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What does a public relations agency do?

What does a public relations agency do?

David Jones is in Wellington now. It’s tremendously exciting for me because I live there and I love the new and shiny.  I love having the chance to fondle the $2,000 Louboutins and gasp at the Alexander McQueen scarves. Today though, I had an appointment at Benefit Brow Bar, inside David Jones, to tame my unruly brows.

My “brow expert” ran through the usual questions and small talk that she’s probably trained to do.  We talked about the weather a bit, a lot about how she gets any work done being so close to the new and shiny things but then she asked me what I did for a job.  “PR”, I said.  “What’s that?” she asks. 

While she’s waxing a fierce looking arch into my brow shape, I’m considering response.  This is small talk, after all.  She probably doesn’t care what PR really is.  So, should I tell her what everyone else knows it to be? We push press releases out to unsuspecting journalists, ticking a completed box for our clients and hoping that a journalist will pick up the story, or do I tell her the truth ? What we actually do. 

I started out in PR about 16 years ago as a junior.  My job was to clip the news clippings in the paper about our clients, stick them to a sheet of A4 and fax them through each day and pop the original in the mail to the CEO.  I also helped write press releases, I’d read them back to the seniors in the firm, I’d put together amazing press packs to accompany a story – it was a jolly good time.

Back then however, PR was seen as an expensive luxury.  Something you had to invest in.  The only thing we could measure ROI on was Advertising Value Equivalents – how much would it cost to place a story of the same size we just got as editorial in mainstream vs how much our fee was.

And sure, it felt good to be able to gather up those clips as a way to prove our worth, but if I’m honest here, every PR person around in the late 90’s knew that what we were doing was nothing more than an ego stroke.  But it was a good time, right?  So we all just went about our merry way until the internet came and social media came and we all collectively said “oh no”.

Obviously, there’s been a huge amount of change in our industry.  So what does PR mean now?

Press releases we do, but only if there’s a point to it, to update a large group with the same data or information, or for posterity.  And we have the posterity option because while you think everyone cares about your “business won new business” story – they don’t.  It isn’t news, but it’s news for you so you’ll write a press release and it’ll go on your website or a hosted press release site like and it’ll be there as a record of it happening.

All the usual jobs of crisis management (when shit goes pear-shaped, we’re good at figuring out the best way to apologise and make amends when you’ve said or done something stupid that you shouldn’t have), writing speeches, op-eds, reputation management including audits, communications strategy in some cases and of course social media strategy.  But guess what else we do.

We can help a company with their revenue. 

No joke, you want leads?  Talk to a PR firm.  You want to write blogs with purpose – that’s us.  You want to understand content, SEO, domain authority, personal brand, thought leadership and how great your website is?  That’s us too.  We also take all of the things above and build one big swift plan for you – that’s called integrated comms and it’s a bucket of fun.  We also very importantly measure everything we do, so we know that the work we’ve agreed to do is achieving its goals and so we’re not flogging a dead horse.

What can PR do for a company?  It might be easier to take note of what we don’t do.

Advertising on billboards, not us.  Writing jingles for your radio commercial – nope.  Buying your media space – All. The. Nope.

One thing about PR people is we love coffee and we love to talk.  We’d like to do both of those things with you sometime soon, so give us a yell.  If you’re not sure about committing to an actual date with us, try signing up to our sporadically sent email newsletter.  It’s usually full of golden common sense and just enough nonsense to make it fun.

Photo courtesy of Niuton May

Lou Draper is Managing Partner of Draper Cormack Group and a public relations veteran. Originally from Auckland she is now living, working and breathing public relations, personal brand and content curation in Wellington City.