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What Does a PR Agency Do?

February 27, 2018
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PR as a whole is widely misunderstood. Many people fall under the assumption that a publicist’s main role is to manage bad press and spin things to make their client look good, even if it’s deceitful. Because of this stigma, if you tell someone you work in PR, many will assume you lie for a living. This couldn’t be further from the truth! While managing bad press releases is certainly a part of PR, no reputable PR agency will lie to the public and spin untrue tales. Unfortunately, there are people in the PR industry that do partake in this, giving the rest of us a bad wrap. It’s about time we put the “PR stereotype” to rest, so let’s set the record straight and take a look at what a PR agency really does.


Just as our world has changed and evolved over the last few decades, so have media channels and the role of a publicist and PR agency. While some elements work the same, modern-day PR involves a much wider offering than ever before. As technology has molded and shaped our world in new ways, PR has in turn transformed as well.

At one-time, print media dominated the public relations industry, with the main goal being to secure client coverage in print magazines and newspapers. During this time, publicists’ main focus was on brand awareness. Publicists relied on editorial calendars and would pitch the press with timely angles and newsworthy announcements in hopes of getting picked up by an editor. This often included “desk side” visits to big publishers in metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles where publicists would pitch to editors in person. The goal was always the same: get your client featured in a major print publication, increase brand awareness, and your job was done.

As you’re probably already aware, print is no longer a major player, with most top-tier magazines and newspapers announcing the end of print editions. If popular publications like Teen Vogue and The Gannett News Group are being forced to cut print elements out of their businesses, it’s safe to say that print is on its way out. This major change has forced PR agencies to switch their focus to digital, essentially transforming the entire industry. Because of this switch, these days PR agencies do much more than just build brand awareness and secure placements in magazines and newspapers.

Related: Getting Started With Digital PR: What Public Relations is All About

Today, PR professionals are tech-savvy and trend-focused and thrive in a fast-paced environment, working with editors from digital publications and social media influencers from Instagram and YouTube. This digital immersion has expanded the PR toolbox, giving PR professionals the ability to measure performance and navigate tools like Google Analytics to see how their online placements are driving results. The bottom line? Modern-day PR no longer requires wearing one hat, but several every day! If there’s one thing that’s certain in the world of PR, it’s that no day is the same.

Now that you have a little background on the PR industry as a whole let’s dive into the specifics of PR agencies and their many roles.

The Role of a PR Agency

Research target market and personas

Researching target markets and personas is an extremely important part of PR. When taking on a new client, considering your audience is the first priorities and sets the tone for the rest of the PR strategy. If you don’t take the time to do your target market research, you might as well be shooting in the dark!

Once a target market is identified, PR agencies sketch out what they believe to be the persona of their target customer. This includes age, gender, income, interests, goals, dreams and much more. By narrowing in on the persona they are trying to reach, publicists are able to better understand which publications would cater to this audience and perfect their strategy in reaching this persona through targeted media outreach.

Create targeted press lists

Creating a targeted press list can’t start until you know what type of editors and writers you are trying to reach. This is where research comes back into play.

Depending on the product, service, or vision you are trying to pitch, PR professionals will identify the appropriate trade, local or top-tier publications for their target press lists.

Once these media outlets are identified, they will hunt for the editor or writer that is the best fit. This is often done by searching for editors and writers that have written about topics similar to what you are trying to pitch them. For example, if someone in PR is trying to pitch a fall recipe roundup piece featuring their client, they will look for writers who have written recipe roundup pieces before.

This aspect of PR is extremely important if you want to get results for your client. If you don’t take your time when creating press lists, you’ll end up wasting your time pitching to the wrong journalists and likely won’t receive any responses.

Create compelling pitches

Crafting pitches is the more creative side of working at a PR agency and involves goals of persuading and exciting journalists to cover your story or idea. These pitches are usually created based on seasonal trends, political trends, industry trends, new products and services, and announcements. It’s up to the PR professional to come up with unique and persuasive story angles involving their client so that they can convince the journalist on the merit of their vision. Depending on what you are trying to sell, this can either be extremely easy or extremely hard!

Conduct outreach

Today, pitches are typically sent via email to targeted press lists and then followed up via email or phone. This aspect of PR also involves media relations, which refers to the back and forth communication with journalists and the media. The ultimate goal of this outreach is to create positive press, and by extension, a positive feeling about your client.

When conducting outreach, PR agencies are responsible for coordinating interviews, sourcing quotes, sending the product, and answering any questions the media might have. Securing and maintaining positive relationships with members of the media is a crucial part of working in the PR industry and can make or break your success. When strong connections are made, PR agencies not only maximize their chances of coverage but also build a positive reputation with the media community.

Coordinate and handle trade show opportunities

If a client is involved in trade shows, PR agencies are responsible for identifying new trade show opportunities, setting up interviews at trade show booths, drafting trade show press releases, securing speaking engagements and scheduling time slots for editors to stop by and chat. A PR agency essentially handles all the media-related details in an effort to ensure the event goes smoothly.

During the actual trade show, a PR agency is also responsible for “working the room.” This involves scouting out journalists on the floor in an attempt to secure additional interviews or simply pitch them on your company. This is also a great opportunity to invite journalists to company events during or after the trade show. It pays to socialize!

Handle all aspects of influencer relations

With social media ingrained into almost every part of our lives, influencer relations are a new offering that many modern-day PR agencies offer. Similar to media relations, influencer relations involves creating targeted lists, creative pitches, and outreach. The main difference is that media relations targets journalists from online publications whereas influencer relations targets influencers from social media channels like Instagram and YouTube. The goal here is also relatively the same; get eyes on your client so you can increase brand awareness, gain new customers and drive sales!

Wrapping Up

Whether building brand awareness or driving traffic and sales, PR exists to manage communication and build mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. While some may still insist that PR agencies are full of spin doctors and liars, hopefully, this article was able to give you better insight into what PR actually entails!

Check out our PR guru, Amanda Windsor, talk all things PR on Flip The Switch Podcast!

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