Monday, November 30, 2015
Jeff Salem, Public Relations Counsel

In an effort to demystify the ad agency and its various positions, our series, “What I Do Around Here” lets different employees explain their job, in their own words. So whether you’re a client wondering what you’re paying for, or an aspiring intern wondering what you’re getting yourself into, we hope this series sheds some light on just how we do what we do.


Probably the question I get most from people after I tell them I’m a public relations counsel at Swanson Russell is, “So, what does a public relations counsel do?”

Usually, I’ll respond with, “Well, I can definitely tell you what I don’t do: comb my hair — on account of all the hats I have to wear!”

Then I usually pause for the laughter that never comes, and follow the silence up with an apology and explanation that I’m a dad, which makes me legally required to offer a stale joke before giving a serious answer to anything.

Aaaaanyway, there may be something to that horrible, horrible, unfunny hat joke, after all; because all public relations professionals employ a variety of skills each day at work. While the following are but a few, here are some of the tactics I execute most often at work for a paycheck:

Media relations

I act as a liaison between my clients and the media. Every day.

It’s a never-ending job and one of the gold standards to being a productive, successful PR professional. Developing trusting, friendly, respectful relationships with members of the media is important if you want to work in PR.

Editors are being pitched all the time from all sorts of people. And they’re human, too. So, naturally, editors are more likely to gravitate towards and be receptive to pitches coming from PR professionals they know, trust, respect, and — most of all — enjoy working with.

Read. Write. Repeat.

Reading and writing is what I spend the majority of my time doing. (There’s a joke in here somewhere about filling out timesheets, but let’s move on.) In order to understand the media with which you expect to develop a relationship, you need to read what they’re producing and you should be reading what they’re reading. The more you comprehend about what makes them tick, the easier it is to create content for them, which is ultimately the goal.

Then there’s the writing, which comes in all shapes and sizes. Just as a chameleon changes color to blend into its surroundings, PR folks need to alter our writings’ tone, form, and style to meet the needs of the medium for which we’re writing.

From a blog post for a construction client, to a new product news release for the golf industry, to a social media content calendar for a consumer-facing client, to even a technical case study that highlights an erosion control mulch manufacturer’s work — the content we write has to fit the audience for which it’s produced.

The ability to alter your writing style to meet the needs of the audience (and the medium) is always top of mind.

Pitching ideas, placing the work

Another pillar of PR work is the cycle of pitching content to the media (oftentimes in the form of an article idea or interview source), then doing whatever it takes to get that work placed. To do this effectively, we need to know what our clients have to offer the media and what story topics could be pitched that place the client as an industry leader or trustworthy expert.

Once you have your pitch or offer, we need to know what media would find it attractive. This goes back to the whole read-who-you're-pitching-to concept. It really comes in handy.

This is another facet to agency work that separates us from other departments that work here, too. Whereas, our counterparts in the Creative and Digital departments typically need a specific job opened to begin work on a project, we are oftentimes left to our own devices to bring in work. This pitching process is how a lot of this work is found.

Media event planning

Planning media events for clients can come in a variety of forms and is one of my favorite kinds of work if for no other reason than it provides a break from the everyday writing projects. Bringing the client face-to-face with the media can take on a lot of forms.

Press conferences, trade show one-on-one interviews, or on-site media events are all popular ways of creating a lasting impact with the media. All require a special level of planning for successful execution, but these events are some of the more fun things we do on a regular basis.

Drinking coffee

If I didn’t mention something about coffee, you could very well leave this blog post without the full understanding of what we do in the PR department.

We drink a lot of coffee. Like a lot. Like a lot-a lot.

Other departments come to our department’s coffee station for their own joe because they know it was brewed recently and it was made by professionals.

“PR” could actually stand for “Premium Roast.” We may never know.

So, that was the lengthy way to explain what I do at Swanson Russell as a public relations counsel. But sometimes, if I don’t feel like going into a lot of detail, I simply say I do whatever it takes to generate positive media coverage for my clients. The third-party validation that only editorial coverage can attain is what we’re after in the PR department.

That, and a hat rack, amirite?