The public relations industry in South Africa has a bad reputation, especially for those involved with media liaison – those blonde bimbos groping gin and tonics with an endless high pitched cackle don’t positively influence those who seek our services – those of us who love our work,are professional and seek to supply what is required make up a small but dedicated bunch – it is a pity we have to metaphorically shove those who slip, slide and pander in to the bushes!
I have been around the p.r. industry for over 20 years. I enjoy working with the journos, editors, photographers, videographers, online editors, reporters and so on. I enjoy being able to research and deliver the extras that these ‘media’ professionals require… because that is what I am supposed to do!
My role is to promote my client, but retain my integrity. My role is to ensure that the media I work with get the correct and factual information they need to retain their integrity. How hard can that be?
Seemingly it is hard to return calls promptly; to gather information from your clients timeously; to listen to your media contact requests and not trot them round the media-berry-bush. Just stand up and say “I cannot write this it is full of fudging and puffery” “Your deadline is too tight I know I cannot meet it” and say it as it lays. It also seems difficult for our beloved public relations practitioners to answer a deadline at 1805 – come on guys… go the extra mile when needed!
When being introduced to new clients you can see the stereo-typical expectation on their faces. I was once in the reception of a leading global industrial electronics company based in Johannesburg, when the person I was to interview came down the stairs and brushed straight past me to the young blonde lady on the couch – was that the essence of a public relations consultants image?
We as p.r. consultants are often faced with the dilemma of copy content. Your client wants this said and in this way. As an experienced p.r. professional it is your role to guide with sensitivity and point out the mis-facts; the flamboyant brochure style writing and that the copy is certainly not suitable for publication. It is our role to influence editorial copy into the style and format needed for successful media placement, we are tasked with informing our clients of the differing writing styles required for different outlets – we are, I suppose, influencers in more ways than one.
But it is not all about writing it up, and placing it. It is about research: knowing your client over and well above what you are tasked with promoting; it is about looking at competitors and their activities; it is about listening to what you write; it is about being in the forefront of your client’s media exposure and ensuring you reflect them well.
The Tandem Dance
Where there are parallel ‘marketing operations’ in place i.e. a clients client has an ad agency, marketing or branding professional on board, one has to be protective of what gives your the consultancy the edge – one’s media relations and contacts. That is your intellectual property. Your media list – no matter how expanded or not – is your media list, surely you report to your client and your client alone not third or fourth parties?
Often these third or fourth parallel parties will use your activities and coverage as part of their month end report featuring your wonderful successes in media liaison and claim the credit. Media liaison and research is an occupation for those that profess to be professionals and forms part of their IP – when are these mega p.r. agencies going to get up and do the work themselves for their client and refrain from being unethical sycophants?
If you enjoy the work that you do, then you enjoy all that it entails. Media relations is a specialised activity within the public relations offering; it is time consuming but rewarding. If you think of it as a quickie … please stay in the bushes!
*Sue Charlton is an Accredited Public Relations Practitioner based in Johannesburg and runs her own p.r. consultancy specialising in the business, trade and technical press