Blinded by the paps

This is an article by Jason Gale.
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Jason Gale

Handmade UK works with many interns and those at the beginning of their public relations careers. We have learnt a great deal about their expectations from the work and how the reality measures up.

Television programmers and script writers have long portrayed PR in titles such as Sex and the City and of course Absolutely Fabulous as an image of endless parties,  ‘flirtworking’ and celebrities on speed dial as your ‘in’ crowd.

Is this really the mainstay of the public relations executive’s role and the only real knowledge a successful PR person needs?

If only it were that easy to be fabulous!

In reality this is a small part of the fabric that needs to be weaved. Indeed, before the fun elements of the PR industry kick in we have to make way for hours upon hours (upon HOURS!) of straight up copy in front of the computer screen.

PR has to add value

Today’s modern consumer public relations agency now has to focus on a quantifiable return on investment for all its clients. A client may once have been happy to pay a huge retainer for occasional celebrity show ups or to attend glamorous premiers of Hollywood blockbusters. However, that client is long gone.

The PR industry over recent years has banged its fist hard to insist on being taken seriously as a valuable if not essential part of the marketing mix. That wish has now been granted albeit at a ‘cost’.

The ‘cost’ is that expectations of PR professionals have grown. Now not only does the modern PR executive have to get the best invites to the best parties rubbing shoulders with the best people, they also need to cope with a 14 hour day at least five days a week staring at a computer screen writing copy, researching opportunities for every client.

Clients’ communication needs now have to be integrated across all available tools and platforms to ensure that all this effort produces maximum benefit against demanding expectations. Patsy and Samantha would be horrified!

Additionally this change of expectation has been accompanied by the huge fragmentation of media in recent years. For example, the reduction in the number of journalists working on publications has come with an increase in demand for producing relevant column inches.

This has led to a new opportunities for the already hardworking PR executive. By providing well structured copy that helps journalists they come to rely on a PR company to take the strain.

A great journalist no longer sees the publicist or PR professional as a gatekeeper but as an essential tool that helps keep their editors happy.

Before you change your mind about PR, it’s not all work with no play; the amount of fun in public relations is an essential part of the PR mix.  Creativity is sparked and developed by throwing yourself in the mix and meeting the right minds, whatever the industry. It is certainly part of the Handmade UK working week.

When we down keyboards we put on some slap, take ourselves to glamorous parties, premieres and networking evenings.

Party lifestyle

Jackie Brambles in OK Magazine

Parties are plentiful especially in London and can produce interesting and fantastic opportunities so attending and getting known on the PR party scene is an important part of our work. Since the great and the good of the entertainment and lifestyle industries attend these events it is often easier to get an audience with them over champagne than getting past office protocols.

I attended a fantastic event for ITV a few months back with a celebrity client and in the space of one hour quaffing champagne and networking I learnt about the change of direction ITV daytime was heading, got to know a talented presenter who is soon to be a client and also shared TV strand ideas with the best TV producers in the business.  To try and achieve all this would have taken four or five separate meetings – and may not have been possible otherwise.

Hosting our own events and parties for our clients is an important part of the Handmade UK PR solution for many of our clients and we organise about twelve events a year.

Not surprisingly these prove to be among the favourite activities for the agency staff to participate in. Creating the correct branded message through a great and memorable time is essential. Organising the leaving party of ‘Loose Woman’ Jackie Brambles who chaired the hit daytime show was hard work.  ‘Hands on’ organisation is key to handling celebrities’ press sponsors, catering, photographers and celebrity arrivals along with the venue.

Of course it was extremely successful with stacks of press generated and on reflection when PR executives think about the Loose Women party they never think back to the late nights stuffing envelopes with invitations or poring over press releases… they think about sharing jokes with Carol McGiffin, dancing with pop star Lulu and being blinded by the paps after the photographs of Konnie Huq!

This remains an exhilarating time to be working in public relations. The respect for the craft is on the increase as is the expectation for a return on the client’s investment year on year.

I see an improvement of the quality of people attracted to the industry as the importance of PR activity increases in business as a whole.

The fun remains alive and kicking and essential to consumer and lifestyle PR and a successful agency –  so come on Patsy and Samantha get in those Blahniks, get the Bolli poured and chase it with a Cosmo!

Jason Gale is founder of Handmade UK and creator of the London Lifestyle Awards

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