Public relations: what is it good for?

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By Anath Hartmann

There’s a lot of confusion outside the public relations world about what exactly PR is. Is it marketing? Is it like sales? Is it another term for advertising? The answers to all of these is yes and no. Confused? You’re in good company.

The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as  “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Sure, that could describe Jerry Maguire’s job, too, but generally when our team and clients talk about the work we do, one of the first terms that pops up is “journalists.” Relationships with reporters, editors, producers and freelance writers form the crux of true PR these days, and those of us in the public relation field covet those relationships.

For recent graduates and mid-career job changers looking to get into public relations, this presents a bit of a catch-22. Getting good PR depends a lot on solid, positive, quid-pro-quo relationships with journalists, but it’s tough to make the right kinds of relationships with journalists unless you’re already in PR. One way in: Know the industry. Nope, we don’t mean public relations  – we mean journalism.

As anyone who’s spent time with a newspaper email address can tell you, you get spammed. A lot. Press releases, email blasts, Internet-order-bride offers, you name it. These messages are insidious, and no filter can block them all. Therefore, as you begin to grow your network of journalist friendlies, you’ll learn quickly that reporters have a pretty short attention span, and they learn to decide within seconds whether an email or a call is worthy of their time. They have to, or they’d never get any work done.

That being said, it’s your job as a PR person to ‘get it’ and not be just another reason to hit the delete button. Make your attention span just as short as a reporter’s, but not only as short – as keen, too. Here are our tips to do just this:


  • Develop your ‘bloodhound news sense’: Become a news junkie. Keep up-to-date on current events in your clients’ fields. Watch the news, read articles, search for op-eds – particularly the ones that don’t align with client opinion. This will help ensure you know what’s trending and relevant – and perhaps more importantly, what isn’t.
  • Read: Yes, this is sort of like the above tip, but we mean this more broadly. Read novels, nonfiction, magazines (we do not mean Us Weekly). The more voraciously you take in facts, the more broadly educated you become – and the larger your pool of knowledge gets. This will help your creative juices flow, which will aid you in thinking up unique pitches that catch copy-weary journalists’ attention.
  • Make connections: One of Jeopardy’s winningest contestants once defined intelligence as the ability to make mental connections. Looking to pitch a story to a harried reporter? Make an as-yet-unmade connection between a current event and an event or trend no one else seems to have considered as related.

Good luck, PR newbie – we’ll see you on the other side.

Image via Cision

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