I use how often I get asked, “So, what do you do?” as a barometer of how well I’m doing my job. And, I’m proud to say it’s been awhile.
I get why people question the purpose of the PR team. Anyone can get their messages out in today’s world of always-on iDevices - even animals (ahem, Manny the Frenchie!) Pop culture doesn’t help, either. When was the last time you saw PR accurately portrayed onscreen? Rarely or never.
So, what do I (and PR staff) do? I’ll answer with a quote from “A Few Good Men.” The scene where Jack Nicholson screams, “You want me on that wall! You NEED me on that wall!” Less angry and vehement, but same concept.
Today, it’s crucial for brands, corporations and government agencies to have staff “on that wall.” To cut through the clutter, stay relevant and keep your audience engaged, it takes effective PR to show why you matter.
While agencies can work with you, there is inherent value in having an in-house team willing to be on that wall because they work here, too, and are just as invested in positioning you for success.
The Medium Is (or Isn’t) The Message
In “Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn” (highly recommend!), Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones discuss how audiences don’t want you telling them how great your brand is; they want you to show them by solving their problems and making their lives better, easier and less stressful.
Millennials and Generation Z tend to see advertising and traditional media as fake and irrelevant. And Millennials now represent the largest segment of the U.S. labor force (read: The largest group of income earners in a position to do business with you), so this isn’t going away.
To engage stakeholders where they live, work and do business, you need a strong PR team to find your voice, talk to the audience and give strategic advice. Agencies may bring an external overview, but it’s a lot easier and more effective for the in-house team to find your voice – they’re already deep in your gut.
From “Get Me a Story” to “How Can I Tell My Story?”
Like many PR staff, I started my career in journalism. When I began working in PR 15 years ago, a pet peeve was being asked, “Hey, can you get me a story on the front page of the paper?” As if I could just call The New York Times and place my order.
At that point, we were still putting out press releases and waiting for media calls. Today, the ongoing decline of the journalism industry has led to PR professionals taking on more traditional reporter duties. In 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that news industry jobs were cut by more than half over the past 15 years. PR staff are filling the void.
I’m always putting on my journalist hat and deciding how we can tell our story. I don’t just write press releases; I do research to see what else is out there, consider visual and digital elements and determine how the story can be repurposed for multiple channels.
I realize that as a PR professional, I will always have a bias. But, my journalist’s objectivity serves me well. Much like political candidates do oppo research, your PR staff can see how your message will stand up to media coverage and tweak it as needed.
The better and more polished your content is, the greater the odds the understaffed, overworked newsroom will pay attention. And since most of us were in their shoes once, we’re the perfect people to do this in a way that’s factual, credible and usable.
Win the Locker Room
Your PR staff are in the unique position of sharing you with the outside world and your internal stakeholders. They are the ones who can best determine which initiatives, projects, services, etc. your company is doing should be communicated about --and which ones shouldn’t. This involves telling people that their pet projects are not top priority, which has to be done as amicably as possible to avoid fallout and get everyone on the same page.
This is where I think corporations get the most value from having an internal PR team. While it could be easier for an agency to tell your employees what isn’t important right now (and they won’t have to face those people at the coffeepot five minutes later), getting true buy-in takes someone else with skin in the game.
And when it comes to your employees, remember the point above – anyone can communicate. Your PR staff can develop successful brand ambassadors for you and avoid a communications crisis from within. They’re well-positioned to work with HR and set expectations for employees’ social media use. Don’t assume that every employee knows better than to complain about work on the internet, and don’t assume that everyone has the same definition of appropriate posting. This is a modern communication challenge that your internal PR team can effectively address.
Call Out to the Wall
I have been at my most effective – and have done my best work – when I’ve been given a place at the table to advise and strategize. Your PR team is in a great position to listen to what your internal and external audiences are saying, analyze what that means and position you at your best. Use them! Call them! Invite them to meetings! Remember, we work here, too. We have a very vested interest in positioning you as a thought leader and reliable source.
Media change, but the value of a good message stays the same. Make sure you are positioning yourself for success with PR staff who are credible, competent and ready to get “on that wall.”
Kristen Sunde has more than 15 years of experience in the communication field, including work as a journalist and in governmental, agency and corporate public relations. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in political communication from LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. She is also a graduate of Georgetown University’s Summer Institute on Political Journalism.