PR is Not a Dirty Word
I recently hired a full-time project manager, Kendyl, and it’s been interesting to see the reaction of her friends as she tells them she works for a small public relations firm. Some nod noncommittally, not really sure what a PR firm does. Others recoil a bit, as though Kendyl has just contracted a mildly contagious illness.
I get it. PR firms can use their power for good or evil, as it were, and in this do-not-trust-the-media environment, PR firms can be viewed as spin doctors. However, those of us in the communications business with scruples can do tremendous good in the world, building community and reinforcing positive change.
I focus on the “relations” part of public relations. I help my clients build relationships with the public, with their clients, and with their employees, shareholders and board members. I even help them improve their relationships with their detractors–by publishing factual information, at least people can form opinions based on the truth rather than rumor. While marketing depends on paid advertising to enhance credibility and popularity, public relations focuses on unpaid sources, or “earned media.” In my mind, this is a huge distinction. If you pay for an ad, it’ll get published. It’s a whole different deal when you send a press release to an objective member of the media and they decide the information is newsworthy enough to share with their readers.
I focus on the “relations” part of public relations.
And the media isn’t the only one source of news. Word of mouth has always been the most powerful way to spread information. These days, with social media, word of mouth can spread to thousands or even millions of people almost instantly. As a consumer, the trick is to be a savvy, discriminating reader.
Because there is so much information out there, it can be hard for organizations to get much attention. This is where I come in. When people make the world a better place, I share their stories, so they can get the support and credit they deserve. I do my best to build confidence in our fellow man by reminding people they are surrounded by those who heal, who educate children, and who put themselves at risk to safeguard others.
Locally, did you know that Ross Liberty of Factory Pipe donated the land at the old Masonite site for the Mendocino Complex Fire staging area, instead of charging the state the thousands of dollars (a day) that they’d have been willing to pay? Did you know that Ukiah Unified School District bus drivers and mechanics volunteered to help evacuate the Lake County Jail inmates during the fires? Did you know that over the years, Mendocino College has worked with local businesses to create programs like the Nursing Program and the Sustainable Construction Program, so we have the workforce we need to care for people and build homes in our valley? These are the stories a PR professional shares.
Every company has a set of values. As a PR professional, I choose to work with people who contribute positively to society. You don’t have to eradicate hunger or single-handedly reverse climate change, but you can’t be in the business of hurting others or ruining the environment in exchange for the almighty dollar. I work with educators, healthcare organizations, local governments, and community-minded businesspeople. I help my clients increase their profits, so they can do more good work. Most of us in the PR world, either out of ethics or self-preservation, won’t help a client misrepresent themselves. I certainly won’t.
If you decide to work with a PR professional, you should expect to be lead through a process that helps you define your key audiences and messages (aligned with your strategic goals, of course). The PR professional should help you set realistic goals based on your budget, timeline and ultimate endgame. He or she will use the tool of the trade, including writing press releases, speeches, and blogs; developing speaking engagements and fostering strategic alliances; and making pitches to the media and influential opinion leaders. Working behind the scenes, the PR professional can help you earn prominent coverage where it matters most.