Stop defining PR as ‘campaigns’. It is so much more than that

I don’t think I work in Public Relations – I don’t do campaigns. This is one of the key things that stood out for me in one of the latest professional surveys I’ve taken; there were several questions related to staff skills and other competencies I’d be looking for in junior or senior staff for campaigns, and I couldn’t answer them.

I was patiently waiting for a page with some questions I could answer but none came.

Therefore, I ran a poll – I wanted to see what my Twitter community thought of PR’s main activity being, allegedly, campaigns:

As I’m writing this, there are 3 more days left to the poll. 101 people voted so far, and 83 of those believe we do much more than campaigns, as so do our colleagues below:

There are many definitions of PR – too many to count and spoken of too often. I want to move away from the definitions and think long and hard at what we, those who work in the many areas of PR, actually do. Do we only do campaigns? It would be foolish to think so.

Let’s see what some of our clients think that we (should) do:

  1. PR cannot operate effectively in a silo – you must take the time to understand what we do and what we are seeking to achieve in the market. Sometimes, success is about getting our name in a national paper and, at other times, it is about creating content so that, when someone uses Google, my company still appears relevant” – David Richards, CEO and Co-founder, WANdisco.
  1. So you must show us the expected return on our investment. We aren’t interested in distribution and ‘eyeballs’, but clicks and checkouts. Ultimately, we need to know the cost and the resulting revenue and profit” – Avin Rabhera, Founder and CEO,
  1. I like the way you’re working with the team – as a mentor, rather than an external pair of hands, as a rapid response unit when we need quick inputs, and as a general ideas generator.” – Ben Healed, Chairman, Sift Media.
  1. Aim to establish rich, long-term relationships, rather than going for the quick win […] Ultimately, the most importing thing you can do is express the values that build our brand […] but with a serious focus on the quality of our product.” – Tamara Heber-Percy, Co-founder, Mr & Mrs Smith.
  1. It seems to me uncontroversial that, in the age of social media, business leaders need to communicate more and better. But that’s not to underestimate the risks: it’s not about jumping up and saying something that get you a headline or, worse, something bland and ‘corporate’. It’s got to be thought through and relevant to the audience’s concerns – and that’s where good PR advice can certainly be useful.” – David Landsman, Executive Director, Tata Ltd.

I could probably continue with dozens of other relevant quotes, and those quotes I have chosen to present to you above, can be found in CIPR’s “Influence” magazine article “A Letter to my PR” (Q1 2017). The 5 executives quoted above do not mention even once the word “campaign” – then why are various industry surveys so keen on presenting campaigns as our fundamental reason to exist?

If your company is going through a massive change and your CEO asks you for your advice on how to better communicate this to the various employee tiers, what’s the first thing you say to him/her: let’s have a campaign? If you are brought in to assist in a crisis, what is your first action: put a campaign together? If people died and families were left distraught, what is your best solution: a campaign? If an issue is identified and you need to understand its potential of turning into a full-blown crisis, what do you do: put a campaign together?

The examples are many – the sad reality is that not even one definition of Public Relations mentions the word “campaign”. Influencing, nudging, persuading and bringing others on board may be done through standard campaign techniques – but the “campaign” is the tactical output, it’s a final product aimed to create a response or an action. Before and after “the campaign” there’s so much more, and you know it.

Picture credit: Patrick Perkins

    1. Totally nailed it, Zach! I couldn’t agree with you more! They certainly don’t and they can change as fast as the micro, macro and internal environments of the organisation do. Thank you very much for your comment

  1. What an excellent wake-up call. I think it particularly relevant for in-house PR professionals, who live the organisation on a day-to-day basis rather more than PR professionals in a consultancy – I have worked in both. I hope the days of: ‘We have a crisis, we need a kilo of PR’ are over but I’m not so sure.

    1. Thank you very much for your views, Pamela – you re absolutely right: it is a wake-up call and I’m absolutely thrilled so many of our colleagues agreeing with its argument.

  2. This is so well put and I agree completely. Yes, campaigns can sometimes be part of a practitioners work, but there is so much more than that.

    I think the industry, in particular awards for the industry, should recognise other key PR skills and practice too, such as leadership, strategy, reputation management, ethics and counsel.

    I don’t think I would be alone in saying that ongoing communication management and retained client work is what I do on a daily basis – of which campaigns can be a part – but it is this ongoing communications work that needs to be more widely recognised.

    I love Elaine’s comment there; “Not everything fits in a ‘campaign’ box.”

  3. Dear Elaine,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree with you and I raised the same issue almost a year ago. I’m hoping that we’ll recognise not just campaigns, but all the other activities that are more innate to PR and demonstrate its strategic value. I received a similar comment to yours from another colleague – my recommendation would be to write a formal letter in this regard to CIPR. Thank you

  4. Interestingly we almost never do ‘campaigns’, but if you don’t, you can’t enter CIPR PRide Awards as they are almost all for campaign work. Maybe it is time for PRide to have a look at what we actually deliver for clients. Not everything fits in a ‘campaign’ box.

Leave a Reply