By Anastasiya Shyrina, Founder and Chief Editor at PR Wiz, Communications Coordinator at The American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine
The sphere of public relations has always attracted me with its universality. A set of defined skills can be used for the benefit of practically any organization. These days, every restaurant chain has an in-house PR manager. Politicians, designers and pop stars hire press secretaries. Ambitious startups are looking for talented marketing specialists. The number of job opportunities and potentially interesting directions is encouraging.
However, this demand also brings up a question: what type of PR would I rather be doing? By answering this question honestly, you will understand how to further advance your career: what type of organizations you want to work for, which events to attend, what knowledge to acquire, and which journalists to keep in touch with.
Throughout the last couple of years, I was engaged in promoting two completely different types of organizations: one a young investment company, and the other an international business association. Do these projects have anything in common? Definitely. I jotted down at least three similarities. How exactly do they differ? Read on for some curious insights.
1. Promotion of any organization starts from researching the industry it belongs to
Whether you work for a network of coffee shops or a political party, you start by learning more about your client’s area of business. This will help you create effective advertising materials, find a common language with the target audience and earn the respect of the professional community. You use specific buzzwords, read thematic reports, and take interest in the latest niche news. It’s a rule. First of all, you become an expert in a certain field and only then think of how to present important information to the public. At this stage, the size of the company, its age and strength of brand do not matter—the most crucial thing is to understand what drives your organization.
2. Fundamental skills are used across the board
Your abilities to think strategically, take advantage of popular trends, analyze effectiveness of implemented techniques, create high-quality content, build relationships with media representatives, and navigate competitive landscapes are indispensable in any PR project. You must approach day-to-day tasks with enthusiasm, and look for unconventional ways to solve reputational problems regardless of who hired you.
3. Pursuit of progress is a prerequisite of success
You make sure all quantitative indicators of your effectiveness grow year after year (or, even better, month after month). Examples include but are not limited to: references in media, public speeches by your CEO, social media followers, and website visitors. If a recent promotion campaign won your company several new clients, then you measure results and achieve even more with the next campaign.
1. Type of problems a PR specialist is expected to solve
PR for a startup aims to draw public attention to the new project. The manager in charge of such a promotion should be able to cut through the noise, put the client in the spotlight, turn the startup into “the next big thing”, and make it a profitable or at least a self-sustaining business in the shortest time possible on a limited budget.
An international organization doesn’t need to fight for its place under the sun—it has already built a strong, credible brand that should now be supported by communications. The most important thing is not to tarnish an impeccable reputation and, to that end, great attention must be paid to the quality of information materials. PR specialists working for an international organization are expected to promptly address media inquiries, and they should be able to spot negativity quickly and neutralize it.
2. Applied toolkit
The most important tool of any startup is its corporate website—if you have eliminated technical problems and it’s easy and nice to navigate, then you can expect to grow client base and build trust for the new brand over time. If for some reason visitors can’t access it for hours or the site lacks visual appeal, you will have a much harder time winning customers.
A blog is another useful instrument for promotion of the young company. By regularly updating it with interesting and helpful articles, the PR manager gradually converts regular business into an expert, opinion shaper. From the technical point of view, a blog helps your website to rank higher in Google search results. A specialist hired for promoting a startup relies on growth-hacking techniques that include but are not limited to: virus videos, psychological tests, promo games, encyclopedias of specific terms etc. Oftentimes, special emphasis is placed on search engine optimization and content marketing.
Tactics used for the promotion of international organizations are different from those deployed by startup enthusiasts. Unique information products created by the organization and released on its behalf usually generate a great deal of publicity. Business associations report on conducted activities, publicize key results of thematic surveys (for instance, how business community evaluates the fight against corruption in the country), post periodic assessments of the business climate, and propose solutions to industry-specific problems. One can draw public attention to the organization with the help of expert round tables, press events, official statements and success stories. Key messages are presented in the form of press releases, interviews and posts in social media.
3. Media strategy
True, we live in the era of startups. However, not every promising project is capable of securing media coverage. People love to read about stars—and if your idea isn’t perceived as revolutionary, or for some reason you aren’t supported by any investor yet, then you’ll have to take the long road and walk it step-by-step by applying “the media ladder” tactics. First you win coverage in a small (young) niche blog. After that, you gradually conquer more influential outlets. For a startup, getting into the influential specialized media is more important than earning a few brand mentions in general business publication—this way, you’ll have better chances of reaching your target audience. Growth hackers focus on building rapport with several selected journalists instead of trying to reach editorial offices with formal emails.
The media strategy of an international business association is based on a “quality over everything” principle. On one hand, we talk about quality of media—these types of organizations work exclusively with authoritative magazines, newspapers, news websites, television channels and radio stations. Due to the strong brand, journalists approach the PR manager with information requests, which is why there is no sense in supporting second-tier media. On the other hand, great attention is paid to the quality of messages. Everything from core ideas to writing style matters in diplomatic communications. The second rule sounds as “do no harm.”
To achieve this, one should carefully choose talk shows in which the country manager participates, and the topics of interviews he or she gives. The primary task of a PR pro lies in avoiding risky situations and provocative journalists. You won’t see representatives of international organizations commenting on hot scandals or criticizing politicians. Partnership agreements with information agencies are an indispensable component of the media strategy—it has proven effective in getting important messages across to the nationwide journalistic community.
Wrapping it up, I must admit that both projects are exciting and rewarding in their own unique ways. Promotion of a startup allows you to learn the ropes of technical PR, master the basics of search engine optimization, test new digital tools, and try out online advertising. This kind of occupation helps public affairs professionals devote themselves to experiments and teaches us to think outside the box while performing daily tasks. The best thing about diplomatic communications is its global nature—if you relish covering matters of national or international significance, then this PR direction might be right up your alley.
What’s more, communications officers working for international organizations quickly grow their networks, and are usually well-respected among journalists and business partners. This type of job suits perfectionists, as it assumes strict adherence to the gold standard of quality.
In case you are still wondering which road to take, ask yourself one simple question: what is PR for me? Is it primarily: 1) an instrument for making money, or 2) art and science? The former answer reveals startup enthusiasts, while the latter signifies your desire to be engaged in top-level diplomatic communications.
Anastasiya Shyrina is the Founder and Chief Editor at PR Wiz, professional blog for Public Relations practitioners, and Communications Coordinator at The American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, international business association. Throughout her career in Public Relations, Anastasiya devised and implemented promotion strategies for startups as well as world brands, such as United Nations, Lenovo, Knauf. She has won clients a number of media placements in authoritative media outlets including The Financial Times, Thomson Reuters, CNN, Euronews, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse and Deutsche Welle.