PR at the dinner party

Submitted by on the 6th of October 2016

Being in the PR and Communications profession, I have seen the function of PR in corporate get tossed into campaigns at the eleventh hour. Almost like hiring a replacement Santa Claus last minute, PR is expected to perform impossible miracles on the spot for all to see. Sometimes, those miracles are possible once-off, but not without the sacrifice of time, authenticity or relevance for the audience.

Many corporates misunderstand PR and what it can and cannot achieve. In South Africa, media is independent in order to publish news and stories that are credible and authentic. We have laws and codes of ethics that regulate media governance. I have been in a situation where I’ve been ordered by a corporate exec to demand that a media journalist change their already-published article headline to something that is biased towards the brand. This completely violates media and PR best practices and it belittles the importance of credibility and authenticity.

Just like being served starters at a dinner party, as a PR professional, you have to give your audience a taste of what is to come, something to look forward to in terms of brand newsworthiness. You need to feed the media just enough information to make them anticipate the main course. As PR professionals, we understand that one cannot force media to eat starters if they don’t want to. That’s the beauty of independent media; they will feature what interests and has relevance to their audience. The sooner corporates also understand this; the more aligned expectations of PR will be.

While the media nibble on starters, they know the main course is on its way and, when it does arrive, PR needs to make sure they want to tuck in immediately. A classic example of this is seen during anticipated product launches. Journalists and bloggers alike want to experience the newly-launched product and be the first to share it with their audiences. You wouldn’t interfere with a professional chef while they’re preparing the main course, so why interfere in the PR process by dictating what the media should say and how they should say it? You might as well share your own press release on your website if that’s the case and call it ‘coverage’.

Last, but not least, dessert! A PR professional has to maintain media relationships even after the campaign process is over. Many corporates don’t understand that PR doesn’t have an expiry date – it’s a constant process of being engaged and being switched on with media needs. Just because you’re a multinational corporate, you don’t have the right to automatically expect coverage. Trust has to be earned and media processes have to be respected. All of that takes time.