Organizations send press releases to gain reporters' attention.

Image courtesy of the Kentucky State Nature Commission

What do Public Relations Professionals Do?

Public relations professionals work to obtain free publicity for their client. Traditionally, that's done by sending press releases to journalists containing the information needed to write a positive story about the client. Newspapers, radio and TV stations (especially local ones) are always looking for fresh story ideas, particularly those with a "human interest" angle.

A PR professional crafts press releases resembling a compelling news story, making it clear why his client's product, service or personal history is important. The goal is to fulfill the journalist's requirement for news while enhancing the client's image in the public eye.

PR professionals spend a lot of time cultivating relationships with journalists and other members of the mass media. This is done by researching which journalists write about the client's industry or personal interests. A PR professional might contact the journalist to find out more about the types of stories he's looking for and how he likes to receive story pitches. A journalist is much more likely to read a press release that's fresh, timely, from a recognizable source and targeted specifically to his interests.

Another job of public relations is to create a press kit, or media kit. A journalist might request a press kit as a follow-up to a press release. The press kit contains everything the journalist needs to understand who the client is and what the client does. That could include:

  • Executive profiles
  • Quick facts about an organization, such as its company history
  • Photographs
  • Detailed product descriptions; even samples
  • Recent press releases
  • Business card of PR representative

People who work in PR are regarded as experts in media relations. They're often asked to train employees on how to effectively communicate with the media, particularly during print or TV interviews. Here's some of the interview advice dispensed by media trainers:

  • Be prepared with a few simple, key messages.
  • Think like a reporter; prepare answers for questions that are likely to arise.
  • Use the "blocking and bridging" technique to steer answers in the right direction. For example, use the phrases: "Now that's an interesting question…" followed by "what's important to remember is…" or "the real issue today is…".
  • Never lie to a reporter or say "no comment." Better to say you're "carefully reviewing" all the facts.
  • For TV interviews, look comfortable and feel conversational, but never mistake an interview for a conversation.

The PR department is responsible for organizing and holding press conferences when appropriate. Not all news merits a press conference. There must be more to the conference than just the reading of a press release. Journalists will only attend a press conference if it promises to announce a truly unique, timely event, complete with exciting visuals, experts and important officials in attendance.

Press conferences allow PR professionals to reach all potential media outlets at once --print, broadcast and Web. If you successfully attract a crowd of reporters, you can capitalize on the natural competitiveness of journalists, who will try to "out-scoop" each other on a truly exciting story.

Some PR professionals are turning to Web press conferences to save money and to increase the odds that busy journalists will attend. Web press conferences use Web conferencing software to stream a video presentation online in real time.

Public relations professionals also manage crises. "All publicity is good publicity," claims the old PR adage. But one piece of really bad press can tarnish the well-honed image of a business, college or politician for good. According to a 2007 survey by Harris Interactive, 15 percent of consumers would never again purchase a recalled brand. PR experts create a crisis management plan to respond quickly and proactively when a potentially damaging story is breaking.