Debunking PR industry jargon
So… what do you actually do then?
As you might imagine from the title, this blog started as a joke with colleagues as we reflected on how we explain what we ‘do’ to someone who doesn’t work in PR and communications. Throwing the question around in the office, we soon realised that while our roles were similar, we gave quite different answers!
I guess that’s not surprising – whenever asked about work by a friend or relative, I find myself listing the day-to-day tasks, rather than my responsibilities and what it actually means to be a PR and comms professional. That’s because I also found it difficult to understand before working in the sector; back when I was a new graduate hunting for my first ‘proper’ job, I knew that my writing skills meant that there was something in the PR, marketing and communications space for me. Ever the over-analyst, I took it upon myself to research the sector in minute detail – but the more I Googled, the more confused I got!
Anecdotally, I know that this isn’t just a problem for new starters. Often, senior stakeholders at organisations without dedicated in-house comms resource find that PR is far-removed from their day job, which can make the initial leap to invest in the right agency quite difficult to navigate.
This got me thinking that part of the problem is that we talk in abstractions about our work. As storytellers, we have the importance of drilling down the ‘who, what, when, where and why’ instilled into us from day one. I feel strongly that we should use this approach to make understanding the sector more accessible to people from all backgrounds and with different experiences. And since I HATE when things are unnecessarily complicated, I’ve ‘debunked’ some of the acronyms and common terms you’re likely to hear during your first week on the job in PR, or when meeting an agency as a prospective client.
Let’s start from the beginning (the irony that the term ‘PR’ is an acronym is not lost on me). ‘PR’ stands for ‘public relations’ – summarised here as ‘the activity of keeping good relationships between an organisation and the general public’.
I do feel that ‘PR’ itself has a bit of a reputation problem – perhaps due to stereotypical ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ depictions on TV and in films. But for us at Social, it means undertaking proactive and reactive work to protect and enhance a client’s reputation, generating awareness, respect and understanding. That could involve inviting television crews down to a major client milestone, positioning a business leader on an expert panel at an event or responding to media enquiries about a matter of public interest.
Confusingly, though, sometimes people use ‘PR’ as shorthand for ‘press release’. On that note…
A press release is an informative, factual piece of copy that gets across the key points of a story succinctly. It should be written in the style of a news article, and usually includes a headline, a concise summary of the story and a quote from the client organisation, plus third-party commentary where appropriate.
It’s designed to notify media about something that has happened/is set to happen, informing a journalist to write their own story or acting as a springboard for feature and thought-leadership opportunities. Speaking of…
This term was mentioned so much in my first few months on the job, but it took me a good while to pin down what the industry buzzword actually meant.
Now, I’d argue that thought-leadership can take on different forms, but the common thread is that it’s about positioning an individual (who in turn represents their company) as an expert in their field. Offering new perspectives and a leading voice of authority on a subject, thought-leadership could be delivered in the form of a reflective blog for the company’s website, a keynote speech at an event or an opinion piece for media.
An example of thought-leadership in action, an opinion piece is a type of editorial content that is attributed to a business spokesperson and published by a media outlet. It’s usually a reflective, 600-800-word first-person piece that identifies a challenge or topic, explores solutions and identifies benefits that these would bring.
Designed to add value to the reader, it should avoid falling into the trap of becoming a sales pitch at all costs.
That’s business-to-business (B2B) vs business-to-consumer (B2C) (i.e. the intended audience with which the organisation wants to communicate).
A lot of the work we do at Social is corporate in focus, designed to engage business stakeholders, prospective clients or key decision-makers. This often means securing PR coverage in business-focused media and specialist industry titles that we know movers-and-shakers in our clients’ spaces will see. We’ve also delivered B2C activity to raise public awareness of an organisation or encourage behaviour change among key audience groups.
With that being said, B2B and B2C aren’t always mutually exclusive and often our work puts things going on in the business world onto the public’s radar. For example, securing planning permission for a housing development could have positive implications on the existing community, offering investment and opportunity.
Opinion pieces, press releases, TikTok videos, leaflets, web articles, tweets, graphic assets and blogs are all examples of content (though this list is by no means exhaustive).
‘Content’ feels like quite a wooly abstract noun – like thought-leadership, it comes in many formats, but in general it offers a way to communicate messages and inspire, inform or entertain target audiences.
Savvy communicators often ‘market’ their content, maximising the impact of a piece of work by repurposing it to communicate the message in different ways across multiple channels (e.g. a press release becomes a blog, an infographic and a talking head video). Sometimes, this forms the basis of an integrated campaign.
Why do communicators do all of this? It comes back to KPIs – that’s the key performance indicators underpinning a communications strategy.
These are a set of target objectives and desired outcomes that activity is benchmarked against. It provides direction and a vision about what ‘good’ looks like, informing the way that tactics are deployed. Comms KPIs should be aligned to wider business objectives – in the instance of PR activity, for example, this could be related to improving public sentiment, driving more clicks to a webpage on a specific issue or raising national profile.
For communicators like ourselves at Social, KPIs are arguably the most important consideration of our work – and delivering strong results against them is easily the most rewarding.
To find out more about the work that Social delivers in the PR and communications space, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily McGowan-Phoenix is an account manager at Social.