The 4 timeless principles of PR

Following my recent venture into the agency environment of Public Relations (PR), after serving the bulk of my career in the corporate PR space – I have had the privilege to explore both ‘PR worlds’. Though corporate and agency PR can be very different, the role is the same – the ability to effectively drive valuable communication between brand and audience, to promote understanding.

I’ve also learnt that – as in most industries, much has changed within the PR environment over the years. From altering operational practices and tools, to information overload – as digitisation grants anyone with a message, regardless of quality, a platform to share opinion openly and broadly

And while this reality has made ‘standing out of the crowd’ more difficult than ever before, just as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. I believe that there are critical fundamentals or ‘ancient’ PR principles that will always remain relevant, regardless of change.

1. Adaptability

Whether it is changing client expectations, moving to a new campaign, using new communication platform or tools, or a new client all together – adaptability is one of the most important qualities of a good PR practitioner. One of my personal new favourite phrases which I came across at Orange Ink PR is, “the only constant is change”. Quite simple, yet profound. Further to the practitioners own personal developments along with industry trends, a lot is also changing as far as how businesses operate, their audience, the politics and trade, the technologies they are using and the mood and conversations within the brand sphere. The ability to adapt requires flexibility and reception to change.

2. Good communication skills

As cliché as this may be, it is just that simple. However, it is important to note that communication is beyond writing up the perfect PR strategy, confidence or having the ability to capture audiences. As the good old communication text books tell us, “good communication is about sharing the right information, to the right audience at the right time.” The ability to gauge the relevance and predict the impact of messaging is what sets the practitioner’s message apart. The reality today is that with the different platforms available to reach the audience, the practitioner needs to be able to communicate according to the tone, and style of the platform. Take for example the launch of a new product. How you would need to share this messaging in 140 characters of the generic social media standard is quite different to how this would be communicated on a trade publication, or even video.

3. Emotional intelligence

Reputation management is beyond fancy messaging, which is why reputation management or PR as a discipline is arguably more talent than skill. It’s all about perceptions, which is to a very large extent, subjective. People already know what they ‘feel’ about a brand – and to reshape or maintain perceptions requires an emotional intelligence. Today where those feelings erupt on uncontrollable platforms such as social media, having the right emotional intelligence when shaping messages in the state of crisis, for instance, can make a huge difference to ‘robotic’ messaging lacking empathy.

Take for example a drunk driver on duty knocking out a pedestrian with a company vehicle. Though the effects of that may have serious repercussions to the image of the brand, how one responds in today’s environment needs a full and wider scope of ‘who will it affect’ and ‘how the response will effect the reputation of the brand.’ Though the company could simply apologise to the family, afford the costs of the funeral and dismiss the irresponsible employee – think about the scrutiny of labour union HR champions who may question efforts to rehabilitate the employee, or safety practitioners who look at the company’s efforts to ensure driver safety.

4. Being dependable

There is a need to ask yourself the question, does my client or team trust me? Are you the person to call amid conflict or crisis? Think of the PR practitioner role as the ‘nurturer’ of the brand. When there is conflict or crisis, you become the referee of reason. When there is a thought leadership opportunity, you need to almost become the person you are writing for. When a journalist is examining story ideas, they need to look for you to provide valuable and viable content. Not only does this provide you with the right relations to successfully deliver your tasks as a PR practitioner, but it also makes you dependable.

There are endless articles about what it takes to be a good PR practitioner. Though the narrative is changing, the role of the PR practitioner is sometimes misunderstood. Whether you are in a corporate environment forming part of the marketing team or in an agency where request can be out of scope. Being relatable as a PR practitioner is sometimes as simple as going back to the basics, even in a world that is constantly evolving.

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Portia Mvubu

Portia Mvubu


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