What does a PR professional do anyway?

October 26th 2015, was the launch of the international week at ISCOM. A week dedicated to international communications, organized around conferences and workshops in order to help students understand communications within an international framework. That afternoon the first conferences took place. Among them was Russell Williams’ PR today conference.

PR Today conference took place, room 14, presented by brilliant British journalist, blogger and marketing and public relations consultant, Mr. Russell Williams. Mr. Williams also teaches French and European Literature at the American University of Paris. He has worked for the Los Angeles review of books, the Quietus, and the Independent among many other newspapers but also for famous brandssuch as France Telecom, Burger King, Google, Disney, etc. After having introduced himself, Williams let us 5 mins to discuss with our neighbors to come up with a definition of what Public Relations are. He actually compared advertising with PR, to explain it, establishing the difference between the two

Public Relations

According to him, PR works primarily through a third-party endorsement which is more efficient than advertising since people tend to believe something more if they are told about it by a third-party than the brand itself, « We are a cynical bunch of 21st-century consumers and we don’t believe what advertisements say anymore », Russell said. In addition, while PR agencies remain a lot cheaper than advertising agencies, brands like to stay in control of their image and advertising is a more secure way to do so because when you are trying to make people write or talk about you, you cannot retain that control and it’s a risk most brands – that can afford not to – are not willing to take. Public Relations is a diverse industry, specialized in different « flavors » such as, corporate, technology, literature, sport, fashion, food, etc. with different activities (event management, social media, public affairs, stakeholders management, …).

UK media landscape

The UK media landscape today is very focused on « tabloidy » elements. In fact, a lot more is happe ning today in the British PR world than in the French one. Newspapers are very interested in scandals, tragedies, reality TV, sex and football. PR are actually using this tabloid culture to come up with new techniques. « Newsjacking » for instance. It is the technique of exploiting real world events to generate tons of media coverage. So as to succeed in newsjacking you have to be the first to exploit a piece of information. Breaking news pop up, you newsjack! A great recent example of that, was the 2010 Game Christmas Tinner. Game wanted to generate media coverage around Christmas and after research showed that 80% of geeks would rather spend time playing video games on Christmas’ eve than spend time cooking, they decided to launch the Christmas Tinner – the very first Christmas dinner in a tin. The tin consisted of 9 layers of traditional British christmas meals from scrambled egg and bacon to christmas pudding.
Game announced they would sell them in stores around Christmas but never actually did. It was just a great way to create conversation!

« The PR stunt »

Another technique was presented, « the PR stunt ». It is an event or activity that is staged primarily for gaining media attention. It is either unusual, controversial or a « first ».
For instance, every year, children’s tv channel Boomerang organizes the Boomerang Pets Party, held in Regent’s Park, London. In 2010 they wished to gather more families with their dogs and the tv channel came up with the K99 ice cream van for dogs.
So, to give the dogs something to get excited about, a doggy ice cream van was created.
The K99 was­ the first ever ice-cream van for dogs. The results speak for themselves. More than 5,000 people attended the party – an 800% increase on the previous year. The event generated more than 175 pieces of branded coverage.
The Christmas Tinner

K99 ice-cream van for dogs

This was one of Russell William’s examples of the « PR stunt » technique which I found was a very funny one since it illustrates one of the key principles of the British tabloid culture today: « Dog bites man » is not news but rather a story, though « Man bites dog » is definitely news. In fact, A neologism was invented by PR professionals to refer to this phenomenon, « TALKABILITY » and as an end result, it’s what clients are looking for when it comes to PR nowadays!

Marie CULOMA, third-year international global communications student


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