Press office and media relations: where corporate reputation and brand awareness are built
3rd May was World Press Freedom Day, a timely opportunity – today more than ever – to think about defending the principles of freedom of speech, information pluralism and press autonomy.
For someone who has been working in public relations and press offices for as many years as I have, it was also a chance to consider the key role played by the media in forming public opinion, creating the perception of reality and developing business reputation.
When I started out in this business several years ago, the people I worked with were mainly printed media, radio and TV editors and editors-in-chief and the relationship I developed with the journalists writing about an event or product of ours was an extremely close one. The press office monitored the news in the printed media, not only in our press releases but also trends and current affairs potentially providing insights or ideas for action for our clients.
Today, in the era of digital communication, social media and also fake news, and with the ‘democratisation’ of the web meaning that individual users are potentially on the same plane as journalists, copywriters and photographers, I wonder whether the role of media relations in business communication is still a strategic one or whether it has been downgraded. There is – today more than ever - just one answer to this question and that is that media relations are still crucially important. For firms and for public opinion itself.
Luckily I am here writing about it and the question may sound rhetorical. Personally I believe that public relations and press offices are as important to organisations as they have always been, in the sense that the role of professionals has grown and evolved over recent years. Because on top of producing and publishing content, there is also sharing and interacting and the PR acronym has evolved into digital PR.
What is important is not that an event or product gets written about but that it generates a positive ‘experience’ so that not only journalists but also bloggers, social influencers and ambassadors and above all in-house staff and consultants can pass on the message on the internet by word of mouth. In the variegated diversification of today's media and the individuals working within it, the common denominator remains the same: personal relationships. It is the professionals who are the linchpin in these relationships, who know the new rules and involve all the right influential people.
So, if the ‘old style’ press office with its telephone calls and clippings, faxed press releases and large press conferences is a thing of the past, professionalism and evolved expertise are alive and kicking and as central to communication as ever.
We are talking about sensitivity ‘for’ news and the ability to build relationships with a range of interlocutors, analyse their needs and construct interesting and appropriate messages and content for every one of them. For all this, the press office and media relations are mainstays of strategic communication and will remain so for the foreseeable future, as the place where a firm’s reputation and values are built, disseminated and, on occasion, defended.