Priya Sharma Shaikh
Demystifying Careers: Public Relations
Public Relations is a misunderstood field of marketing that is fast evolving and has, in this age of 24x7 news channels and social media trends, gained in importance at the expense of traditional fields of marketing. The misunderstandings stem from the perception of PR as unfairly influencing public opinion for big corporations or providing a spin for political overlords. Neither of this is unfortunately incorrect. One only has to read the story of the first PR campaign initiated by Edward Bernays, called the father of PR, and how he helped make cigarette smoking a feminist statement to know the unethical ends to which PR has often been used.
However there’s more to PR than just this. If you know how it is done, you can leverage that knowledge and understanding towards better ends and help make the world a better place.
As people have grown more marketing savvy, marketers have realized the necessity of going beyond the obvious and reaching out to audiences with ‘genuine’ communication. Most companies and celebrities today have someone managing their PR for them and jobs in the field are increasing by the day. Let’s have a look at what the job is all about.
What is PR?
People don’t just consume products, they consume stories. Public relations is the craft of selling a brand’s story to the world at large. It is not just important for companies to make the best products in the cheapest cost possible. It is also important for them to present their story to their consumers. They must be seen as conscientious contributors to the society. The proliferation of media has ensured that consumers are hyper-aware of all that is happening around them. The onus therefore, is on brands to ensure that the public connects with it, sees it in proper light, as a brand that is not only worth its price but also conscious of its role in the society. There are also periods of crises that a company may find itself in, which calls for an adept presentation of the company’s side of the story. This responsibility too falls on PR.
These apply as much to celebrities including actors, sports stars, industrialists and politicians who are brands themselves and have much to gain from a positive public perception. In fact, in their quest to influence public opinion, it is the political parties that use PR the most. The video below gives a good intro to what PR actually is all about.
What does a PR manager do?
PR managers make sure that a company or a brand’s image amongst the public is untarnished. They work closely with the senior management or the marketing teams to create and disseminate information that shows the brand in positive light.
However, when not dealing with a crisis, the PR manager could find herself working on routine projects that could range from getting interviews of the top management in leading newspapers or making sure that the CSR initiative gets adequate coverage in media. A regular part of the job is writing press releases, networking with the right set of journalists who cover the space and keeping up-to-date with the latest news in the relevant industries. Watch this interesting video on PR and what it takes to be successful in the field.
What skills does a PR manager need?
It doesn’t take much to destroy someone’s reputation, while creating one takes years of hard work. Since a PR manager manages reputations, her job is therefore of critical importance.
The job demands an ability to handle stress and work within tight deadlines. It also requires an ability to communicate clearly and with patience. This includes both verbal and written communication. You need to be able to strike relationships with people who matter or who may matter tomorrow. A good PR manager is always on top of trends and news cycles and aware of how they move. They are aware of how different channels of media get consumed and who reads and watches what. They know what’s in and what’s trending and have the knowledge or ability to influence and leverage both.
In today’s day and age, a good PR manager needs to also understand social media in its various avatars.
They need an understanding of numbers and should have a firm grasp over analytics that measure performance across media like TAM or BARC for TV and Google analytics for online advertising. Besides this they need to have a bent for research and should be able to dig deep to figure out things they may not know of or understand initially.
Career progression for PR managers
There are three different career tracks open to PR professionals. Most companies recruit a PR professional or two in their marketing or corporate communication teams. Those who stick with this track could expect to eventually grow into the head of corporate communications or PR for these organisations. However, that usually takes a long time and most people heading PR in big companies usually have a decade or more of experience in the sector.
A lot of companies don’t have an internal team for PR and outsource this work to an agency. A PR agency does much the same work as an internal PR team and is usually paid a fixed retainer through the year for all the PR work that a client may do through at it. The other track open to young PR graduates is to join such a PR agency that works with multiple brands. These maybe focused on a sector or could be spread all over. Agencies thus offer a possibility of working with different brands across sectors, which should help aid faster professional growth. Here’s a list of some of the most prominent PR agencies in India.
Many PR professionals start life as journalists before eventually jumping over the fence. It is also not very uncommon for young professionals with a few years of experience under their belt to start out on their own. This is because it doesn’t require significant investments upfront. If you have the skills then all it takes is a client or two to start. Many PR agencies are small units of professionals who often work out of their homes.
It is a relatively flat industry which provides an opportunity of rapid growth for those with the skills and willingness to work hard. It is also possible for people to start up or freelance fairly early in and be a master of their own careers. It goes without saying that this doesn’t apply to everyone and for those who chose this path, it’s not a bed of roses. But then nothing good is.