GUIDE TO CAREERS IN PUBLIC RELATIONS: Sectors - PR's areas of influence. Effective communication is crucial to everything from healthcare to financial services and lobbying, making a career in PR much more varied and stimulating than you might imagine

In today's fast-changing world - where communications is central to

business, politics, the arts, charities, sports - pretty much any

organised activity you care to mention, the role of PR continues to

increase in importance.

Hardly a day goes by without the media using the words 'puff' or 'spin'

in relation to a story they are covering. These terms, although

disparaging, provide some indication of the power and impact of PR. But

what they fail to do is tell the positive story of how PR helps

organisations meet vital objectives. Nor do they do justice to the sheer

variety of potential career paths available in what is a very broad area


PR is much, much more than media relations, albeit that dealing with

journalists is often an important part of the job. Audiences range from

politicians to professors, clubbers to captains of industry, the

affluent to the needy. The 'public' in public relations can stand for

external audiences, from shareholders to shoppers, and internal

audiences like employees.

Most organisations employ in-house PR people. Or they employ a

consultancy to handle the activity for them. And it not unusual for

bigger companies to buy into both options, using consultancy services to

complement their own in-house team.

Those at a senior level shape communications strategy and manage teams,

while more junior staff will be involved in the day-to-day nitty-gritty

and excitement of implementing programmes, which may have as their

objective the simple generation of publicity, or the greater challenge

of changing opinion.

Although we have looked below at the main PR practice areas

individually, none sits in a vacuum. Major communications campaigns may

call for two, three or more practice areas to work together - and

whoever is running such a campaign will need to understand the many

facets of PR.

It is a much more varied and stimulating career than many people


And one that gets more varied and rewarding the further you



Contrary to misconceptions fostered by programmes such as Jennifer

Saunders' biting comedy series Absolutely Fabulous, consumer PR is not a

long succession of glamorous parties and star-studded events,

interspersed with the occasional need to issue a press release. It is a

serious component in the marketing mix and requires creativity and

dedication in equal measure.

Yes, there can be a glamorous dimension to it, but for the most part it

is a tough job. Creating a buzz about a product or service and ensuring

it has more exposure and credibility than its competitors have to offer

is a real challenge. Getting the media interested, securing endorsements

from opinion formers, and planning events that will capture the

imagination of the public all call for hard work and original ideas.

'Creativity is very important in consumer PR. You have got to be able to

think outside of the box,' says Liz Fraser, human resources director

Europe at leading PR consultancy Edelman.

Most big consumer launches - whether it be in the area of cosmetics or

cars, movies or charity fundraising appeals - involve PR to some


However, PR to launch products and services is only one element of the

consumer practice area.

Sponsorships can have an important part to play. This works by

negotiating to associate a brand's name with a particular event and then

maximising that relationship to boost the perceptions and standing of

the brand.

A prime example of this is the way that Whitbread Beer Company has

promoted its premium lager Stella Artois through its Stella Screen

association with film, which has been heavily supported by PR


Another key area of consumer PR is what is known as issue or crisis


This is when PR is used to defend the reputation of a brand or service

that has been hit by bad news or negative media coverage. Instances of

this are when products have to be recalled by their manufacturers or

retailers because they are faulty or have been tampered with. Or when

public confidence in a brand or product has to be maintained or rebuilt

in a brand or product, such as after train crashes, or outbreaks of

livestock diseases such as BSE and foot-and-mouth.

A good example of crisis PR is the work that Weber Shandwick Worldwide

had to do last year relating to the abandoned maiden voyage of the P&O

cruise liner Aurora.

'We had to make the public feel it's a ship they still want to try,'

says Clare Fazackerley, WSW head of human resources and resourcing.

'This sort of stuff goes way beyond the perception of consumer PR as all


But there are a large number of challenges facing those on the consumer

side. People think big brands are easy to work on but they are harder

because you've got to come up with fresh ideas all the time.'

Nevertheless, consumer is the practice area to which most prospective

entrants to a career in PR aspire, usually because it is the one with

which they have the most familiarity. Consequently, it is one of the

hardest areas to break into. Yet other practice areas can be equally if

not more rewarding.

Some of the large consultancies like Edelman and Weber Shandwick have a

policy of rotating their graduate intake through different practice

areas. During the course of this process, many of the new recruits

discover, sometimes to their surprise, areas they would rather work in

instead of consumer PR.


'IT is not a peculiar little niche, it is now the biggest industry in

the world,' says Jonathan Simnett, vice-chairman of technology PR

specialist Brodeur Worldwide.

'What we do is not about publicity, it's a well-managed, important

element of the marketing mix. And we have all kinds of different

clients, from new economy companies that are cash rich but resource poor

that we help to grow quickly, to global mature companies that need to

reinvent themselves. The idea of being a few months out of college and

being put on a team that changes the future of a global player is one of

the most exciting career options you can have.'

Simnett cites work Brodeur has done for clients of the stature of IBM,

Nortel and Cable & Wireless, which has explained how the nature of the

business has changed due to strategic choices, acquisitions and

technological developments. This sort of work is a mixture of corporate

and technology PR.

Away from the strategic end, there is a need to communicate at a product

level to an IT audience. Clearly, this requires practitioners to acquire

a reasonable technical knowledge. But more often than not, PR programmes

focus on the capabilities and business benefits of particular products

and services as much if not more than the technical specifications.

The internet boom has propelled the emergence of a technology PR

sub-category called consumer-tech. This is about targeting a consumer

audience with messages about technology related things that are relevant

for them - such as home PCs, software, internet services and



Corporate PR is similar to consumer in that it spans a broad spectrum

and comprises elements such as sponsorship and issue/crisis


However, with corporate much of the focus is on reputation management -

making sure an organisation is perceived in the way it wants to be


Corporate PR requires a sound understanding of business. It involves

putting together platforms and forums that allow companies to deliver

crucial messages. Increasingly, it extends into the area of corporate

social responsibility in that pressure groups and consumers expect

corporations to behave ethically with regard to the environment, and the

good treatment of their workforce, and will exert pressure if this is

deemed not to be the case. Companies such as Gap, Nike and Shell have

all used PR to defend their reputations as good corporate citizens when

criticised for their labour or environmental policies.

On the one hand, corporate PR can have a local dimension - for example

in community relations programmes focused on areas where an organisation

is a major employer. Or it can be international, perhaps necessitating

the co-ordination of PR campaigns across borders.

Shifts in business strategy or corporate rebranding are usually

accompanied by PR activity. Leading PR consultancy Burson-Marsteller was

recently heavily involved in supporting the name change of global client

Accenture, previously Andersen Consulting.

In situations such as this, and in corporate mergers and acquisitions

(M&As) there is generally a need for internal communications, i.e.

explaining what is going on to employees. Many in-house PR departments

and PR consultancies provide internal communications services, helping

companies spread important information to staff via a host of means such

as newsletters, webcasts, corporate TV, live events and e-mail.


Healthcare PR is another area that has grown strongly over recent


The majority of graduates that go into this area have a science degree,

but it is not an absolute necessity so far as most employers are


There are two main areas: 'ethical' and 'OTC'. Ethical refers to

prescription medicines. How these can be promoted is strictly regulated

- it is against the law to promote them directly to consumers. With

products of this sort, the pharmaceutical companies and their PR

advisers target the medical profession, talking direct to eminent

consultants, GPs and bodies such as the National Institute for Clinical

Excellence with a view to ensuring that products are more widely


'In healthcare PR you could work with a drugs company three or four

years pre-launch when drugs are going through clinical trials,' says


There are many important international conferences in the health sector,

so travel is likely in this field. A lot of PR involves collaboration

with charities and patient support groups that are able to point

patients in the direction of new treatments in a way that drugs

companies can't.

OTC, meanwhile, stands for over-the-counter treatments that consumers

can buy in pharmacies or other shops without requiring a


These products are much less tightly regulated and can be promoted to

consumers directly.

Some healthcare PR specialists work on both ethical and OTC


Countrywide Porter Novelli consultant Georgina Hunt, for example, works

on ethical products in the respiratory and cardiovascular categories,

but also promotes Ribena, particularly its vitamin C benefits, straight

to consumers.


Business-to-business, frequently shortened to B2B, is another key area

of PR. Sometimes this is subsumed under the corporate PR heading (and a

lot of technology PR is also B2B), but it is such a thriving activity

that it merits a separate look.

In essence, B2B is all about communicating with customers and


Tools to reach a business audience range from conferences and seminars

to coverage in the business media and trade press. Whether you are a

courier company, a firm of City lawyers or even an advertising agency,

building your profile among your business audience by using PR can help

bring in lots of new business.

In addition to talking to their customers, companies need to talk to

their stakeholders as well. And if they are publicly quoted, the onus is

on them to communicate more widely with the financial community at



Financial, therefore, is another key practice area within PR. But while

it calls for many skills common to the rest of PR, there are some

important differences.

'People planning to go into financial PR need to realise they won't be

living in the marketing world,' says Charles Watson, chief executive

officer of financial PR consultancy Financial Dynamics. 'You're not in

the West End, in advertising agency territory. You're in the City

dealing with analysts and investment banks, who are prime referrers of


Financial PR involves media relations, but also requires talking to key

opinion formers such as financial analysts, whose views influence

institutional and private investors. As well as day-to-day briefings

about strategy and management, PR activity is stepped up when companies

release their interim and annual results. It can also spill into crisis

management if financial results are poor.

There is also a job to be done promoting IPOs (initial public offerings)

which is when private companies first float on the stock market. And of

course in the event of mergers and acquisitions. Particularly when M&As

are hostile in nature, i.e. when the board of one company opposes the

offer made by another firm and an aggressive PR campaign is fought by

both sides to win the shareholders over to their point of view.

Financial Dynamics worked on two successful, high profile M&As last

year: Vodafone's bid for Mannesmann and Royal Bank of Scotland's

acquisition of NatWest.

Tightly bound in with financial PR is investor relations (IR) which

focuses on providing the investors in a company with the information

they need.

Many quoted companies have in-house IR teams and most of the leading

financial PR agencies offer IR services.


Finally, we come to public affairs, sometimes called lobbying.

'It's primarily about helping clients understand the threats and

opportunities to their business that are presented by Government,'

explains Fishburn Hedges associate director Gordon Tempest-Hay. 'It's

much less these days about holding glittering receptions and pressing

the palms of MPs. A lot of it is about working with senior civil

servants to get them to influence ministers.'

When the Government announced the birth of stakeholder pensions,

Fishburn Hedges made sure its client Pearl Assurance got to play a part

in shaping their development by holding focus groups on pensions using

the kind of consumers the Government was targeting, which civil servants

and ministers were invited along to watch from behind two-way glass.

Given the nature of public affairs, it does attract a high proportion of

graduates who are interested in building a political career. But it also

appeals to those with a genuine interest in business strategy and how it

can be affected by public policy.

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