Public Relations as a Public Service

In the increasingly competitive field of corporate communications, where large agencies must continually fight for clients against a growing array of smaller boutique firms and an expanding digital landscape, it’s easy to lose the plot.

At the end of the day, our work as communications consultants depends on superior client service – providing timely and measurable results within budget that help move the needle of public opinion.

But what often gets lost in the day-to-day flow of message development, writing, pitching, and crisis response is this: as corporate storytellers we also provide a valuable public service.

Just as journalism at its best functions as a sacred public trust that informs and educates, so too do public relations professionals owe a duty to the public to tell the stories of our clients in innovative ways that can actually be heard in this increasingly fragmented media landscape.

Never forget that the term is “public relations” – which implies that our true client, (or end user, if you will), is the public at large. Even if they do not pay us directly, they do so indirectly – validating our storytelling skills with page views or follows, social shares or measurable engagement.

These metrics are important because they help solidify our reputations with the reporters, broadcasters, and influencers upon whom we depend to distribute our clients’ stories.

One of the best pieces of advice I received from an early mentor on how to pitch was deceptively basic:

“Think like a reporter, and consider what they value: As harried as they are,

reporters crave recognition from their editors their readers – pitch them stories that will translate into page views or front-page placement, and they’ll be receptive next time.”

This is easier said then done, as often reporters will jump at the chance to interview Fortune 500 executives; the skill and artistry comes in persuading them to also talk to leaders of an unknown or under-funded start-up.

This is where our clients – and ultimately, the public at large – depend on our skills as storytellers. The best way for our clients to rise above the cacophony of advertising with which consumers are bombarded every day is to craft a story with authenticity and emotional resonance. Think:

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty”

Guinness’s “Friendship” ad:

TD Bank’s “Automated Thanking Machines”

While these particular examples hail from the consumer sector, the elements they share – including originality, authenticity and true emotion – can help elevate strategic communications campaigns in any sector.

And ultimately, regardless of who is technically paying for our services, communications professionals should never forget the big picture:

Our true audience is the public, and – by highlighting and educating that audience about the good work being done by good companies – we are providing a public service.

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