What does a PR agency do?

Written by Emma Jefferies

Unlike many professions, most members of the public have no idea what public relations is or what PR professionals actually do. Ask any person on the street what PR is, and more often than not, the response will entail party planning or drinking champagne (or just complete confusion).

For an industry built around communication, PR isn’t always described clearly to people outside of it. Our day to day roles cover such a broad range of strategic initiatives and tactical activities that it can be hard to know where to even start.

Part of that is probably because most of the work in PR lies behind the scenes. We pitch the stories, but the journalists write them. We create the thought leadership, but the spokesperson is credited. We plan the campaigns, but the brand executes the strategy and receives the accolade.

This got me thinking. What is the best way to explain PR to someone who isn’t at all familiar with the industry or adjacent ones like marketing or advertising?

As an agency, we have storytelling in our DNA but how do we explain what we do to our friends, family and partners? I put the question to the office and here are some of the best responses:

“When I told my boyfriend I had a briefing call with a client and a journalist from Forbes, he thought I was being interviewed for Forbes…”

“When I showed my mum the BBC news coverage for a client, her response was: “That’s amazing, I can’t believe you’re in the news! Where is your name in the article?”

“An accountant”

“You sell adverts to newspapers, don’t you?”

“I’ve been in the industry for 14 years and my family don’t ask anymore because they still don’t understand. I once overheard my dad saying to another family member that “she does something with the public, but I’m not sure what” –  I even did a PR degree so PR has been a part of my life for 17 years!”

“When I used to work in publishing my friend called me a ‘book pimp’, an ex-boyfriend told his family that I was an ‘editor’ and my mum, like the Bridget Jones film, thinks I just ‘fanny around with press releases’.”

“Trying to explain to my grandparents what PR is always proves very challenging. They think I play football at Old Trafford and fly out on trips to Frankfurt! (I did do these both once for two clients!)

“My grandma continues to confuse PR and HR while also having no idea whatsoever either of these are… my dad thinks I’m a journalist that gets paid by companies to write nice articles about them and my mum has stopped asking about what I do completely.

The funniest was probably a conversation I overheard while at university – one girl tried to explain to the other what PR is and said “you’re basically getting paid to go drinking with celebrities and if you can out-drink them then you get paid more”

So, how do you define the role of PR? Generally, it is to communicate a message, making it relevant and easy to understand, and yes, we want to promote our clients, their products or services, but we go beyond that to persuade our audiences through the art of storytelling. We bring companies to life by finding new and engaging ways to share the narrative with the public.