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PR Pros: It’s Never Our Work, but the Brand’s Work

September 3, 2009

So I was feeling a little blue yesterday because a press release I wrote went through two people, but then was edited hardcore by the third. We’ve all felt it – we put a lot of effort into something, and it comes back with a ton of red. Sometimes we take it personally, but as PR professionals, we have to brush it off as constructive criticism and learn from it. This time, it felt like I wasn’t doing a good job, and I want to produce the quality that I expect of myself.  I was told that I had, but this stuck with me when discussing it with my boss:

“It’s never our work, but the brand’s work.”business_branding

True? Absolutely. Is it hard to be humble in this profession? At times. Do we do it? Yes. Guess what? It’s not about us. It’s what being said about the brand. You might strategize with the CEO, but they are the ones saying it. Press releases have the stamp of the brand on them – not your stamp. Press releases are a team effort – and they are vital to your organization. I’ve always viewed it as PR professionals leave their mark on materials, efforts, events, etc – but the brand leaves its impact on the public. Is this wrong? Why is it called public relations if that’s the case?

So how do we overcome that feeling? Is there such a thing as too much editing? We all think differently. Some people edit just to edit, but many others have great ideas that you never thought of.

Being a PR professional can be different than being a working professional. Our hard work is recognized internally, but it resonates with the public in a variety of ways. Could this be why it’s so hard to define our jobs?

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2009 8:03 am

    I think this is such a good post, Lauren. Thanks for being transparent about your feelings too. I think we’ve all felt the sting of the red pen.

    What it comes down to is that most people in communications are extroverted, generous, creative, and we don’t shun the spotlight. We’re drawn to PR because it compliments our natural skill sets. However, when we’re working for a client it needs to be all about them, not about us. I heard one professional (a PR genius to the stars) say that she makes sure she never leaves a mark–it’s all about the brand image.

    So is that the power in what we do? Being the ultimate chameleon–changing hats, blending in seemlessly? Never letting anyone know it’s us behind the press release or event?

    Internal recognition is where I find the biggest benefit personally. At least PR people aren’t afraid to give each other kudos. Belonging to organizations like IABC or CPRS (among others) helps. There are awards to be won, and ways to make a name within the profession beyond ‘public’ accolades.

    And there’s always the silent satisfaction that comes with seeing a press release that we wrote become a headline. When it’s all about our clients, then we’ve done our job.

    (Plus you’re brilliant, so don’t let the red get you down!)

    • September 3, 2009 8:19 am

      We always talk about being transparent, so it’s something I try to do even in my blog posts. :)

      I think the topic is touchy at times because it can make you feel like a bad person – a.) Why am I getting upsert? 2.) Am I THAT prideful? But I think it really comes down to the fact that we are human beings, and we are all hard workers. In this profession, we are on the back burner. I wrote this post as a reminder to myself of all the things I believe in – and things I never want to question.

      I find the biggest benefit in internal recognition as well – I am very much a people pleaser, and know this.

      Great point in: When its all about our clients, we’ve done our job.

      I loved this comment. Thanks so much for reading B. :)

  2. September 3, 2009 8:12 am

    A former boss (who remains one of my all time hero’s) once handed me something he wrote and told me to take out a red pen (yes, this was many years ago). “I have no pride in authorship… but will have much pride in the final product.”

    Those words have resonated with me and I repeat them frequently when handing over my own work. Your boss is very smart. It is never our work, it is the brand’s work. And good collaboration will make something good better. Yes, there is such a thing as too much editing, and no, not every edit necessarily makes the press release better. But whether you are holding the blue pen or the red pen (yes, I am speaking figuratively), take pride in the final product and take away whatever lessons you can to make the next effort stronger. There will always be opportunity to improve. But you can, and should, remain proud of your work!

    • September 3, 2009 8:16 am

      Thanks for the comment, Valerie! When I first started interning, I had the worst time with balancing being proud of my work, and realizing that it’s a collaborative effort. I think it’s also something many struggle with from time to time – which is why I wanted to broach the subject. Maybe we can view the red pen as a learning tool, especially because more often than not, the yielder has much more experience than you do.

      I love what you said about taking pride in the final product, and taking away whatever lessons you can. This is something we always need to keep in mind, no matter how experienced we get. It was the whole reason for writing the post. :)

      Thanks for reading!

      • September 3, 2009 8:24 am

        I think I was fortunate in that it was my boss who offered me the red pen, so early on. That gave me so much confidence and the realization that my opinions were valuable… along with the understanding that anyone (including my heroic boss) can benefit from another perspective. I consider myself a writer. It is a part of who I am. Initially, that made it tough to accept criticism, but like you I have learned the benefits of collaboration!

        • September 3, 2009 11:15 am

          I think that it’s a great way to make your colleagues in the same dept feel wanted and depended on. It gives you a confidence, like you said: “Hey, I can do this! My boss who has XX amount of years of experience believes in me!”

          The great thing about collaboration is that much of the time, they see things you don’t, with fresh eyes.

  3. September 3, 2009 8:13 am

    Lauren – There is nothing better than a PR pro who is willing to be open, honest and transparent with their efforts, particularly when discussing their own challenges. Something that I feel is far too often not present in our business is enough transparency, so kudos to you for opening up and broaching what is often a very touchy subject for many.

    The thing that always strikes me about the PR profession is that many – including myself sometimes – take a very personal approach to our work. “This is my hit!” “I got CNN for our CEO” etc. But that’s not really YOUR hit or big placement or big press release to put out. It’s your entire organization’s or your client’s big hit/release. And that’s a key thing for all of us to keep in mind.

    I actually wrote a blog post about this the other day: http://prbreakfastclub.com/2009/08/31/before-you-ridicule/ It discusses the need for PR pros to realize that we’re in this to help others, not really to help ourselves. We are in a service business first, which means our entire efforts, focus and goals should be geared toward best serving our clients and organizations. If that means that a release gets hammered with edits from one of our bosses, as you noted in your situation, then if that’s for the best of the organization, we need to deal with that and learn from it. And that’s really why I love this business: we get to help others in so many ways that really no other business I know of can do.

    Keith Trivitt
    @KeithTrivitt

    • September 3, 2009 8:20 am

      When I first entered the association world, I was told that to be an association professional, you had to have “a servant’s heart” – ie. be willing to always put members first. I think that’s something that can be said about PR professionals – we always have to be willing to put the brand and our client first. It’s an extremely humbling profession, because even if its a collaborative effort, the brand gets and deserves the recognition. We should take pride in the final product – like Val said – but know it’s not about us.

      Thanks for the great points, Keith as always.

      • September 3, 2009 8:45 am

        And a good addendum to all of this, I think, is that by focusing on the brand, before ourselves, we actually help ourselves in the end. Especially from the client side of things (and also from the organizational side), when the brand that you are representing does well, you typically benefit from that. Valerie is so right: don’t worry about who authored it (we’re not book writers, after all), or what channels it goes through to get out to the public; focus instead on taking pride that you helped to build your brand’s success and overall business efforts. And in the end, you can take pride that the brand has succeeded, and in the long run, you will, too, for that effort.

        • September 3, 2009 11:17 am

          I think Bryna said it best – Internal recognition will get you far. When the brand does well, people in the office will recognize your efforts if you work on the project. I view PR/communications at time as the smoke stack on a train – the engine (brand) is always going, and PR is the one pushing out the message. It’s all about the train.

  4. September 3, 2009 8:33 am

    This reminds me of a situation at I had a little while ago. I was interning at the time for what I would consider one of the most crazy people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I didn’t think people like this existed much less I would go through what I went through back in 2004.

    Either way, in the end I was happy for that line between the PR stamp and the brand because I wasn’t his brand; I was me.

    But it also got me thinking about future work: what we do, why we do it, how why do it etc.

    And it never is really our work — it’s our work for the brand.

    Our job is to bring the brand’s message to the audience in a way that the audience will accept. It’s not our job to push out own messages through.

    We’re like bulldogs almost, guarding and thinking, working, shaking, moving — that’s what we do.

    It’s never been about us. It’s about everyone but us. That’s what we do.

    Excellent point, I can relate, that’s for sure!

    • September 3, 2009 11:14 am

      You’re right, it is about everyone but us.

      Why was there a line, though? How can we erase it?

      “Either way, in the end I was happy for that line between the PR stamp and the brand because I wasn’t his brand; I was me.”

      Shouldn’t the PR stamp be the brand stamp, and vice versa? They should work together IMO.

      Situations always make you think about the future, don’t they? Personal experiences shape who we are.

  5. jaykeith permalink
    September 3, 2009 8:43 am

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate here a little bit, because I think this is an important topic, especially for young PR pro’s just starting out.

    There’s a big distinction that needs to be made here, and that’s editing for content and brand messaging (i.e. ensuring it’s included in materials to ensure that the right message is getting out) and editing for “style.” I think that one of the biggest problems in both the PR and marketing worlds is that too often managers edit things to fit their own personal style, rather than edit it for the content and messaging. When I was first starting out in PR, I had a manager who basically told me after ripping my press release to shreds “I wanted this to sound more like the ones I would write.” Well…..that’s just not fair, what I wrote was perfectly acceptable and had all the same components hers did, but it was edited to fit her “style.” And this wasn’t something that the client had asked for, it was more of an ego thing, and I had a big problem with it. Having learned to take edits in stride in my former life as a journalist, it was hard for me to accept that her version was “better” than mine based on the changes she made.

    My advice is this: always take edits professionally and learn from them, but when you suspect that something’s being edited to fit another person’s style or voice, that’s when you have to step in and defend your own words. Challenge those edits, because otherwise you’ll always be writing in another style or voice, and not your own. You’ll then struggle to develop your own true style. It’s a fine line to walk, and of course you have to do this in a professional manner, but it will make you a better writer with a more unique, pronounced style in the long run.

    @jaykeith

    • September 3, 2009 11:05 am

      Jay – you brought up a great point, and something that was discussed yesterday, but it made my post too long! :) Sometimes, people edit just to edit, or because they think their voice is better, and sometimes you just have to say it’s crap and address the person who edited it. That’s not the purpose of editing. It’s to make sure the final product presents the messaging in the best way – because again, it’s all about your brand. It’s not about you.

  6. September 3, 2009 8:51 am

    It’s really easy at first to view edits on a press release as personal attacks, and hard to see them as constructive collaboration. But this boss of yours is right on the mark – you’re all ambassadors of the brand/company you serve, and the ultimate goal of a release (and of everyone who reviews it) is to best serve that brand/company. Once you figure this out, you look at the writing process in a whole new way. That said, it’s always good to ask why edits were made, so you can learn from them.

    It’s just like being a journalist. Editors mark up reporters’ stories every single day, and it’s not because they’re trying to infuriate anyone. They do it to clarify facts, ensure accuracy, add perspective, enhance readability and a host of other things that improve the quality of the paper and uphold its solid journalistic reputation. Essentially, you’re trying to simply do the same for your company.

    @JasonSprenger

    • September 3, 2009 11:07 am

      I think there is also a balance though between constructive edits (and ones that make it flow better, like with my release yesterday) and people just editing to edit because they don’t like your style. You have to be able to spot when it’s constructive, and learn from it, but don’t make an edit just because the red pen is there.

      If the edit is like the ones you describe above, then yes, most def change it.

      I like the way you think, J. Thanks for contributing.

  7. September 3, 2009 9:15 am

    Lauren, another excellent topic. Like you, I take a lot of pride in my work, which is why I get frustrated on those rare occasions when something gets all marked up. (In our office, it’s a green pen, not a red one though!) It took me a little while to realize that there’s no reason to take the edits personally. The editor is just trying to help me create the best final product. That said, I do agree with previous commenters that sometimes the editing goes a bit too far. There’s a difference between what’s right and wrong and someone’s personal preference.

    One somewhat related point to consider: Whether we’re writing bylined articles, brochures or website copy, we should be speaking in the brand’s voice — not our own. I work at an agency, so I write for various companies — each of which deserves to have their own unique “voice.” (For example, a nonprofit’s brochure shouldn’t sound anything like an accounting firm’s piece.) If I write a brochure for each company, they shouldn’t all sound the same. That’s not fair to the brand.

    Heather (@prtini)

    • September 3, 2009 11:11 am

      I really like the idea of a green pen – it’s a bit more welcoming. Red just seems intimidating and really stands out.

      I dig your point on having a different voice for each client – I used to work on 7 different clients, changing throughout the day, and I had to make sure that their brand was coming out. That’s what is importnat.

      Great comment, H!

  8. September 3, 2009 10:17 am

    (and so I dare to comment.. told you I would ;) )

    I actually had a similar discussion with @tjdietderich about this yesterday. She was editing a blog post of mine and wanted to make sure that my personality came out in the piece, but my grammar didn’t suffer. She just wanted to make sure it made sense and was at least legible. But the key here is that the writing was for me, not my authors or clients.

    I have to agree that being in a profession that deals heavily with writing, we should often step back and ask ourselves: Who are we writing this for? What are our intentions? What are the messages we want to convey? At the end of the day it’s our client or brand that is attached the press release and that message not us so we have to make sure to serve them right.

    I do believe there is a thing as too much editing. Editing for content is one thing. Editing for grammar is another. But some people edit to make it sound how they think it should and forget that they didn’t actually write it and I don’t think that’s right. It’s great to work together on ideas. I often brainstorm with my co-workers but at the end of the day we leave it up the individual to decide how they’d like to convey the ideas.

    • September 3, 2009 11:12 am

      And it’s a great one!

      The questions you posed are ones that every PR professional should be asking themselves after they write something. It’s very easy to forget those, and it’s something you should address.

      Thanks for reading and commenting – know you’re always welcome to!

    • September 3, 2009 11:26 am

      I think Christina has pretty much encapsulated my own view of editing, so I won’t repeat it. I will say, though, that sometimes when teams write pitches or press releases together, there is a danger of losing all the realness of the writing. Getting the message and voice of the brand down pat is important, sure. But sometimes we forget to make our business writing sound like a real person, speaking to other real people. Making it “right” is just as important as making it “real.”

      It’s a difficult balance, and I’m glad you’re addressing the topic, Lauren.

      • September 3, 2009 11:27 am

        Giving voice to your brand is one of the topics I am passionate about – and I’m glad you brought it up TJ. I think keeping that in mind while editing is imperative.

  9. September 3, 2009 12:40 pm

    I’m not strictly in PR. I work as a graphic designer for a daily newspaper. I find myself reacting to criticism in a way that you wouldn’t think a seventeen-year advertising vet would react. I don’t think we every quite develop that thick skin we’re told we’re supposed to have. Sometimes it’s because of things that are completely out of my hands. Too often, I have to release an ad that is not up to my standards, because the customer or our sales associate has different ideas about their advertising. I think that’s when it stings the most; when the red ink comes from the hand of the very people who should value your input the most. After all, they’re paying you for your skills. Why dismiss them?

    When it comes from another professional in my field, whether their specialty is public relations, design or marketing, it’s a little easier to take. Within that context, revisions and criticism are part of the process. They are the final polish on a project.

    Maybe being thin-skinned is the way to go. The fact that you’re worried about the quality of your work says a lot about your character. Never stop being concerned about how your work is perceived by others. You don’t have to work with one eye over your shoulder, but you never want to get so thick-skinned that you mistake a lack of criticism for positive feedback.

    • September 3, 2009 12:45 pm

      Sometimes I forget that I may have other readers besides PR pros!

      You bring up a great point here: Maybe being thin-skinned is the way to go. The fact that you’re worried about the quality of your work says a lot about your character. Never stop being concerned about how your work is perceived by others.

      I think that trying to give your best quality is always a good idea, as well as learning from constructive criticism. I always tell people that they must be able to differentiate between constructive and edits that don’t make sense/are just to make edits.

      Thanks for reading and offering up some very valid points!

  10. September 3, 2009 3:03 pm

    Hey Lauren – since I haven’t seen the markup, I don’t know the reason behind the edits, but I learned one thing years ago that to this day eases the pain of a red pen.

    If the change improves the release, accept it as a great addition. If it muddies it or causes further confusion, or is just plain wrong, communicate your disagreement and why. And then allow whoever is the decision make to decide what stays/goes.

    But, most of all, don’t fight style changes. Often, I’ve found clients and colleagues that edit mostly for a different selection of words or overall voice style. If it’s the brand’s style (and you haven’t learned it yet), great. Learning is good. But, even if it’s just a case of your client hating a certain word or pushing their writing style, but the content is still strong. Let it go.

    You will save yourself tears and energy for something bigger and better.

    If you think of the press release a group effort, as you mention, versus a personal reflection of our writing, the changes aren’t as painful.

    • September 3, 2009 3:14 pm

      Thanks, Jenn. I wrote this blog post to keep reminding myself what I believe in – that you can learn from constructive criticism, but stand up for yourself if the edits just don’t make sense.

      I think it’s difficult at times for PR pros to have the team mentality, especially when they start the press release. I’m not really sure why this is.

  11. September 3, 2009 5:05 pm

    I think we beat ourselves up because we sometimes take it as someone telling us we wrote something wrong or badly. Or that we “don’t get it.” It’s definitely good to remind yourself that it’s a collaborative effort.

    There’s also the reality that some people in the organization are extremely close to the “news” behind the release and can’t communicate it to you before you write the release. It’s in their head, and they don’t get it out until they are forced to look at a press release in front of them.

  12. September 6, 2009 9:06 pm

    I think all of us have egos and try to produce excellent work. And that’s why the red pen hurts – when you give your best, it’s hard to accept that someone thinks it could be better. When those edits don’t bother us, it’s time to find another profession.

    That said, I think the relationship you have with your boss or your editor affects how you react. I had one of those bosses mentioned above who wanted everything to sound like she wrote it. She had a very formal, stiff style, and I don’t, so we weren’t a good fit. My last boss thought I was the greatest writer since Ernest Hemingway, so when he changed something, I something was off. He also sent me his stuff to edit and never questioned any of my edits, so I felt we were a team trying to produce great copy, not two writers jockeying for best position.

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