The role of a public relations professional is complicated, to say the least.

If you start to hunt for a definition of what a job in PR actually involves, you’ll find a variety of vague, and pretty unhelpful, descriptions of some kind of job relating to communications.

While I was doing this exact search, here are some of the descriptions I encountered:
Feeling any more enlightened? I, most certainly, was not.

Why does no one know what PR entails?

We all know it has something to do with communication, the media and brands, right? So, the very basic formula for what PR is should be something like this:

Brand + PR professional + media connection = Unpaid coverage = PR ???

But the problem is that it’s hard to really narrow it down more than that. But why is that?

Well, the world we’re living in presents a fair number of complexities; technology is ever-expanding and there are more media platforms than ever before. So that simple formula above starts to get a little more complicated

Which media platforms are we talking about? Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, online news sites, podcasts, social media, blogs — the list goes on! And we haven’t even considered the impact of influencers …

This is precisely what has made PR so hard to pin down. There are so many moving parts, so many options and so many variables that it is nearly impossible to make sense of it all.

What does a PR professional do, though?

To start making some sense of what exactly PR entails, let’s take a look at the actual tasks that PR professionals perform.

1. They tell stories about brands and companies

The main task that is bestowed upon PR professionals is to understand, build and share brand and company stories with the public. These stories should aid the marketing and advertising efforts, adding a layer of ‘substance’ to the messages received by the public.

While the marketing efforts are a way for brands to communicate directly with audiences, PR efforts go from the brand, to the media and then onto audiences. Having the media as the middleman gives PR an extra level of credibility, giving PR communications a real value for brands.
Wondering how to tell an exceptional story? Check out these Six lessons in storytelling for PR professionals.

2. They manage crisis situations and shape the debate

When things go wrong (or even just in the wrong direction), PR professionals are the first port of call for businesses. PR efforts give brands a voice, giving consumers insight into the minds behind the company, hopefully helping to balance the negative with the positive and shaping the narrative.

Crisis management is a critical part of PR, and a crisis management plan is an essential tool in any PR pro’s arsenal. A PR crisis can arise now faster than ever before — all thanks to instant communication, the shareability of content and fake news. That’s why PR folks always need to be prepared for any situation that could get out of hand.
Wondering how to deal with the drama? Check out this guide to managing a PR crisis.

3. They research — a lot

Before pitching to — and landing — a client, a PR pro has to do some research to find out more about them. But modern PR requires a deeper and further-reaching understanding of exactly what makes the client tick.

Not only does a PR pro need to understand the client, their audience and their industry in order to deliver positive results, but a modern PR should understand even more things about them, such as:
  • the client’s audience
  • that audience’s media preferences
  • the industry jargon
  • the needs and wants of the client’s audience
  • the latest technological advances, and
  • the latest social media trends.
By understanding more about the client and their audience, as well as the happenings in the digisphere, a PR professional is better equipped to deliver positive PR results.
To use AVE or not? Check out our guide on Measuring earned media: Four metrics to focus on.

4. They write, and write, and write

Working in PR doesn’t mean that you have to be the next Stephen King, but if you can deftly turn a phrase, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself with more career and client opportunities.

A good place to start is to cultivate effective writing habits and have a solid handle on an editing style. Trust us, the journalists you reach out to — and your clients — will thank you for it. The only way to improve your writing is to start writing — and keep doing it.

If you’re unsure as to why the media rewrote your content, ask them. Then implement those changes in any future content you want to send them. Remember that there’s always room for improvement in everyone’s writing.

But if you can write fairly well and generate relevant, desirable content, you’ll find yourself in high demand in the industry.

Poorly written content is a red flag for consumers and brands alike, so PR pros have to ensure that their writing is in tip-top shape. Wondering how to improve your writing? Simple — just do these two things:
  • Read voraciously
  • Practise, practise, practise
Want some more advice on bettering your writing? Check out these Five golden rules for creating exceptional content.

5. They plan events

Organisational skills are a no-brainer when it comes to PR, considering that often you’ll have multiple client projects all happening simultaneously. And while advances in technology have helped to make things a little easier, you’ll still need to focus on prioritising your work.

Event planning forms a large part of any job in PR. You’ll spend hours and hours and hours planning your events, writing press releases, inviting attendees, organising everything, taking photographs, live tweeting and actually networking at these events.

Events are one of the most effective ways to get consumers to interact with a brand and get the media involved. Events also offer a further way to spread a positive message and sentiment about your client’s brand to the public, communicate news about a new product or story and give the consumer news.
There’s a lot of work that goes into planning an event, but luckily we have A simple 10-step guide to creating a great PR event strategy.

6. They speak to the media

PR professionals have to form strong relationships with the media in order to pitch stories and angles to them on a daily basis. To reach all media, PR professionals will develop as many angles as possible, and find reporters from as many beats as possible to cover their story.

Building and maintaining relationships with the media is key in this industry. You are responsible for understanding the media landscape. This means that tailoring your pitches to the people you reach out to will allow you to secure media coverage for your clients.

“The better you understand the media that you reach out to, the better your relationship with their journalists, editors and station managers will be,” says media specialist Marina Kruger from Target Media Directory.

Having access to accurate information when pitching your client’s message to the media is the best way to find new media opportunities and build existing relationships.
Want to build up a better rapport with the media? Check out this Infographic: How PR pros can build a trusting relationship with journalists.

7. They think creatively

While any PR professional throughout history could tell you that creativity was a necessary skill, modern PR requires hyper-creativity.

Modern PR still demands that PR pros apply their creativity and constantly generate fresh concepts for campaigns and angles for press releases, as they always have. But, on top of that, PR professionals now have to work that much harder for their message to cut through the competitive noise on digital media.

Plus, with so many media options out there, modern PR pros have to flex their creative muscles — often on behalf of clients — and go further than just using the usual mediums. Creative PR options can include podcasts, social media content websites like Mic and Medium as well as enhanced social media platforms like Facebook Live and IGTV.

The most skilled PR professionals will push the creative limits to come up with new content ideas using the mind-boggling media options out there.
Check out these Three reasons why creativity is key in PR.

8. They are social media ninjas

Modern PR professionals not only need to be aware of new social media platforms, they need to understand how they work, who is using them and how they can leverage it to get a brand message across.

Good PR pros know their IGTV from their Twitter Fleets, and everything in between! So, why do PR folks need to be on top of their social game?

Well, on social media:
  • news stories have a shorter lifespan
  • crisis communications is more crucial
  • it’s easier to reach journalists, and
  • influencers are visible — and reachable.
Social media is vital in this industry. Just take a look at these Five ways you should be using social media as a PR tool.

What does PR in today’s day and age look like?

PR officer Robert Wynne writes in an article for Forbes that “the public relations industry does a terrible job of public relations”. This is simply because very few people seem to know what it is that PRs actually do.

But it is evident that working in PR is one big juggling act. Anyone succeeding in this industry is a jack-of-all-trades and they have to be a master of all.

So, the next time someone asks you what you do for a living, your best bet might be to say something like this:

“I solve just about every problem that my clients have. I manage their reputation, their communications, their relationships with media and with audiences — and, basically, I can do anything.”

How do you explain what it means to ‘work in PR’? Let us know in the comments section below.

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We chatted to one of America’s top PR minds, Tressa Robbins, to find out where the industry is headed. Find out why The future of PR is bright but complicated.