What does a PR firm actually do?

17 July 2020 | 9 min read | News
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

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Ever wondered what exactly what a PR agency does? Watch the video with our MD, Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, for a little insight.  

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If you’d rather read than watch and listen, a transcript of the video is below.

When we started Clearly, almost seven years ago now, we positioned ourselves as Clearly PR. Because that’s what we do – we do PR. But after a while, having been on a plethora of new business pitches, we found ourselves having to explain to prospects what PR is and does. When emerged in a specialism day in day out it is easy to assume that everyone else ‘gets’ what it is you do, but rarely is that the case.

And so, to provide greater clarity without the need to change our name in the process, we bolted on the words ‘Marketing Communications’ to our name. Those two little words would end up have a big impact. For many of the businesses we were speaking with, seeing the word ‘marketing’ in our name represented an association with, well, ‘marketing’ – a form of promotion that many people are all too familiar with.

So, when we speak about PR, the key to really getting it is in the understanding of what it does first and foremost before looking at the tactics it then employs.

Taking the first question – the ‘what’ it does is rather simple really:

PR improves the perception that your customers and other key stakeholders have of your business/brand/product/service; it positions you as the go-to within each sector you operate; and it gets you in front of the right people, in the right way and at the right time.

In doing so, it boosts awareness of who you are, what you do and what’s in it for your target audience if they engage and do business with you; it raises your profile as an employer of choice and one that attracts and retains the talent you really want and need; and, ultimately it positively impacts your organisation’s bottom line.

Now to the ‘how’ PR does all of that?

The answer to that is, of course, is there’s no one cap which fits all. But what you’ll find when taking a look at how organisations do their PR, when all the various campaigns are considered, there are many commonalities in what they do.

Take the company that introduced a four-day working week into their organisation. This fast-growing specialist recruitment company with operations both here in the UK as well as France and Germany introduced a change to the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday routine. And they wanted the world to know about it.

PR improves the perception that your customers and other key stakeholders have of you; it positions you as the go-to within each sector you operate; and it gets you in front of the right people, in the right way and at the right time.

On the face of it, there is not a lot to hang your hat on. But drill down a little further and the ideas start to flow and the PR tactics to be employed become clear. You have the fact they operate in a sector that is known for its long-hours culture and commission-driven environment. So what, what’s the angle here?

Think about it for a second – long hours culture = restricted work/life balance. Commission-driven culture often = increased levels of workplace stress and even mental health problems. And there we have the two angles – hooks if you like – with which to talk about. Now to get that message out there, and here’s how.

In this example, we deployed a number of tactics. We wrote blogs on the company website because we knew that as a fast-growing company they were looking to attract new employees to work for them. By seeing that our client took workplace stress and achieving a healthy work-life balance seriously this would position them as an attractive employer of choice. It would also appeal to their prospective clients too, as they’d see that this was a recruitment company who put people before profits – not the perception many people have of recruiters.

As well as blogs and authored articles for the senior leadership team, we undertook a media outreach programme which started with a single press release and quickly ballooned into one of the most successful campaigns we have ever run – dozens and dozens of media coverage was secured in the form of quotes, bylines, full articles, TV and radio interviews.

To stand out in an increasingly crowded or even over-crowded market, you need to do or say something that is remarkable

We had SKY News do a live broadcast from our clients’ offices, the first two words of an article in WIRED started with the name of our client, local radio wanted the CEO to appear on their shows again and again. BBC TV and Radio 4 all wanted his views and opinions.

It was incredible both in terms of raising awareness of the two key strands we were highlighting, building the brand and increasing awareness of who they are and what they do, and also with regard to the positive effect it had on their bottom line – they became seen as an employer of choice and the more people they hired the greater the revenue opportunities they were able to create for themselves.

All in all, the client reached an audience of over 20 million people.

That’s an example of one campaign. Others don’t always have such a newsworthy story to tell, yet what they do and say is interesting to the audiences they serve. Take the example of a UK and US tech company we worked with.

This major European and US fintech company operates across the energy, education, charity and hospitality sectors. But they face some stiff competition and have been seeking ways to boost their market share. It isn’t an easy ask given the other players within their market, but through various PR tactics they have been successful in getting their voices heard a lot louder than it once was.

To do this we developed and executed a campaign that consisted of regular thought leadership content for the business’s key people, for example blog and LinkedIn articles and the launch of a new podcast series that debated and discussed the latest trends and key challenges affecting each of the sectors their customers come from.

What this did for the client was position their key people and the business itself as knowing their arses from their elbows. This in turn creates a sense of trust but also rapport between the buyers and sellers – if you can see that a potential supplier ‘gets’ your pain points and can offer either partial or full solutions to help you overcome them, human nature dictates you’ll think favourably of said individual and the business they represent.

Content – or content marketing, to give it its full title – will only do so much and as a stand-alone PR tactic its impact in good. But to be great it needs to serve as a complement to other activities. With this client, we also needed to extend the reach of the clients’ brand and that meant maximizing the opportunities presented by the media.

PR should never be seen as an alternative to or replacement for advertising and traditional marketing

To stand out in an increasingly crowded or even over-crowded market, you need to do or say something that is remarkable – I don’t mean in the sense of being melodramatic in a bid to garner attention a-la Kanye West’s recent bid to run for the office of President of the USA. No, what I mean is that you need to figure out a way of ensuring that what you have to say is both a little different to what every other business in your space is saying, and that’s its of value to your intended audience too.

So, we undertook a major market research project which focus on just one of the core sectors our client wanted to influence. The results made for a wealth of subsequent articles, animated graphics, infographics, media enquiries and interviews, speaker opportunities, whitepapers and of course social media.

Finally…

PR is not simply about getting your company’s name into the press. There is so much more to it than that. Nor should PR ever be seen as an alternative to or replacement for advertising and traditional marketing. Both tactics have their merits but there is one discernable difference between the two:

Marketing will boost your sales in the short term. But it won’t prepare you for long-term growth or positively influence the perception others have of you. For that to happen, you need PR.

I’ll leave you with this:

Richard Branson famously said, “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.” While Gates said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on PR.” I reckon these lads have done OK for themselves. What do you think?

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