A few months ago I sat up the back of the State Theatre, in Sydney, looking forward to an hour-long session of hearty belly laughing. I was safely seated far enough away from the stage to be heckled – or so I thought…
It wasn’t long before the Scottish comedian, Danny Bhoy, turned his jokes on me or, more specifically, on PR practitioners: “My PR person called me about the situation and – oh sorry by the way, if you aren’t sure what ‘PR’ stands for, the letters ‘P’ and ‘R’ are short for… [Insert a word that is #NotSafeForWork]”
After several elbows to my side from ‘supportive friends’, it did make me think – why is it that Public Relations has this particular image?
When I think about this, I inevitably end up at the same answer each time; PR is largely misunderstood.
And I for one should know – my mum still thinks I’m in marketing.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. So, here goes:
PRs don’t care that you don’t know what we do.
Why? Because we are the quintessential quiet achievers – in fact, a PR being in the spotlight is a bad thing 99 per cent of the time.
First and foremost, we are NOT the story. We provide the fuel for the engine that drives the story.
Our job involves building and executing strategic campaigns behind the scenes, so that companies, brands and leaders can contribute to and/or create key conversations in the media.
It was Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book who wrote “words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” And, of course, he was right.
If I had to narrow down into one word, what PR is, the word would literally be ‘words’. It’s the shaping of words to communicate messages, guide agendas, and demonstrate influence. In a 24-hour news cycle where our media can fundamentally influence public opinion on any issue, even to go as far as orchestrating both the rise and fall of a political leader, the power of words reigns supreme.
We want to make sure our words cut through the noise.
Which is why as PRs, our definition of success isn’t recognition. It’s our ability to find the right words to help our clients be heard, to have some influence on the wider agenda – whether that be national, local, political, or even your agenda for the weekend. Beginning, changing and adding to conversations is what we do best.
However you might ask the question: “Where’s the job satisfaction without the recognition?”
Allow me to answer your question with another question: “How many jobs allow you to work on every major national and political event or debate, helping to shape the very conversations around how Australians see themselves and their environment?”
Last week I worked on the Federal Budget, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. It’s an announcement that is arguably one of the most important political events of the year and I got to be there, with my late night pizza and coffee, right in the middle of a major national moment.
I wasn’t the bystander, I was the communications professional dissecting political policy and working with my clients to firm up their opinions, commentary and communications as part of the important industry response to the Treasurer.
My name didn’t appear on any statements, nor did I get a by-line in the Sydney Morning Herald, but I was given the unique opportunity to be one of the handful of people, in our office, who worked to shape the response. After all the speculation and commentary in anticipation of the Budget, I was part of the team sorting through the facts and distilling the key messages for our clients, as it landed.
The fact that I represent companies whose opinions matter to the government, to business, and most importantly to everyday Australians, is pretty remarkable. Even more remarkable is that these companies seek my words – what I write and produce is a key to forming their opinions and their communications to the wider world.
I refer, again, to Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” (as a wordsmith loves to close the circle on the plot): “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
This is certainly true for PRs, who are pivotal to the wolf maintaining its reputation. I know that I’ll never be the wolf, but I most certainly form part of the pack – and for me, that’s more than enough.