Public Relations

by Debbie Leven

What activities does PR cover?

Usually, PR is associated with press and media relations – the activity of building and managing relations with the press and media. There are two ways of handling press and media relations – proactively and reactively. Typically, the PR department or press office will manage both:

  • Creating ideas and devising and implementing plans to generate press and media attention
  • Handling unexpected calls from journalists – calls not related to a specific press release, statement or PR activity that has been planned and undertaken. An organisation might be approached, for example, to provide comment on changes in legislation, a government announcement, or a new product or service launched by a competitor. In certain instances, when something unexpected happens, the organisation may not know about it until it is contacted by a journalist.

A press office or PR department will manage press and media relations, but it may have a wider remit. This will very much depend on the size of the organisation (and the role of any separate marketing support), the nature of the business and the organisation’s business and PR objectives. It’s not unusual for PR staff to get involved with a range of tasks and activities:

  • Staff communication – producing staff newsletters and so on
  • Updating elements of the website or drafting copy for it
  • Producing or overseeing the production of brochures, leaflets, annual reviews and display stands
  • Organising events
  • Coordinating speaker opportunities
  • Stakeholder communication
  • Representing the organisation at events and exhibitions
  • Coordinating the production of branded items
  • Crisis management and communication. In a crisis, thinking about and managing the press and media is just one element of the activities involving PR. It is also important to consider communication with other key groups, as well as the impact on other business activities, such as production, logistics, marketing and so on.

Press and media relations

Building and maintaining relationships with the press and media, with the aim of enhancing and protecting the reputation of the organisation, is often referred to as press and media relations, press relations or PR. On a proactive front, this work will, typically, include researching the relevant press and media to assess those journalists who might be interested in information and news about the organisation. PR specialists will study programmes and articles produced in the relevant media to become familiar with the types of stories that appear.

PR specialists use media databases to help research programmes, newspapers and magazines. These provide the contact details of the different correspondents as well as useful information on topics of interest and deadlines.

Essentially, PR specialists build relationships with journalists by identifying what they need and then ‘packaging’ news and ideas in a way designed to meet the needs of those journalists. As the latter become more familiar with an organisation (what it does, how it operates and how it responds to press and media interest), they may consider approaching it for comment about other stories they are working on.

When a crisis hits, the role of the PR specialist is to ensure that accurate facts are provided to the press and media in a timely fashion. Hopefully, work will have been undertaken in advance to prepare communications materials to address the likely questions from journalists and provide relevant information. The PR specialist’s role is to anticipate what journalists will be interested in and to provide information in the correct format – statement, photographs and so on.

These days, more often than not, information is issued to the press and media by email. In the past, the majority of press releases were issued by post, and some journalists still like to receive information this way. Part of the research undertaken by the PR specialist, therefore, is to ascertain how key journalists like to receive information. They will also bear in mind the different timescales that areas of the press and media work to – there is now a 24-hour news culture, but consumer magazines work three to four months in advance.


Sponsorship is used by organisations for a number of reasons:

  • To increase profile
  • As part of marketing activity – to raise profile with key target markets
  • To build goodwill
  • To reinforce image, identity and branding
  • To support hospitality
  • As part of efforts to support staff (development, benefits and so on)
  • Extending brand reach.

Sponsorship involves an organisation agreeing to pay a fee and, in response, having the opportunity to lend its name (and branding) to an event or activity. Any sponsorship agreement will also include other benefits, such as being given a number of free tickets for an event or being featured in PR activity associated with the activity.

Sponsorship activities are now common in the areas of sports, arts, education and leisure events, and sponsorship has become a specialist area in its own right. PR staff and advisers may become involved in the core activity (and, of course the PR element) but, increasingly, the organisation of sponsorship is being carried out by niche agencies or individuals/teams. Sponsorship provides much more opportunity for reaching target groups than traditional advertising.

How is sponsorship decided?

Any sponsorship activity should be related to the organisation’s overarching objectives. It must support the drive to achieving those objectives. The key factor is the target group the sponsorship activity is aimed at. If an organisation’s key target group is young women between the ages of 16 and 25, then sponsoring an event that mostly appeals to a completely different group may not be the best use of time and money. Equally, it’s more effective if the type of product or service has a natural ‘fit’ with the event or activity. If it doesn’t, then any such link could, potentially, be damaging.

Over the years, sponsorship has changed considerably. Traditionally, events and activities were the focus. Now, it is much more common to see television programmes, such as the weather bulletin or an entertainment programme, being sponsored.

Online PR

Online PR includes the information that an organisation has on its website and the impression people have of that image. It also covers online publications, blogging, e-newsletters and any other activity that takes place online. In addition, PR specialists can now write and issue press releases that include hyperlinks. Where those press releases appear online, complete with hyperlinks, this provides the opportunity to drive traffic back to the organisation’s site.

There is so much media now with the Internet and people, and so easy and so cheap to start a newspaper or start a magazine, there’s just millions of voices and people wanting to be heard.

Rupert Murdoch

Public affairs

Government, and representatives of government, make decisions about policy, legislation and spending. Those decisions are based on the opinions of many individuals and groups who will be affected, as well as a range of information – trends, demographics and so on. The public affairs specialist focuses on supporting individuals and organisations in a number of ways:

  • Obtaining the information to help them inform their thinking
  • Enabling them to contribute their views and opinions to influence government and encourage representatives to take those views into consideration.

Public affairs is also described as lobbying. Fundamentally, it is about understanding the workings of government and the ways in which individuals and organisations can get their views across effectively. It is not uncommon now, before bills are introduced into Parliament, for groups and organisations to be invited to put their views forward. That consultation can take a number of forms, such as requests for submissions or requests to appear in front of a panel.

A public affairs campaign will also consider the opportunity for generating press and media interest around a particular view to bring an element of pressure to bear. Any activity might, for example, include working with other groups and organisations to form a collective voice about a particular issue.