Town Criers and Public Relations in an Ever Changing World

PR gemaker

Since humans walked the earth, Public Relations (PR) of some form has been in operation.  From ancient times, men and women used PR tools to promote their wares, talents and politics to win public opinion or deal with negative situations.

Many of those ancient tools still exist today, but are often forgotten.  Now we see PR in terms of what you can get in the news – print, online, radio or television – but the good old word of mouth still has its place.  In ancient times when the majority were illiterate, it was the only PR tool.

Rumour and fact often merged but still it was powerful stuff.  It still is today.  We simply forget that if we talk about a person, organisation or group in a taxi what we said can get repeated to the next passenger by that same taxi driver, especially if it’s a great story – positive or negative, and the story goes forward.

Whilst talking about words, let us not forget the town crier! Now he (always a he!) had the big booming voice that told the news in the village or town about what was coming – usually news about taxes, what the king wanted, crimes or a hanging.  But it was that, news.  People needed to hear about it so they listened, then they talked among themselves to see how they would respond – very much like we do with our family or friends over the Sunday papers.

Interestingly, town criers were protected by law and the phrase: “Don’t shoot the messenger” was real as if anything happened to the crier it was looked on as treason because he was undertaking the Kings work. So if you insulted him or hurt him it would be as if you were doing it to the King. Now that kind of protection for PRs would be wonderful!  However these days we need to have more strategic skills to protect our clients or the company we work for.

Of course now we have telecommunications and town criers are no more, except perhaps the odd fete or pageant.  The modern day town crier is made up of many – the general public on social media.  These town criers can say what they want, about whom they want and when they want.  The PR has to be mindful of every modern step to stay on the front foot, engaged, providing news, information and a strong brand to the general public, whilst being responsive and transparent when dealing with any negative issues.

We are so truly bombarded with information these days the sifting through it all is difficult which is why if you are undertaking a PR campaign all the boxes must be ticked:

  1. Objectives – be clear on what you want to achieve and how does it affect your stakeholders.
  2. Strategy – who, what and how are you going to achieve your objectives.
  3. Tactics – what you are going to do to achieve your objectives.
  4. Target audience – know who you want to engage with – do your research if you don’t know.
  5. Key messages and issues – know what you want to say and stick to this. Be clear about potential issues and be prepared– know your brand.
  6. Timeline of opportunities – know what is coming up and set the wheels in motion, do not wait until the week before to start the process – e.g. do not launch a product if your media spokespeople are not trained, the product is not cleared or the website, linked social media and phone line are not set up.  Never rush a launch.
  7. Budget – know how much money you have and spend it wisely.
  8. Have relevant news to spread!   If you do not have a strong story this will get no traction – so know your media audience and their target audience – you may also need to advise your client or CEO as often they think a great news story is not one at all.
  9. Be your own publisher – if you don’t have a strong mainstream news story you can still spread the word about your product, company or yourself by using the various online and social media tools around us today, all with different audiences.  Remember always make that when you tell your story, it is relevant to the platform you are posting on, interesting and well written.
  10. Share, share and share!  Use social media properly share as much of your message as you can and make sure you follow and tag likeminded people so they can help you do the same.
  11. Monitor – make sure you keep a close eye on what’s going on and when you see something your company can comment on call up that journalist – by doing this you also build relationships and can position your company or spokesperson as a key opinion leader.
  12. Communicate!  Pick up the phone and talk – don’t just email.  When you can meet face to face – hold a media briefing, take your stakeholders on a tour if you have something good to show them or just keep them up to date.
  13. Respond – Last and number 13 for a reason – it is very bad luck not to respond to requests.  If you do not get back to a journalist in time you lose an opportunity to get quoted or get a ‘no comment’ if on a negative story.  The same goes for customers and clients – not responding to calls or emails is a no, no.

So the key to doing a good PR job is to communicate with all involved and to keep it honest.  The term ‘spin doctor’ is negative and those in the business that continually ‘spin’ usually end up with egg on their face. If you are not open and transparent you will get caught out.

So the final message here is: if you keep your business and their messages straight and clean, even in adversity, there will be no town crier ringing for your blood!


Sharon Kelly This PR Insight has been written by Sharon Kelly, gemaker’s Media and Public Relations Specialist. Sharon is a seasoned media, communications and marketing specialist whose 20-year career includes major launch events for companies such as ANSTO, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and RPA. She has had extensive media and PR experience in the not-for-profit, commercial, medical and scientific sectors, as well as all levels of government.