It is a question that is not easily defined. Even PR professionals admit that it is hard to define exactly what PR is. A lot of PRs understand what PRs do but how to sum it up in one definition is a difficult thing.
We met with Matt Foster, an Account Director at Waggener Edstrom to get this thoughts and to see if he could define the indefinable.
Matt began explaining what PR isn’t. It’s not: “all about who you know’, cheap advertising, Max Clifford, long boozy lunches with clients, or simply writing press releases”.
PR is about third parties telling the world exactly how good you are. Matt explained explained this through analogy: “If you see an attractive person and want to ask them out – advertising suggests that you show off how interesting, attractive and fun you are, whereas PR suggests that you get your friends to do the job for you. PR is all about third party advocacy.”
Matt also explained that the role of the PR has changed over the last 15 years. When he first started he lamented the days of being stuck in a room calling journalists in attempt to ‘sell in’. Whereas now it’s all about digital and social media, and the power is in the hands of the ordinary people.
For those in PR, content is king. Journalists want quality content and not irrelevant spiel. The utmost importance for good PR practice is to build solid working relationships with journalists. Matt stated that in the Healthcare sector for example, this doesn’t always include swanky champagne receptions, as the industry has to communicate ethically.
Matt continued to note that there is no typical week or day for a PR professional and that according to the PR business model, a consultant is remunerated according to billable/non-billable time i.e. the time it takes to do campaign planning and execution, coming up with creative, researching etc, drafting, videoing and pitching.
Matt emphasised that PR is all about sustaining relationships; the team have their own Media & Influencer Hub who build a database of contactable journalists and influencers. When approaching a journalist, the idea is not to ‘sell-in’, but rather promote an opportunity for the journalist to write the best article they can with your help. That is what he explains to juniors in the team and that fundamentally, practice makes perfect.
When a PR professional is properly prepared and has their pitch points ready, this is when journalists will buy in. He notes that you should treat the journalist as an extension of the team. They are simply the front end of the news creation whereas the PR professional is the back end.
In response to what he’d say to those interested in working in PR, Matt said that it’s an exciting time to join due to the new digital media landscape. The shift in how PRs now work means that there is more conversation and what is important nowadays is joining the conversations and creating engagement.
Furthermore he admitted that although PR is a very difficult industry to start off with at the beginning of your career due to relatively low pay and a heavy workload – it is worth sticking to as the more senior you become the better the pay becomes.
In summary, the life of a PR professional is varied and it seems that there are no two sectors the same; however it does require a lot of work. With the final message being that the key to successful PR is building great relationships and engaging in conversation.
Written by Matt Peake.
Interview with Matt Foster from Waggener Edstrom