The Nine Lives of a PR Person

As PR people know, it’s not easy to explain what we do to anyone who isn’t in business or communications. Heck, half my family thinks I report the news, and the other half is convinced I design ads. We implement varying and ever-changing communications tactics to support clients in diverse industries, and perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to explain. Maybe it’s also why PR was recently named #2 on CareerCast’s annual report of the most stressful jobs in America.

Over the course of a typical day’s work, we must play several roles, nine of which are outlined below. I’m sure my fellow PR professionals have more to add—so please, feel free to include them in the comments.

  1. Student – Although we will never know the ins and outs of clients’ businesses as well as they do, we can’t effectively communicate on their behalf if we don’t have a keen understanding of their organizations, industries, journalists that cover those industries, and the issues that may affect them. Becoming well-versed in a client’s business requires asking lots of questions, doing in-depth research, diligently reading industry publications, monitoring competitors’ every move and keeping an eye on the social landscape. Client industries and media aren’t the only two things we study. With communications platforms constantly evolving, it’s increasingly important that we study what’s currently working in PR—and what isn’t.
  2. Journalist – In addition to writing press releases, web copy, newsletters and collateral pieces, PR professionals are responsible for identifying interesting story angles and effectively pitching those stories to media. This often involves researching and interviewing in the same way journalists do, before we even pitch a story.
  3. Designer –While we may not have the creative and technical prowess of professional graphic designers, PR professionals are often called upon to put their design skills to the test, whether that means creating a clean presentation template, editing photos or laying out an organization’s internal publication.
  4. Parent –Every now and then, a PR advisor must act as the voice of reason — the person who raises red flag about a decision that could have a negative impact on a client’s company. We see things from a different perspective, as parents do, and of course, we always want what is best for our clients.
  5. Firefighter – Like a fire, a PR crisis can break out at any time and spread quickly. When a client is experiencing a crisis, it is up to us to stay calm, prevent the flames from spreading and guide the client to safety. Sometimes companies don’t seek PR counsel until after the fire has caused significant damage. In this case, we work closely to make repairs and diagnose why the fire broke out in the first place.
  6. Landscaper –While it’s easy to lay down the fake turf, a genuine lawn often requires careful cultivation to flourish. The same goes with public affairs. As my colleague, Michelle Lancaster said in her 2011 predictions for Public Affairs & Grassroots Campaigns, real grass is in. PR professionals must understand, and know how to execute, evolving methods of two-way communication between elected officials and their constituents.
  7. Architect –Communications planning (“the blueprint”) requires significant attention to detail and many correlating parts and pieces. Architects don’t design buildings just so they look good on paper; they must remember functionality and the needs of the building’s occupants. Similarly, PR people must consider the intended end result, and all the logistics to get there, when outlining a PR plan.
  8. Analyst – Measurement and analysis help us, and our clients, understand how we’re doing and make course corrections if necessary. This component of PR could include analyzing media coverage to reporting how the client is being discussed on social platforms. This analyst role, while often the most time-consuming and painstaking, is essential and worth the time spent.
  9. Therapist– After all of the pitching, writing, learning, reporting, advising, cultivating, designing, fire-fighting and analyzing, sometimes the outcome is simply out of our control. Reporters change their minds about the direction of an article. Breaking news prevents the local TV station from covering your event.  This is when our PR colleagues (“therapists”) console us, share a drink with us, and remind us why we do this.

Which leads to the question…Why the heck do we do this? Why do we wake up at 3 a.m. stressing about the next day’s conference call or big event? Or struggle to ignore that familiar “ping” of an email coming to our phones over the weekend?

PR is an industry fueled by hard work and dedication. It’s not a career where half-hearted efforts lead to results that make a difference.  Those results we work so hard for are almost never immediate, and partly out of our control, but certainly are worth the stress. Behind every campaign, internal communication initiative, or news story, is a PR person who poured his or her heart and soul into that project. And when that final product comes to bear, well, there’s nothing better than that.


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