Public Relations

by Debbie Leven

The PR department

The PR department is responsible for creating and maintaining good relationships between an organisation and its key audiences or ‘publics’, particularly in relation to reputation and the communication of information. In some organisations, the PR function will be handled either by a specific department or by personnel within another department (such as marketing). Other organisations manage their PR by outsourcing either part or all of it, depending on their needs.

Press office/PR department

Often, the terms are used interchangeably, so a PR department or a press office may carry out similar tasks. In some organisations, however, there may be further differentiation, with the press office focusing solely on proactive and reactive press and media relations, including handling calls from the press and media as well as devising and implementing ideas to generate press and media coverage (rather than getting involved in stakeholder communication, internal communication and so on).

How does a PR department/press office function?

Usually, a PR plan, based on the organisation’s overarching objectives, will be in place or will be developed to guide PR activity. The plan will, typically, state the PR objectives, the target audiences, the key messages to be conveyed to each audience and the activity to be undertaken to meet each of the objectives.

For press and media relations, the PR team will work to identify any up-and-coming activities and events that might provide PR opportunities. It is likely that they will also come up with ideas to generate coverage by, for example, carrying out research relevant to the sector or hosting events.

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.

George Orwell

On a day-to-day basis, staff will monitor coverage, as well as the news in general, to identify opportunities, highlight where reporting is inaccurate and needs to be responded to, and monitor the topics and areas of interest on which journalists are focusing. Monitoring also, of course, highlights where coverage has been secured on the back of press and media relations work carried out by staff.

Issues monitoring is an important part of PR activity. The PR professional will want to act swiftly when inaccurate reporting has taken place and also to issue comment on the back of other stories relevant to the organisation and the sector.

What are the different types of press and media?

There are a number of ways for organisations to get their news and messages across via the press and media. While it is likely that the PR department will issue the same news story to the different elements of the press and media, how they do it will vary. In essence, press and media are divided into

  • Print – newspapers and magazines
  • Broadcast – television and radio
  • Online – this has successfully combined both print and broadcast, with podcasts and interviews increasingly streamed online to convey news and information.

Each of the categories above divides further:

  • Print covers national and weekend newspapers, local/regional newspapers, international newspapers and magazines, special interest publications, trade publications and consumer publications
  • Broadcast includes feature-based, investigative and special interest news and entertainment programmes
  • Online – many publications, channels and programmes now have their own online presence. There is also an increasing number of online ‘publications’ that do not have an offline presence. The advent of the internet has opened up many more opportunities for PR, placing increasing demands on PR departments and specialists. The speed with which information can be uploaded/updated, as well as the involvement of those using the internet to influence discussion and debate about news items and stories, ensures a constant need to track online media.

What suppliers does the PR department use and why?

The PR department will typically use any, or all of the following:

  • Photography – photography of key spokespeople as well as of products, offices and so on are useful to support press and media relations; it’s likely that the PR department will have a photo library of some sort and will seek to add to this on a regular basis
  • Print – producing leaflets, posters and annual reviews often falls within the remit of the PR department
  • Design – to support production of materials and branding
  • Exhibition design – to support attendance at events
  • Cuttings and press monitoring – the PR department will monitor press and media coverage, but will also want to keep track of other related issues relevant to the organisation; services are now available to provide cuttings in electronic format as well as cuttings of the original article; the PR department briefs the cuttings agency on the relevant words to look for and the types of publications to check; monitoring services are also available for television and radio, recording a programme on request or tracking back through footage to find a particular piece and issue a recording
  • Research is a valuable way to keep in touch with customers and potential customers; focus groups and surveys provide useful insight into perceptions of an organisation; the PR department also uses research to generate news ‘hooks’ and stories; often, the PR department will look for any PR angle in research carried out by the company as part of its business activities
  • Media database – there are a vast number of media outlets, especially now that online media and cable channels have mushroomed; a media database service provides updated contact and profile information for journalists, programmes and publications (it’s worth noting that any one programme or publication will have a number of journalists on staff as well as freelancers)
  • Event management – if resources don’t allow, or the size of event is considerable, then event management services might be outsourced
  • Media training – it’s not unusual for the PR department to enlist the services of specialist media trainers to support staff, either to help them develop their media handling skills or in advance of a specific media interview
  • Freelancers/consultants – in some instances, the PR department may hire an extra pair of hands or someone with specialist expertise.