A few weekends ago I found myself on the front row of a stand-up comedy gig in Dublin. Having already heckled one comedian I was prepared for anything they threw my way. At least that’s what I thought.
In fact it was the most innocuous question that threw me. “What’s your name?” Fine. “Where are you from?” Easy. “What do you do for work?”
I panicked as I wracked my brain for how to describe my job as simply as possible. I work in public relations in the real estate and built environment sector. I specialise in strategic comms and reputation management. I get clients into the paper and more importantly keep them out. You build it, I’ll talk about it!
Instead, after an excruciating few seconds I eventually squeaked out, “Communications”. To which the comedian responded deadpan, “Well, you don’t seem very good at it.”
And then the actress said to the bishop…
In our sector, the term ‘communications’ can cover a multitude of disciplines – public relations, public affairs, advertising, marketing, branding. As such, it can be incredibly hard for our clients to not only know what they need, but when they need it and who to go to to get it.
A client who is announcing a new development, for example, may say that they need “someone to do some marketing”. In reality, what they probably need is a public affairs specialist who can liaise with local councillors and draw up an engagement plan to speak directly to local people, a PR professional who can work on key messaging and media relations with local press, and a marketing agency to produce supporting literature and branding.
As a PR professional it can be a significant challenge to ensure that the people who employ us understand where we sit on the communications spectrum. What we can do however is be the centre of a communications web.
Which is where collaboration comes in. Yes, there are jack-of-all-trade agencies that aim to deliver the full suite of comms practices under one roof, but in reality most SMEs concentrate on a handful of specialisms. Through a joined-up approach, these specialists can unite in providing the best service for our clients, and we shouldn’t shy away from doing this.
The importance of discipline
At a recent Profile event I attended on Destination Marketing, it was clear how many communications disciplines it takes to coax an idea into life. The communications discipline that a scheme requires at the beginning of the process – community involvement and audits, local media engagement, policy, neighbourhood planning – is very different from that needed once a scheme is completed – social media, branding, crisis comms. But they all fall under the same umbrella term of communications and all hold their own importance.
Our challenge as a sector is to ensure that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet so as to provide the best service possible for our clients. It’s crucial therefore that all disciplines are valued – by both clients and peers – and key to this is recognising when to draw upon the right disciplines at the right time throughout the life of a project.
I may still not be able to do an elevator pitch under pressure at a comedy gig, but can you blame me when I’m part of such a varied sector? Property is a complex beast, and whether we work in marketing, PR or branding, we communications professionals need to unite to ensure that our skills are welcomed with open arms right from the beginning of a project to ensure that we can co-create the very best content for our clients for the life of a scheme.
Redwood Consulting is a member of the International Public Relations Network, one of the world’s largest and well established independent agency networks.