Before I started blogging I never really spent time with people that work in public relations (PR).
If asked, I think I could have given a vague explanation to what PR people do. Maybe write press releases. Or arrange interviews. Perhaps talk to reporters.
What I've learned over the past few years is exactly how little I understood about the role of public relations, and the PR professional, in the edtech and publishing business.
Some things that I have learned about the profession and people in PR include:
Social Media: Almost all of the PR / communications people in edtech/publishing that I speak with are skilled practitioners and strong advocates of social media. What I've witnessed is that both internal and externally hired communications professionals work very hard to get the executives and company leaders with whom they collaborate to engage more authentically and aggressively in social media channels. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc. are viewed as essential platforms for creating awareness and conversations around the product, company and brand. My sense is that the growth of social media has tilted the ROI investment for communications away from traditional marketing channels and towards public relations. Getting into the online conversation is essential, as post-secondary decision makers are highly attuned to the thinking and preferences of peers and colleagues.
Education: What has surprised me is how much time and effort public relations professionals spend on educating their client (or colleagues) on how to interact effectively with all types of media. This education ranges from working with people in companies (and also universities) to communicate clearly during an interview, to how to effectively leverage social media platforms. A public relations person only sometimes "speaks" for a company or organization. Mostly the communications comes from employees who may or may not have been formally trained in effective communication. Creating opportunities to learn effective communications methods from colleagues in public relations seems like a wise investment in time and resources. Utilizing the skills of the PR people you work with to turn more people in your organization into "communicators" is a strategy that is worth considering.
Accuracy: One of the great benefits of writing for InsideHigherEd is that I sometimes have the opportunity to speak with leadership in technology, publishing, and sometimes higher ed organizations. Often a PR person is present for these discussions. When I first started this a few years back I thought that the PR person's job was to make sure that I didn't write anything that was inaccurate. Or maybe to try to keep the story "on message." What I've learned is that the PR professional is in reality a very important ally in my effort to understand what is really going on with the company or institution. It is often the PR person who will get me the facts and information I need, and connect me with the right people to speak with. What the communications person wants is accuracy and authenticity, not gloss or sugarcoating.
I have a few questions about PR and how it relates to higher ed, edtech and publishing:
- What is the relationship between PR and marketing or advertising people within the company or organization?
- What is the balance of time spent on working with journalists vs. working with bloggers and other non professionals?
- How does spending on PR in edtech/publishing compare to spending on marketing?
- Are there rules of thumb for PR investments as a proportion of revenues?
- It seems as if many of the PR people that I work with are not employed directly by the edtech or publishing company, but work for separate firms. Is PR more like advertising, where a company hires an external company? What is the balance between internal and external PR people? What are the reasons that a company would employ an outside company rather than build its own capacity?
- What is a typical day like for someone who works in public relations? How has the profession changed over the years?
- Is my experience with PR folks in edtech different than if I worked in consumer technology, or consumer products, or some other industry (like energy or transportation)?
- Many of the PR people that I work with have backgrounds in journalism and writing. Is this typical? What are the benefits of working in public relations as compared to journalism?
What is your experience working with edtech / publishing public relations professionals?
How has your perception of these colleagues changed over time?