I imagined late-night brainstorm sessions, phones ringing off the hook and a Twitter feed that, like a newswire, constantly refreshed with possible story leads. And maybe this is all—to a certain extent— true. But after four months as a PR intern, I have received a much deeper understanding of what PR actually is, what lies beneath those exaggerated, surface impressions. Here, in no particular order, are the top three things I discovered about PR during my tenure as an intern:
It’s right-brain, left-brain.
PR is often described as a creative industry—and it is. It takes a lot of outside thinking and collaboration to pinpoint the most engaging way to tell a client’s story. But before I came to PR, I thought creativity was all that there was to it; that PR gurus were coffee drinkers huddled around a table throwing ideas back and forth.
Not so. At least, not exactly.
What I came to discover was that PR relies on strategy just as much as it relies on innovation. When I began working on my first new business account, the majority of my time was spent researching the client and their competitors. All of this research was conducted prior to a creative brainstorm. Had it not been, our ideas for a marketing plan would have been unjustifiable in business. It was because we had taken the time to learn about the client that we were able to offer a solution that was both strategic and creative.
Context is everything.
I knew that once I started working in PR I would not only need to know about our industry but also everything about the client’s. How else would I be able to announce what they do to the rest of the world? What I didn’t know was that it was not enough to learn about the client; I needed to learn about the world too.
PR is very much about being able to connect the dots, and the best stories and media opportunities happen when one is able to identify obvious and not so obvious relationships between events and ideas. This can’t be done if someone has tunnel vision. That is why it is so important to keep up with what is happening, not just with your client’s industry, but with the news—politics, technology, weather, events, international news and, even, celebrity hiccups. If it makes headlines, you need to be aware of it. You never know when creativity will strike or where the next client interview or pitch idea will come from.
PR is not “one-size-fits-all”.
In a previous life, when I worked as a marketing administrator to a businessman, I was asked to establish a presence for his business online. So I did. I cleaned up his email newsletter; started his blog; ran his Twitter account; and, founded his Facebook page. I did all of this because I thought it was the only way to publicize his business online. Every company I knew of had a presence on these social networks; so, naturally, my boss should be doing the same thing they were doing.
It was only after I started working in PR (and learning about strategy) that I realized this is not the way to build a social presence. Just because one business has a Facebook, a Twitter feed and a blog does not mean that these tactics are right for every business. Instead, a social media strategy ought to be tailored to each client’s individual needs. If I had known this back then, I would have reevaluated the decision to employ so many social sites and researched which network was best suited for his business.
Four months as a PR intern quickly helped correct my misconceptions and taught me that good PR provides reasons for why one tactic is used over another. Good PR professionals take into account the big picture and seek to give clients the service that is right for them.
What about you? Did you learn anything surprising about PR after you started working in it?