A big misconception about public relations is that the only thing PR pros do is media relations. As we know, that couldn't be further from the truth.
Here's how the Public Relations Society of America defines public relations: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Many different services fall under the umbrella of strategic communication — or public relations: media relations, community relations, internal communications, crisis communications, public affairs, content creation and marketing, social media — the list goes on.
One of the coolest things about working in public relations is that the industry is constantly evolving, and there are many opportunities to utilize different skill sets when working with clients. Our impressive group of solo PR professionals often step outside the traditional media relations box to offer clients a wide range of offerings in their suite of services.
While many of the services they offer could be considered areas that fall under the umbrella of public relations, many of them do require a specific expertise that might not fall under the textbook definition of PR.
The bottom line? The skills we possess with a PR background lend themselves well to many areas of communication — and open up additional streams of revenue as solos.
We checked in with five solo PR professionals to learn about the services they offer clients:
- Kelly Kirkendoll, founder and CEO of Thrive PR
- Laura Frnka Davis, principal, LFD Communications
- Katherine Hutt, president , Nautilus Communications LLC
- Jennifer Donovan, owner, Nova Communications
- Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, council member for City of Gig Harbor
What are some other services you offer to clients in addition to PR?
Kelly Kirkendoll (KK): The most effective storytelling requires both words and visuals, and this has become truer as social media has grown and attention spans have shrunk. That’s one reason why we provide services such as graphic design, data visualization and video.
We offer everything from strategic communications to public relations, marketing, branding and creative services. Our favorite work integrates services across some or all of these areas, based on the client’s needs, goals, messages and target market.
Laura Frnka Davis (LFD): As a solo PR professional, I offer writing services of all sorts: annual reports, internal communications, press releases, blogs, newsletter articles, and executive communications.
The world of media relations is changing. It used to be you could pitch a story to virtually any type of outlet and if it was a good story, land a placement. Today’s landscape is a lot more challenging. Many outlets have turned to a “pay to play” model. Generating earned media isn’t as easy as it used to be. I’ve been successful in my business so far (going on four years) because I provide the writing in addition to the PR. I didn’t want to box myself in to just one area of communications when I launched my company.
Katherine Hutt (KH): When I first launched Nautilus in 1996, it was a traditional public relations firm (earned media), but with the advent of the web, we quickly pivoted to add website design and e-newsletters (owned media) at the request of our clients. Back then, the idea of integrated marketing communications was still pretty controversial in PR circles, so we stayed away from paid media… and social media (shared media) didn’t yet exist.
Jennifer Donovan (JD): I don’t offer PR per se, but offer communications consulting, strategic guidance, social media program management and trainings.
Social and PR go hand in hand. Both functions can be much more successful when integrated.
Mary Deming Barber (MDB): Each of my projects/client relationships begin with a strategic approach. Quantifiable goals establish the process and the services offered are based on those goals. They have/may/do include planning, counsel, writing, social media, events, collateral and website development, advertising, media relations, publicity, internal communications, powerpoint presentations, infographics, photography, recipe development, new market development, and more.
Strategic communications is part and parcel of public relations. I don’t see how one can do one (depending on what one calls public relations) without a whole approach.
At what point in running your business did you decide to offer other services alongside PR? Was it a choice from the beginning or did it grow as your business did?
KK: When I first started Thrive PR almost 20 years ago, the bulk of our work was media relations, but we shifted quickly to provide additional, integrated services.
Graphic design and social media were the first natural additions for us, based on our clients’ needs and our backgrounds.
Adding social media was a choice I made when it first came on the scene. I saw the power of this new (at the time) additional channel, where we had a greater level of control over our clients’ stories being told, plus a way to directly engage with audiences. At my urging, our clients at the time were among the early social media adopters.
The service portfolio we offer today has grown organically through a combination of three factors: client needs, market changes we predicted or encountered and my team’s unique talents. One example of this: we’re doing a lot more internal communications and brand culture work than ever before, with all three of those factors at play.
LFD: It was a choice from the beginning to provide writing services as I knew it would be important to offer a mix. Not all organizations need or want media relations, but they most likely need writing support of some kind. Plus, I enjoy writing and it’s a guaranteed deliverable. Media relations on the other hand, isn’t always tangible.
KH: 15 years later, I went in-house with a client for a decade. I relaunched Nautilus earlier this year — nearly 26 years after my initial launch — and positioned it as a full-service marcom/commtech firm offering earned, owned, paid and shared media services. Our clients are primarily nonprofit organizations and social impact businesses, and we find the need for a cost-effective, integrated approach is critical. It’s just not really possible to separate these four critical communications channels.
We have invested in state-of-the-art digital marketing and PR software, and we build campaigns based on the goals of our clients. helping them create messaging across all four channels. We also offer analytics so that campaign tactics and messaging can be evaluated and, when we see what is most effective, updated if needed.
JD: I decided early on to focus on the business value that social media can bring a company. There’s a lot of misconceptions and education is still truly needed. A strategic social media program drives awareness, visibility, competitive differentiation, leads, etc. It’s a lot more than “throwing up a Tweet” here and there. And it should not get delegates to an intern or be a small part of someone’s role. There’s so much that goes into a robust and successful program and it needs to be treated that way.
MDB: I have always offered a strategic approach and therefore a wide range of services. Being a public relations professional is multi-faceted. At times I specialized in a niche (food public relations) but it was still a strategic and multi-faceted one.
What advice would you give to a fellow solo PR pro interested in expanding into another service offering?
KK: Start with where your strengths intersect with your client’s needs. Then, as you add resources to your team, do that again.
LFD: It’s important to diversify your offerings just as it’s important to diversity your portfolio of clients.
KH: In my experience, it’s important for solo practitioners and small shops to have a focus, whether that is the services they offer or the clients they serve (or both). Trying to be “all things to all people” is not a good business plan, so expanding services should be done thoughtfully and strategically. Start by asking what your current clients need. That has been a successful strategy for me at two different times, a quarter of a century apart!
JD: Start by thinking about the business value the offering can bring, who else is doing it and how you can offer something different and specialized. But always start from the perspective of how it will positively impact a company. That’s what’s most important.
MDB: Study for the Accreditation exam. It will all make sense once you do and you’ll be a better professional for it. I received my APR relatively late in my career. Doing so gave me the personal confidence that I understood the profession and was a good practitioner. I also discovered new tools, techniques and theories that have enhanced what I do every day I provide counsel to clients. It’s not about making more money. It’s about being a stronger professional. As Nike says…just do it.
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