What do PR agencies do?

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Yes, yes, we’ve heard it all – the “I don’t knows”, the “not a lot to be honest, haha”, the “some sort of snake oil stuff” and even the “aren’t they the same as PAs?”

And lots more….I can only imagine the type of replies someone might have for this…but if we leave those to one side for now and look at the daily tasks that a PR agency might undertake. I’m guessing that if you’ve found this article, you might be looking to find out if your business needs a PR agency, or you might be unhappy with your existing agency and wondering what you’re paying for.

First off, a PR agency does not buy advertising – they’re generally looking for coverage in the editorial spaces, or what can often be called “earned” media. It’s also worth noting that PR agencies don’t usually come up with branding messages or slogans. They’re good at the catchy headlines but if you’re looking at your brand, a PR agency – usually – isn’t the place to go for this.

In short, a PR agency is there to protect, enhance or build your profile in the media.

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As part of this, a PR agency will usually be found doing the following on your behalf:

  • Press announcements: Writing and distributing press releases or news announcements to your key press.
  • Speaking to journalists: As an agency, we’re often talking to journalists across a number of publications, so we tend to know what they’re writing about and if they might be interested in writing about your company. We don’t know all the journalists – that would be ace – but we know a lot of them and our job is to talk to them about your company and pitch your latest announcements. And if your agency is a good one, they'll have built great relationships with those journalists. As freelance journalist and Guardian Masterclass Tutor, Susie Bearne, says;

"I love working with brilliant PRs who know and have everything I need for a piece before I've even typed it up in an email. Someone who hands you a brilliant story or leads you onto one, has a range of high-res pics to make your editor happy, ensures the client is a brilliant interviewee, and is just a dream to work with - get that right and we'll be knocking on your door to work with you again."

A lot of companies often try to do PR themselves which is always a possibility, but if you think that journalists get in excess of 500 emails a day, you have to make that email or pitch stand out. Agencies do this every day and whilst it doesn’t mean we can guarantee coverage, we usually have a contact at the publication and can get a quick reply as to whether the story will be printed.

A cup of black coffee and a blank lined notepad and pen laid out on a dark wooden desk
  • Web and content writing: A PR agency can help you write content for your website which may come in handy if you don’t have time to do this yourself. A good agency will also know how to write content that works within the search engine guidelines and also think about the other channels where you can use the same content, for example, on your social media channels or even in paid for media.
  • Market research: If you want to look at your target market and find out their thoughts on an issue, product or service, an agency can write research questions and also liaise with the market research company and dig out the news headlines from the research.
  • Crisis management: No one wants to deal with this but in times of need, a PR agency will really be your best friend. They’ll not only handle the media enquiries for you, but also help you think about how to deal with a situation and then communicate with your staff, suppliers or the general public.
A red circular 'emergency pull' button against a white background
  • Communicate your message: A good agency will make sure your PR activity communicates your message. So if you’re a software provider that specialises in banking systems, we won’t then write to Mother and Baby and ask if they’d like to talk to you. That said, to get the most out of your agency, you need to share information with them so that they know the right message to communicate, which brings us onto our final point….

A good agency will be a strategic partner for you and your business. It works best if you confide your plans with them and trust that they will work with you to develop a communications plan that really delivers on your objectives. If you simply alert them the day before something new happens, they won’t have time to do much with it – resulting in no coverage and everyone feeling rubbish.

If you’re thinking of recruiting an agency, we’ve also written an article about how to find a good PR agency.

About the author

Lynsey Walden is Co-Director at Front Door Communications and has over 15 years of experience in public relations. She has worked for Lloyds Bank and Weber Shandwick, one of the largest PR agencies in the UK, before joining GoCompare in 2007 to manage PR and digital marketing for several years.

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