All too often, the uninitiated or the uninformed dismiss PR as an airy, substance-less discipline just there to nag clients and annoy journalists.
Those making those claims are the same ones who think PR can be substituted with AI; clearly impossible, as AI cannot build relationships nor can it understand the public, however sophisticated its algorithms. Such efforts are doomed to fail, or at least rely on such an army of experienced PRs as to practically negate their own original idea.
This puts on the table a great opportunity to reflect on what makes PR pros great, and what traits help those who want to rise above the rest.
Some doubt whether PR is a creative profession: after all, where do we stand in relation to graphic designers, choreographers, and novelists? But just because our art isn’t among the aesthetic arts, doesn’t mean there isn’t creativity involved. In the case of PR pros, creativity can often show up as the ability to see a topic from different angles, and to advocate for them. In that sense, we are not far at all from the ancient art of debate.
A ‘just okay’ PR practitioner will say yes to any old press release, and futilely try to badger (extremely busy) journalists into covering some naff content. A good PR practitioner will turn the story over in their mind, explore its possibilities with the client and with colleagues, and find the angle that can best work for the media agenda. A great PR pro will examine the story and figure out where it fits in the world – or otherwise, what is the story behind the story? How can this news contribute to what piques editors’ interest, or even better, create a new interest where before there was none?
This entire process is of course not quick, and neither is it the purview of the few. In fact, it can be the result of years of practice and hours upon hours of consuming media with a critical eye. After all, in the words of the Master of Horror:
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual
from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
A love for language
Lately, the world has watched gleefully as artificial intelligence encroaches upon one more space. This time, it’s copywriting: some AI engines can absorb information from websites, social media, and search engines, and spit out fairly solid content. But you know what that content suffers from? Extreme boringness. However able the machine might be at putting words and sentences together, it will always fail to show the human spirit and flair that ultimately makes the difference between captivating reads and plain blocks of text.
That said, even without AI, this is a talent to be coached and nurtured in PR pros. Nobody will read an article, particularly on B2B tech’s sometimes specialised and thorny subjects, if it’s not at heart a good read. AI can only go so far, not only in terms of accuracy (it has already been found spewing wrong stuff with absolute confidence) but in terms of engagement; what data in/content out could reproduce the warmth, curiosity and character that only humans can transmit? Particularly when we talk about heavily specialised subjects, like Event Driven Architecture, cloud security,
A sobering truth every Account Executive learns in the first week of PR: rejection is the norm. Despite how hard we try and how creative our pitches are, any number of factors can stand between you and coverage: it’s not the right time, journalists are too busy, the editorial calendar is full, or the strategy needs a rejig. Great PR pros will not be surprised by any of these circumstances, and will, in fact, have plans B, C, D and E ready to go.
Storytelling is an art, and persuasion does not come from a formula. It takes a lot reflection and imagination to tell the story right. Certainly, some best practices and proven tactics have a higher likelihood of working, but ultimately, the great PR pro will be attuned to all circumstances which could affect the pitch, and has contingencies in case they change.
The ultimate goal of communication is engaging an audience, and making them understand your point of view. But day to day, we see that understanding is not the rule, and building it takes effort and resilience. Ultimately, this is what PR is about: don’t take the easy hits for granted, and don’t be dispirited if sometimes coverage takes more effort, more time, or several extra angles. Only this resilience can get PR pros from media relations lackeys to true consultancy.