Who do PR people work for?
Two weeks after I delivered the first of a four-part series of trainings about how to be a great client service person at our own agency, I read an echo of part of my training in an article about President Obama's Press Secretary. A post in the PR Breakfast Club blog opened with this quote:
"I work to promote the president and the message that he’s trying — the messages he’s trying to convey to the American people. But I also work with the press to try to help you do your jobs, to help you cover the White House, cover the administration and report on what we’re doing here.”
— White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, explaining his dual role of serving the President and the press, Feb. 16, 2011.
My own slide: "Who Do You Work For?" lists the following, in priority order: (1) LP&P (our agency); (2) Client(s) -- Your immediate contact; Their boss (and so on); Their company; and (3) The influencers (journalists/bloggers)
Like Carney, good PR people are only as good as the credibility they maintain among all of their constituencies. At the end of the day, they are responsible to their own company or agency, as they are ambassadors of that firm or organization at all times. They need to keep their client's best interests at heart, which includes sometimes telling their primary client that they don't think a particular program or plan is the right thing for the company overall. Their job, sometimes, is to protect that client from himself or herself by laying out the potential risks and downsides of actions or statements. As Carney also points out, good PR people are the translators of their client's message to the critical influencer channels. They need to build and maintain strong relationships with those influencers or they cannot do their job. That means they have to be a good filter for the media and the bloggers. They need to understand what the media needs and how they need it. They need to intercede for them and push their clients to keep the needs of the press to learn about the news quickly, so they have time to effectively cover it, even when internal legal counsel sometimes suggests keeping information close to the vest longer than what is required.
It is not an easy job being a PR client service person in an agency these days-- hence the four-part training program. But it's a rewarding job in many ways because you get to be a critical part of a number of fascinating companies. Communications often is their most important asset and you are at the forefront of making it sing for them.