Everyone talks about press relations, but do we really know what they are? - Net'Wash

This term is now taken up by the whole digital sphere, to enlighten us on the new paradigms of this field we asked some questions to Isabelle Briglia from Ainsi Com.

Everyone talks about press relations, but do we really know what they are?

Today, we often only see the “people” side of press relations, which unfortunately devalues global press relations actions. So what is this famous “press relations”? Well, it’s a job! A job that is sometimes extremely rewarding and sometimes extremely laborious and tedious, when the results are not as good as the work done. To simplify the idea, we can say that, in the professional world, the aim of communication in general is to create bridges between different people and professions. For all natural and legal persons whose activities are closely linked to the outside world, press relations are part of external communication. It is a means of publicising actions, products or services. PR is the way to publicise an event, a product, a company, an institution, etc. But the important thing is that the positive information is provided indirectly (via an intermediary world, the media, etc.) and is therefore different from advertising, which is direct communication through the purchase of space in the spoken, televised or written press.

Can anyone do press relations?

If you have something to say, yes! However, it is important to know that the profession of “Press and Public Relations” is subject to an official code of ethics. Indeed, considering PR as a tool, one must be able to handle it with care, as it can become a double-edged sword…

What qualities do you need to have to be a press officer?

In fact, it’s quite particular, you could even say it’s ambiguous. It’s a bit like a craftsman, who has to develop great manual skills, intellectual capacities of creativity and commercial skills at the same time. It is not easy to find all this in the same person! The press officer must therefore have a (very) good general knowledge, be able to express himself/herself with ease, be able to immerse himself/herself in subjects that he/she is not necessarily familiar with (industrial prototypes, technical data sheets, etc. – the subjects are not always glamorous -) in order to understand the mechanics of the product or the company. These approaches therefore call rather for reflection, analysis and the ability to write information that is more or less popularised. This is the submerged part of the iceberg: when the information has to be disseminated, it is necessary to be able to determine a wide distribution network and to demonstrate qualities that can be described as ‘commercial’: The administrative side must also be taken into account, in order to ensure the follow-up of press relations, to send back documents, to provide additional details, to find the right contacts to explain and support the information.

In summary:

The information transmitted must be reliable, validated and verifiable. This being said, the interest in communicating with the media to publicise a person, a product, a service or a situation is real, since the information will be collected, processed and retransmitted by a journalist, a person whose objectivity is not questioned. The reader has a positive attitude towards this type of message. To achieve this goal, the media professional needs to be convinced that the story is a ‘good’ story, hence the need for substantiated, reasoned and well-written information….
As the word “relations” indicates, a press relations campaign on substantive subjects is practiced over the long term, in order to reflect the life of a company or an organization; the “one shot” being an opportunistic action, it rarely falls within the effective scope of the profession.

My professional opinion:

Based on my experience of more than 25 years as an operational press officer, I can affirm that very often, the practice of press relations should be directly dependent on the General Management and not, as is often the case, on the communication or marketing departments. Even if coordination with these departments is important and necessary for coherence, efficiency is much better when the decision path is short… Why? Because the relationship with journalists is enhanced by direct operation and clear answers from decision-makers, rather than information passed through institutional communication filters linked to a global message whose content dulls the information….

How does PR play a role in crisis management?

Since I am answering questions from the initiators of the NET WASH website, a specialist in E-reputation cleaning, particularly in times of notoriety crisis, the subject of PR in crisis management is a good one! Whether it is to anticipate this crisis, or to face it with a mediatised response, we are still in the field of strategy… Knowing that one must be very attentive to the process and that, if one is not sure of one’s ability to manage directly, it is better to be accompanied by one or more professionals (press attaché + crisis management specialist).

To get the information across – which should be as close to reality as possible – start by choosing a media outlet that you know or that has been favourable to you in the past and contact it as a priority. Let them know about the information and, if possible, ‘include’ them in the disclosure process. In a position to get the scoop, the journalist will, quite rightly, be more inclined to be measured.
Then (in the wake of the first article or radio or TV appearance), you must be ready to work with well-tested information.
The established message must be precise and widely disseminated by selecting the relevant targets (media) for the subject.
Very important! It is absolutely necessary to limit the scattering of information and to designate an official spokesperson, in order to avoid wild responses and to be counterproductive, by ensuring that there will be no internal leaks.
Beware, this action requires prior internal communication within the organisation concerned to get the right message across (the same as the one in the report). Indeed, some investigative journalists might (and this is normal, it is their job) try to find out information ‘on the sly’, hence the interest in having transmitted to all the collaborators and partners a message that they will have been able to appropriate in order to retransmit it correctly in the event of an obligation to respond.

How is a press release written?

The main thing is to keep it sober and factual, a press release is not a sales pitch. The headline should avoid catchphrases, which are reserved for “advertising”. The sub-heading completes the information announced in the title.
When you are not a virtuoso, it is better to strictly respect the traditional 5 Ws rule: (Who, What, Why, When, Where and add “How Much”)!
Depending on the chosen communication strategy, you have to “stick” to the directive: no innuendo, no confusing elements, no “blah blah”, only facts, names, figures.
Trust is very important to establish a constructive relationship. You may not agree with the journalist’s question, but that is no reason to attack him/her. Nor should we underestimate them. The vast majority of journalists know their job and have done their homework beforehand. The right option is to answer calmly if you can, tell things as they are, delay if you don’t know and don’t lie. If the answer is not available at the moment, take the name and contact details, say that you will make enquiries and call back and do so. Keeping your word is a very important point in the relationship with the journalist.

Why did you build your business on press relations?

The world has changed. Very quickly. After my studies, which had nothing to do with communication, a subject that did not exist at the time, I started to travel. My furthest journey took me to the South American continent, where my landing place very quickly became a home port: Guyana. I had the opportunity to do radio for what was then called FR3 Guyane and the game quickly became more serious. After the first intimidating stages, I enjoyed being behind the microphone and speaking to all those people who relied on me every morning… I was able to continue this work when I returned to France, thanks to the advent of local radio stations. I was lucky enough to create the first radio station in a prestigious ski resort and to interview many well-known artists and journalists! Then, in an event context, I welcomed and accompanied many international journalists and thus familiarised myself with the small problems of the profession… Having created my global communication agency in the “provinces”, the press relations part had a hard time taking off, as this profession is more traditionally reserved for Parisians, as companies in my region tend to trust Parisian agencies… The old clichés have a hard time, but over time, I have built up a clientele in the generalist sector, with a focus on franchise networks and the automobile industry… Especially in Paris! !!

What I like about this job is that it helps people talk about themselves. Some small entrepreneurs discover themselves and, for the record, one of them once said to me: “Isabelle, I’m delighted, I’ve learnt things about my company by reading your press release”! All joking aside, getting the gist of a daunting subject is a constant challenge. Making things attractive, valuing people and services is also a challenge. It’s a job of interface. The articles written in return also help the companies concerned to evolve, it’s an exchange, so it’s really communication! Moreover, in my region, there were very few press relations actors, so I made a point of ‘resisting’ the practice of this somewhat marginal profession.

What is the job today?

In 20 years, the profession has changed a lot and we must not neglect the difficult transition from paper to the Internet, which has led to a sort of explosion in the written press over the last 5 years. The so-called classic media are now looking up because, let’s face it, the medium is one thing, the method and the content (the job, in short) are another…
The basic principles of a press release are still relevant today, more than 100 years after the first press release was issued; the good reason why formatted press information continues to live on despite a multitude of alternative formats is that it is well understood by all organisations. The press officer’s job naturally follows the fluctuations of the press and you have to adapt constantly. It’s hard enough to do that when you’re a professional communicator, so I often think of those who are convinced that they “know how to do it” alone… Despite this, I believe that the profession is losing momentum if it remains practiced “as is”. However, I don’t share the idea that it should be completely digitised, because it loses personalization, development, exchanges of details and precision. It is up to journalists to digest, summarise and interpret… We, the press officers, must provide detailed, exhaustive and reasoned information. So we need to keep the possibility of sending messages that are a little more developed, of being able to talk about them on the phone or during press briefings organised to promote the exchange. It seems to me that the more reductive the system is, the more information needs to be well documented. Perhaps the profession will no longer be called that, but there will always be a need for people to make the link, by building the tools necessary for this outcome, by having prepared the parties involved and created the conditions for the meeting.

In concrete terms, what is the purpose of press relations?

I have always considered my action as a support to the development of companies, associations, professional unions or other entities that I have been able to accompany in the definition and achievement of their objectives.
For the company, this is an important and profitable challenge because it is a way of “opening its heart” to the outside world, of sharing its projects, its progress and its results! We tell our story without promoting ourselves, we exchange without imposing (the journalist always has the choice of whether or not to take the information), we validate that the subjects we consider important are really important, or if they are in line with the trend; all of this makes things evolve. PR helps to raise awareness, to recruit, to support the evolution of the company, to build loyalty among customers, partners, employees…
In the end, PR is a considerable help to the development of a business and to maintaining its stability, when it is well argued, well followed up and when the feedback is used other than to appear in the press area of the company’s website ….

How do you make yourself known?

This is a business where referrals from clients are THE essential way to get known. This is what happened to me. At the beginning, of course, I approached certain companies but, little by little, it was thanks to “word of mouth” that I found – and kept – most of my clients. Availability, seriousness, reactivity, understanding of problems, this is what clients expect when they want to be accompanied. And it works for them!

Thank you Isabelle. 


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