How to Level Up from Media Relations to Strategic Communications

This is a guest post written by Jessica M. Graham, APR, Fellow PRSA. The post first appeared on Fixonix Consulting.

You may have seen recent social media posts by journalists, bemoaning the increasing number of “PR people” who contact them daily. What’s behind it? The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics just released data showing that there are six “public relations specialists” for every one reporter. That’s a lot, and reporters are apparently feeling the pain.

While I’m happy to see the communication industry grow, I would like to see that growth because of an increase in the perceived value of our industry and respect for the talent it requires. The online response indicates that may not be the case, and so it’s time we change the way we approach and talk about PR.

PR 101

Despite popular belief, public relations is not synonymous with media relations. True public relations is the process of establishing and maintaining effective relationships between an organization and its publics. That’s a strategic function that requires a seat at the executive table. No business can survive without strong relationships with employees, customers, vendors and other audiences. However, certain businesses can – and do – survive without media relations. Working with media can be a key part of the public relations equation, but the strategy behind it, and the strategic incorporation of it with internal communications, social media and community relations is just as important – and more effective.

Hiring for Strategic Communications

Because there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the role of public relations, many companies hire PR specialists because they want more exposure for their brand. Before you commit the resources to hiring a communications role, ask the following questions:

  1. What outcomes do you expect from this position? The answer must be tied to your business goals. Do you want to increase sales or market share? Reduce employee turnover or improve your reputation score?
  2. Do you have the most effective communications structure in your organization? Who oversees the intersection between media relations, internal communications, social media, customer care and corporate responsibility? You need someone with senior-level perspective overseeing your strategy and messaging before you hire a tactical media relations person.
  3. Are you ready to be told no? A true strategic communicator will understand whether or not an initiative aligns with your brand and your business, and whether or not it’s newsworthy. Not all great ideas are, and it takes an experienced voice to explain why media outreach may not be the best option and to offer other viable solutions.

If you don’t feel you have the resources to invest in a more strategic role, consider hiring a consultant. By hiring at the tactical level with no broader planning, you can actually damage your brand. I guarantee the media who are tweeting their displeasure this week have specific offending brands in mind.

As a proud PR professional for more than 25 years, I understand the value of media relations. I’ve seen how effective it can be, and I’m proud of my relationships and work with journalists. However, our industry is so much more than that one tactic. I hope the next report from the U.S. Department of Labor shows even stronger growth in our industry and generates accolades from the media and others about the vital role of strategic communicators.

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Jessica M. Graham, APR, Fellow PRSA is president of Fionix Consulting LLC, a firm she started in 2017. Bringing her expertise from the intersection of public relations, internal communications, community affairs, customer care and corporate responsibility, she consults with corporations, small businesses and nonprofit organizations, providing strategic communications and community outreach counsel.