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Guest blog by Bill Ranatunga, account director at Weber Shandwick Manchester and mentor on Media Trust’s Transforming Hidden Talent programme:

Bill Ranatunga, Weber Shandwick Manchester

What is public relations? …good question. The truth is that today public relations, or PR, saddles a number of areas that were previously considered core disciplines. While years ago the traditional flack (industry term for PR practitioner) would solely concentrate on securing column inches, PR today is about understanding how best to communicate on behalf of brands in a society that is becoming increasingly multi-channel and always ‘on’.

The core principles of public relations, however, remain true. It is about finding the right platform to influence your audience and the most effective way to start a conversation and tell your brand’s story – be that through proactive storytelling, direct engagement with online and offline communities, or carefully managing issues.

Technology has played a huge part in PR’s recent shift in direction. Developments in mobile technology and the internet, as well as the rise of the citizen reporter, means I now find myself doing what I would have previously considered digital marketing, marketing, journalism and design, on a daily basis.

I started my career in the year of the financial crisis in 2008 – an interesting time for any business – and while much has changed, in terms of how consumers now trust and engage with brands, I have a few tips which will stand the test of time for anyone looking to get into this business:

1. Get to know the media

A public relations practitioner today needs to be able to absorb as much media as they can to understand how each platform works, what they do to engage their audience and how your brand can adapt or flex to maximise on opportunities. Listen to and read the news every day, and take a closer look at how these programmes are put together. What angle are they covering the story from? How does radio build a picture in the listener’s mind? Are there trends that keep popping up in the news?

Think about other mediums too. Despite what you hear, newspapers are not dead. They are very much alive and kicking, and while many of them are adopting more digital and mobile formats, established news brands are where people will always go to eliminate hearsay and seek the truth – particularly with local newspapers, where they are more trusted for local news than social media.

2. Be willing to learn and embrace it

In PR, you are always learning – particularly in an agency where you have to adapt and be able to apply knowledge and experience from one client experience to inform another…a unique experience in itself. Much of what we do is about problem solving and, as I explained in my introduction, the solutions will continue to change – and that’s what is so exciting. No day in PR is the same and it is a career for people that like a challenge and will persevere until they find a resolution.

3. It is a people business

PR is about knowing who key people are and building strong relationships over time. A lot of what we do is about selling – selling concepts to clients or senior management, selling ideas to journalists or selling ourselves to people that want to buy into us – so the ability to build a rapport with someone will stand any budding PR professional in good stead. Remember to have fun at the same time though; people buy people and so if you’re enjoying your job you’ll attract others that think in a similar way.

Public relations changes at the same rate as the world. It’s a fast-moving industry which attracts a diverse selection of people, but if you’re hardworking, passionate about the media and developing engaging content, and ready to learn and absorb information every day, then PR may well be the career for you.

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