Every business and person who works with the public must communicate with the public at some point. But it's not ideal for a party to split its resources between its primary business and explaining that business to the world — that's where public relations agencies come in. Any PR agency worth its salt will utilize a variety of methods to become an effective face and voice for the client it represents.
Getting on the Same Page as the Client
Before a PR agency can get out the message on behalf of a client, it must find out what that message is. PR representatives sit down with their clients at the beginning of a relationship to find out everything they can about their operations. For businesses, that information includes their general mission statement, products, services and how they bring them to market. For public figures, that includes information about the person's professional projects, as well as personal life details that could affect public opinion. For all clients, the agency establishes protocol for exchanging information so that it never misses a chance to present new developments to the public.
Writing Press Releases
The basic product that comes out of PR agencies is the press release, information about the company that is given to news agencies for publication. News agencies like to have press releases, especially on slow news days, because it means less work to fill space in the paper. The caveat is that the press release should require few editing changes — otherwise news editors won't want to waste precious time on what is probably nonessential information. One way of gauging the quality of a PR agency is by asking for press release samples and scrutinizing them against Associated Press style guidelines. If the releases can hardly be distinguished in format from real news articles, and you still walk away with a positive impression of the organization represented in the release, the agency has done its job well. But unlike an actual news article, it is not important that a press release contain accurate quotes. Often, the public relations writer makes up quotes — but only on behalf of clients — and seeks approval from the client before that press release is sent to news agencies.
Establishing Relationships with News Agencies
PR agencies should keep a list of news agencies to which they send press releases. But, more important, public relations professionals establish speaking relationships with journalists who seek information about a client for an article. PR professionals are the gateway for all information coming out of the organization they represent. That means a PR agency will be the journalist's first contact for information about the client, and the agency will either act as spokesperson for the client or put the journalist in touch with the proper person within the client organization. Sometimes, an employee with the agency acts as a third party in an interview to guide questions and answers in a positive direction.
Managing Social Media Presence
With the development of social media, the role of public relations professionals has expanded to include clients' representation online. If a client has a blog, Facebook or Twitter profile, the PR agency should have access to it; if the client has none, the agency should establish one. Unlike press releases, social media presence is direct to the public. As a result, the agency need not worry about adhering to news format or appearing biased on behalf of the client, because no one expects a public figure or company not to toot its own horn. Like spokesperson duties or quotes in press releases, social media updates should be written as if the information is direct from the client, as opposed to the perspective of a hired third party.
- "Public Relations: A Practical Guide to the Basics;" Philip Henslowe; 2003