At a junior level you need to make stuff happen. At a senior level, you need to add value to the organisation. Sounds easy?
When you break down the steps involved in making stuff happen, you realise there’s more to PR than just common sense (though that helps).
By way of illustration, a student blogger was invited to speak on local radio to share her thoughts on the role of social media in the election. I make that three steps and at least three years of preparation behind this activity.
- Interest and expertise. Post one or more articles about politics and social media (having studied or taken an interest in politics, journalism and public relations).
- Make your posts discoverable. You may assume that Google is all-knowing, but even the great search engine needs help in filtering (we all struggle with ‘filter failure’ in the social media age). Don’t miss out on simple tricks like completing your ‘About’ page and sharing your contact details and social media profiles.
- Make yourself available. You have to fit in with broadcast schedules, and commit to their timings and agenda.
There’s a fourth step: have something interesting to say, but you should already have passed that test at step one.
So, this is a good achievement for a student, whose reward is the experience (and perhaps being written about by those like me who don’t even teach her). But how does a local radio interview add value to an organisation (the challenge for the senior practitioner)?
This is where education can make a difference and help PR graduates overtake those with well-developed craft skills who may never master PR as a managerial function.
A radio interview, like a blog post or newspaper article or email or phone call, is merely a PR output. You need to see the bigger picture if you’re to explain how outputs contribute to outcomes.
To understand this, you need to articulate the purpose of your PR activity.
Is your PR activity focused on raising awareness of a cause, a person, a product or an organisation? Are you seeking to change people’s attitudes to these, or to change their behaviour (eg getting people to vote?).
Once you’ve decided what your activity is designed to achieve, you can build in suitable measures (an essential requirement of a managerial approach) and deploy appropriate resources. You’ll also realise that output measures like press clippings or social media shares and likes (though easy) are laughably inadequate.
It’s deceptively simple. And that’s the challenge faced by educators. We don’t want to overcomplicate for its own sake, but what seems straightforward to an experienced practitioner will seem very challenging to a student.
Remember your first driving lesson? Mirror-signal-manouevre may be simple, but coordinating the steering and the gear changes while performing this ritual seemed very challenging at first. It took practice.