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8-4 PR is PR

(c) 2010, Mona Leeson Vanek

Carol Cassara explained PR (public relations) in a copyrighted interview several years ago. Recently, Rebeca Shiller shared her insights into agency PR.

(c) November, 2002, Carol Cassara,
"While I've never said that PR is the world's most important, exquisite job and that only a chosen few can do it, I do believe it is only civilized to respect the time and effort each of us puts into what PR professionals do for a living and the level of expertise we have attained.
"Public relations is a single aspect of the promotional mix - --that also includes advertising and sales collateral . . . both are more sales-oriented than PR. PR is the art (and it is definitely an art) of obtaining positive media coverage for a client's product or service.
"It's more than spewing out news releases. It's looking for the nexus between what your client offers and what the media need. And when done well, it's more strategic than you can imagine.
"Perhaps because I went to journalism school, and because I've seen college graduates come into PR with a simplistic view and be ill-prepared to serve clients, (and because as a corporate PR exec and a nonprofit exec, I hired PR consultants) I'd like folks who aspire to this work to know that you don't just read a few news releases and figure it out -- and bank all that easy money. (PR firms pay lower than just about any consulting firm and non-profits have notoriously low budgets.)
"I would suggest to them what I suggest to any entry level PR person - take some news writing courses at a local Journalism school and understand what reporters and editors are looking for. Understand what "news" is and how to identify it, because "news" is not the sales benefits of your product or service, and a news release is not a brochure that describes those things in glowing terms. PR is not sales.
"If you learn how to practice PR, you'll be more effective for your client, which of course you WANT to be -- because you are taking your client's money for a service rendered and your client has a right to professional service for their investment.
"In PR, we write the following kinds of things:
  • News releases (AP style, not all hyped up with glowing sales terms, but instead, much as a journalist might write news)
  • Contributed feature articles (but only to local weeklies that don't have much staff and appreciate getting them, and to a standard of excellence that editors compliment our firm on)
  • Op-eds (clients who have a position on an issue often use their PR firm to ghost write in the appropriate format...and then they have to be "pitched")
  • Fact sheets or backgrounders (the basics of a project or company that helps a reporter put the news in context)
  • Pitch letter (or email, or fax) (presents why you think the news you are sending is important, why the reporter should cover it.)
"Positive news coverage is important to clients because it is thought to have the cachet of a "third party endorsement"--unlike advertising or sales collateral.
"During my career, I've had many clients who don't have real "news", but believe that reporters should be just dying to write marketing hype about their product/service, because after all, that product or service is just wonderful! Or, who are horrified when a reporter doesn't write about them in glowing terms. In those cases, I always recommend the client consider advertising instead--where you can control the message entirely.
"There's also a specialty called "crisis PR", which is helping your client respond when they've either gotten in trouble or are getting bad press for some other reason. Think about the Red Cross PR crisis around September 11, or the commonly used case study of the Tylenol poisonings. I've done quite a bit of work with crisis clients over the years, and the skill set there differs significantly . . . but that's a story for another time. End"
Rebeca Schiller,, a former PR agency professional, has this to say about PR
"PR is good for only one thing - to alert the public of new products, policies in a straightforward, no nonsense manner."
She talks about how humiliating it was, when she worked for a PR agency to have to "embarrass myself for the thousandth time when I had to pitch a story that no one, not even the CEO's grandmother, gave one flying $#@!"
Performed without integrity, she says PR is " the most miserable profession on the planet; a non profession with agency principals whose heads deserve to be on the chopping block."
Today,  as online editor for an art magazine, she sits on the other side of the desk and makes
"a special effort to circumnavigate around PR people, get the news straight from the source, and produce something worthwhile."
Each perspective will help you better understand the role PR plays in a writer's career.

Sandra Beckwith, a recovering publicist who has written two publicity books and uses workshops and other tools to teach how to generate publicity says, "Why pay a pricey consultant when you can do it yourself?" She offers a free book publicity e-zine, Also visit Sandra's blog,

Chapter 17 - Organizations and Newspapers:

Next: Chapter 18 - Book Publishing:

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