The Focus of Public Relations

I left the recent annual meeting I attended on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists with a notebook half full of notes. But one particular thought I jotted down stood out to me. As Boyd Huppert of KARE 11 in Minneapolis-St. Paul so eloquently put it, “In everything you do, you MUST define your focus. That is, the emotion or concept that ties together the disconnected pieces of your story.” As I packed up my backpack after Boyd’s engaging and poignant seminar and headed back to my hotel room, I came to the realization that Boyd’s quote was applicable to so many aspects of today’s PR world. Journalists must define their focus, and as PR professionals, we have the unique opportunity to help sharpen their lens.

The Focus of PR

To say that journalists and PR pros are opposites is to see things a bit too narrowly. The argument is that the journalist is trying to tell the world the truth, while the PR pro is trying to put a positive spin on the product of his or her client, which means the exaggeration of good points and the minimization of bad points. The fact is, however, that reporters are driven to seek truth and report it, taking responsibility for the accuracy of their stories. In order to validate certain facts, sources are key and it’s becoming harder and harder for today’s journalists to develop meaningful source relationships. Simply put, the climate is becoming increasingly difficult for news gathering. That’s where we can come in. As PR professionals, our job is to become experts in our clients’ businesses—if we do that successfully, not only can we help our clients internalize and externalize their own core message, values and image—their focus— but we can also become valuable sources for journalists at a time when they need them most. In order to achieve this status, however, PR pros must always be diligent in providing back-up materials for claims made in pitches and press releases. Once we engage a reporter in a story, the more information we provide, the easier it is for a reporter to tell his or her story, and the clearer the focus of it.

A Shift in Focus

Although each section at the aforementioned conference was uniquely engaging in its content, each and every one shared one commonality: they all touched heavily on today’s readily changing media landscape. PR, much like every other field, is constantly shifting with the growth and adaptation of technology, and in today’s world, as one presenter put it, “the first screen is a mobile one.” So what does that mean for us? It means the focus has shifted a bit. For reporters, and subsequently for PR professionals, stories must be delivered in real time, they must be sharable, they must be easily digested and they must be emotional. “Who in here is ok with me going through their phone?” asked one presenter. “See. “Your phone is deeply emotional. And too so must be the news you get from it.”

The Focus of the Future

Let’s remember: PR needs journalism, but in a world where source gathering is becoming increasingly difficult, journalism needs PR too. If we do our job right— we respond quickly to questions, make deadlines deadlines and remain accountable for the information that is being shared–- we can help reporters discover that emotional bond that every news consumer can relate to. We call that focus.

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