Christine O'Connor | June 25, 2021
When I tell people “I work in PR,” the most common response I get is, “huh?” It never occurred to me when I chose this field in college that I’d spend the rest of my life explaining the mysteries of PR and what I do to people who don’t work in marketing or communication.
To pull back the curtain on what the heck a PR pro actually does, I asked my colleagues to tell me about a success they were proud of. Their responses—plus my own, at top—are all about what goes on behind the scenes to produce the big wins. This may explain why people find PR mysterious, and it certainly speaks to why it’s more challenging than it looks to some.
Me: Writing in someone else’s voice
The PR work I find most consistently challenging is writing in a client’s voice. It requires familiarity not only with the material I’m covering and the opinions of the person I’m writing for, but also an ability to adopt their personal writing style.
I once was tasked with writing a piece for a client’s Medium publication that had to clearly and concisely present an overview of their background, personality, brand and goals. I’d been working with the client for several months and I’d done my research, but when I sat down to write, I stared at a blank page for longer than I’d like to admit.
I dug through my client’s personal tweets, referred to emails they’d sent me and even watched videos of them speaking. I must have written and rewritten the opening paragraph a dozen times trying to get the tone right. I wish I could identify my ah-ha moment, but sometimes when it clicks, it just clicks. My first draft was a meaty six pages that didn’t need much editing, but best of all, the client was very excited and surprised by its authenticity.
Sandra: Earning client trust
I’m most proud of an ongoing success that may not fall into the category of “harder than it looks,” because I’m not sure it’s even visible: earning client trust. This is crucial to being able to deliver results, and it’s something I work at all the time.
When clients trust that we’re constantly pushing at the door to media attention and looking for alternative routes, even during the inevitable droughts; when they trust that we can articulate their ideas and shape them so that they’re accessible and persuasive to others; when they trust our advice on messaging issues that are core to their business—all that is golden, and it’s something I find enormously satisfying.
Carolyn: Delivering quality, every time
Like Sandra’s, mine is an ongoing success. I’m really proud of our team’s ability to consistently provide high-quality articles for media outlets. It’s gratifying to see pieces published with few edits (and it’s best for our clients). More than one editor has responded to an article pitch with something like “It’s coming from you, so I’m not worried about the substance of the content or writing quality.”
We try to make sure our story pitches are always high quality, too. A great pitch led to success in the coverage we garnered for the LavaMaeX–Red Feather collaboration to get handwashing stations into the Navajo and Hopi nations in Arizona. At the time, they were the groups hit hardest by the COVID-19 virus. We got good stories from important regional reporters, and The Hill did a feature, which also included other aspects of the story. I hope the coverage made a difference.
Sarah: Being an honest broker
One memory of booking a segment on a national TV show stands out as an example of why being an honest broker is always the way to go.
I had a connection to the show, great material for the segment, a solid pitch and the timing was perfect. But when I got the call to book it, there was a hitch: there was no possible way the client could make the date. A previous commitment was in place and she wasn’t going to rudely ditch it for publicity, despite the fact that this show meant the world to her, both personally and professionally.
Knowing that our room to squabble over dates was next to nothing, I was determined to make it work. I let my client know that we had to somehow reschedule the previously booked event and that I’d be willing to explain what was at stake to the folks involved in it. My client agreed to let me make the case and, through a series of tense, brief calls, I prevailed.
To Sandra’s point, no matter what industry you work in, the biggest on-the-job challenges often are invisible to your clients, your friends and family, and the world at large. That’s why big wins can seem like magic—but really, there’s always a trick to it, and in PR that trick usually boils down to tenacity. There are few true mysteries of PR.