycle is forever shifting. Tomorrow, PR will look different again, and next year they may be another weird little app that changes the way we do our job. And that’s all part of the fun of what I do, every day.

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