Advice — What is PR and how does it work? A comprehensive introduction from The Academy

Posted 06 February 2019 Interview by Indi Davies

PR, or public relations, can be a tricky industry to understand – and just as hard to describe. Added to that are its overlaps with advertising and marketing, along with the fact that it’s continually evolving and adapting to an ever more media-savvy world. To explore how it works and how it’s shifting, we spoke to PR expert Dan Glover – the co-founder of one of our agency partners, The Academy – whose work includes attention-grabbing initiatives for brands including Disney, Domino’s and Amazon.

An overview of PR

Traditionally, PR could be perceived as simply playing the role of messenger between a company or brand and the press. Their job is to understand a client’s brand, messaging and what they’re promoting, and then pass that information onto a third party (like the press) in a way that makes it news-worthy.

The end goal? To keep people talking about that particular brand, company or product, get them to tell others about it, and ultimately, get more people buying into it.  

How is PR evolving? 
Since PR people are so well-versed in knowing what the media, and therefore the public at large, will (and won’t) react to, they are in a perfect position to advise a company on how they conduct a campaign or message. As a result, the line between advertising and PR can be blurred. In Dan’s words:

“It feels like there’s a significant change happening in the communications industry, where clients are realising that actions speak louder than words.

“There’s a significant change happening... PR agencies are as likely to end up as a client’s creative partner as an advertising agency.”

“This means that PR agencies are just as likely to end up as a client’s strategic and creative partner – advising on what they should communicate and why – where it would traditionally have been an advertising agency.”

So if this is the case, what does the work look like? We got Dan to run us through two recent projects from The Academy, to better understand their role. 

Examples of PR work

Similar to an advertising agency, a PR agency’s work might be quite invisible to the eye of a viewer or reader – as often it will just be the brand or company who are credited for the work. Below are two different projects from 2018 that demonstrate the potential breadth of the work.

#SleepWalkForShelter

Mel C, Mo Gilligan and Julie Adenuga for Shelter

Client: Shelter
When? 2018
The Aim: To raise funds for Shelter, but also get people involved in the charity’s mission to put an end to homelessness in the UK.

The Role of PR: 
The Academy devised an entirely new mass-participation initiative, #SleepWalkForShelter, specifically to engage a younger audience with the Shelter cause. This involved developing the concept and campaign around a 10km night walk; allocating celebrity talent Mel C, Mo Gilligan and Julie Adenuga to promote the cause; organising the event (with event partner, Jubba) and designing a map that incorporated the Shelter logo; then getting the word out to attract the public to take part. 

The event itself pulled in thousands of people, raised over £230,000 and gained press coverage in titles including The Evening Standard, The Daily Mail and It’s Nice That. The plan is to now roll out the concept across major cities in 2019. 

Mickey Mouse & Me

Kate Moss by Rankin

Client: Disney
When? 2018
The Aim: To celebrate 90 years of Mickey Mouse with a series of special initiatives that highlighted the impact the world’s most famous mouse has had in popular culture.

The Role of PR
One of multiple activations that The Academy carried out to mark Mickey Mouse’s 90th year, the team came up with the idea of a photo book, featuring celebrities explaining what Mickey Mouse means to them.

Enlisting world-renowned photographer Rankin, they were able to attract stars such as Kate Moss, Heidi Klum, Mark Hamill and Tinie Tempah to be captured within the book. 

The Academy also generated press interest for the campaign – earning over 300 pieces of coverage, from TV segments to being featured in newspapers and magazines such as Vogue, alongside millions of impressions on social media.

Essential things to know about PR

PR and marketing are different 
It can be easy to get confused between advertising, PR and marketing. But while Dan agrees that there are growing crossovers, the boundary with marketing is clear:

“PR is more about the art of persuasion – getting someone to form an opinion and act upon it, whereas marketing is primarily about the direct promotion of products or services. PR can of course perform a marketing function, but it’s often much more strategic and considerate of the overall reputation of a brand, as opposed to a simple sales metric.”

There are various forms of PR
Different types of PR are defined by the audiences you are trying to relate to, but the biggest are:

Consumer PR – which is concerned with communicating to consumers (the public).
Corporate PR – which talks to a corporate (or ‘business’) audience.

However, if any organisation, company or individual needs to communicate with an audience, there’s usually a PR job for it. This means that there are also specialists for PR in the following sectors: business-to-business, music and entertainment, charity, financial, healthcare, property, public affairs, public sector, sport, technology and travel.

What does the work look like day-to-day?
When a new client brief comes in, your first step is to work out:
1. What needs to be communicated.
2. How to do that in a way that gets noticed, solves a problem and passes into popular culture.

On any given day, a PR person might be helping a CEO define what they want their company to be famous for, coming up with ideas on how to get that message across to the public, or creating content that helps tell the story. They will also be speaking to journalists and influencers in the hopes of capturing their attention, and have it featured on popular news platforms and social channels. 

To make all of that work happen within a consumer PR agency, the team will usually be made up of: strategists, planners, creatives, content creators, account handlers, connectors (or publicists).

How can you prepare for a role in PR?

Skills and training
Degrees in PR aren’t particularly common, with only a handful of specialised courses available in the UK. The result is that many people come to PR from a wide range of backgrounds. In Dan’s mind, “PR is a viable career choice for anyone who feels they are good at the art of persuasion.”

In more specific, and skills-based terms, being able to communicate well is a must – and that isn’t restricted to one particular style. For Dan, a good communicator can be both an extrovert or an introvert, but more importantly, “a can-do attitude also goes far, because actions speak louder than words.” On top of that, an eye for good design, photography, film and copywriting is a real bonus, as many PRs will also create content themselves.

“PR is a viable career choice for anyone who feels they are good at the art of persuasion.”

“I look for people who are enthusiastic and passionate about life,” shares Dan. “Someone who has a point of view, the ambition to make an impact and is naturally interested in news, culture and creating something.”

But Dan’s best advice for aspiring PRs? “Look at organisations, companies and individuals you admire. Find out who is generating their stories, then connect with them. PRs are generally willing to talk to anyone who will listen, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice!”

Further reading 
For some super-reliable sources of PR info, check out:
• The PRCA and CIPR (both industry bodies)
• PR Week (the go-to industry magazine)
• PRExamples.comPRMoment.com and their podcast (good for consumer PR) 


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As an agency partner to Lecture in Progress, The Academy helps make what we do possible. You can discover more of their work at theacademypr.com

Posted 06 February 2019 Interview by Indi Davies
Illustration: Jiro Bevis
Collection: Advice
Disciplines: PR
Mentions: Dan Glover

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