A Guide to the Different Types of PR
What types of PR are there? The answer, of course, is there are many different types of PR.
Achieving positive news stories in the media is usually the main PR objective. But that’s just one type of PR. Public relations is also about how you communicate to stakeholders inside your business; your involvement in your community; how you handle a crisis; and your activity on social media.
But different types of PR don’t operate in separate silos. There’s overlapping right across the board. Any kind of crisis PR activity will have media relations and employee communications at its core. Public affairs communications also involves community relations and strategic communications. But for the purpose of this guide, there are essentially seven types of PR.
Let’s break down the different types of PR.
1. Media Relations
It’s easy to think that public relations and media relations are interchangeable and are, in fact, the same thing. They’re not. Public relations is about using communications to build a relationship between an organisation and its publics. Whereas media relations is an aspect of PR that focuses solely on building relationships with journalists, broadcasters, bloggers and influencers in order to secure media coverage for free.
This requires long boozy lunches, right? Maybe in the 1980s but not these days. Media relations does take time and effort though. PR pros spend years building relationships with journalists based on trust and transparency. And they work hard to find interesting and compelling stories about your organisation, product or services that they know will be of interest and are likely to get picked up.
Of course, one of the benefits of nurturing positive, long-standing relationships with journalists is that they will seek you out for a quote or industry insight or even feature you as a case study when writing an article. This helps establish you and your business as industry leaders. And if you and your organisation are honest, open and available, media outlets are much more likely to publish positive news stories about you – even during a time of crisis.
Further reading: Media Relations: How to Forge a Positive Relationship with the Media.
2. Community relations
Community relations is all about building your organisation’s reputation within the local community where your business is based. These days, it should be part of an of organisation’s overall PR strategy rather than tagged on as an afterthought.
The company that makes a commitment to its community is always going to be a more attractive proposition than one that doesn’t. And positive connections within the community can often translate into a boost for a company’s bottom line.
Reasons for a community relations PR programme include:
- Getting local support for a project, such as a new supermarket or housing development
- Establishing your organisation as an attractive employee in order to recruit and retain local talent
- Raising the profile of your business’s products and services so the local community become brand ambassadors
- Giving something back to the local community to increase the company’s ethical reputation. Further reading: What is Corporate Social Responsibility.
This type of PR can be inexpensive and can be as simple as including regular updates on the company blog. Or it could be sponsoring a local event, encouraging employees to donate their time or expertise to a local charity. Or it could be getting involved with local initiatives to improve the community you work in. If you’re trying to garner local support for a new project, this may also include having a face-to-face public consultation with residents.
Having a good ongoing working relationship with journalists from the local newspaper or website is a good idea too. Let them have access to senior managers and exclusive stories and they’re more likely to give you favourable coverage.
3. Crisis communications
Crisis management is one of the types of PR needed when some kind of disaster strikes: a faulty product has to be recalled, an oil tanker spills, a founder gets into an unseemly spat with someone on social media or an employee accuses the company of wrongdoing. Any one of these things could ruin your company’s reputation and needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.
The key to navigating a crisis is preparation. Don’t wait until the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan to pull together a crisis management team. Make sure you have a crisis comms plan in place before an incident occurs so you can minimise the impact of negative publicity on your business.
This will mean already knowing who your spokesperson is and how key messages will be conveyed. If your spokesperson needs media training in advance, make sure they have it. A crisis is not the time to learn on the job. And how will the news be shared? Via a press release that’s posted on Twitter? Or will there be a press conference with the CEO? Don’t forget your internal teams either. Decide in advance how your staff will be informed and kept up-to-date. Don’t let them hear about the crisis on the news with everyone else. It also pays to build up strong relations with the media too so they can be relied on to support your organisation if a crisis does occur.
4. Public affairs PR
Public affairs PR, also known as lobbying, is about building relationships with politicians, the government and other key decision-makers such as civil servants, think tanks, trade associations and business groups in order to campaign for some kind of change in legislation or positioning.
When it comes to public affairs comms, the role of the PR professional is to make your organisation’s views known. Your team needs to be very clear as to how any changes to a policy could impact on your business, both positively and negatively. And this needs conveying to decision-makers at the highest level.
In order to assist policymakers in their decision-making, a public affairs pro must also provide industry data and insights. This is done through submissions to government consultations, internal and external briefing papers, or through one-to-one meetings, conferences and receptions. Public affairs teams are also responsible for drafting responses to government select committees and policy submissions for white and green papers.
Naturally, public affairs PR also includes media management, albeit with a political focus, and includes issuing news releases and articles to the press in order to influence public opinion.
5. Social media comms
Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok are fast becoming the channels of choice when it comes to marketing new products and services. These platforms, as well as LinkedIn are essential for PR activity too. In fact, you could say social media has blurred the line between PR and marketing and changed the PR landscape.
Social media is a natural fit for PR and can be used to protect and promote an organisation’s reputation and gain immediate positive results. Social media is used by PR pros to make company announcements, respond swiftly to bubbling negative stories in real-time and understand what is being said about the brand as part of an issues management programme.
It also enables brands to influence public opinion, identify and engage influencers, and connect directly with journalists on developing stories. And, of course, it gives brands an opportunity to connect with customers and demonstrate outstanding customer service.
But. Because of the speed of social media, things can and do go wrong and quite often in a spectacular fashion. Twitter is often the go-to platform when it comes to issuing a public apology. This is often to apologise for a blunder that actually happened on Twitter.
Organisations and PR pros must decide what’s the best social media platform to choose when it comes to achieving their communication objectives. Are you reaching the appropriate audience on TikTok? Or is Twitter a better fit? Organisations must also be clear about who will manage the messaging on social media. If employees are responsible for social media content, it’s imperative they receive the correct training in order to avoid a social media gaffe which triggers a crisis. Or perhaps it’s better to leave social media activity in the hands of PR professionals?
6. Employee communications
The most important part of any business is its people. No business can run effectively without them. So it’s critical that employers manage relationships in the workplace to keep the business functioning smoothly, avoid problems, and make sure employees are performing to the best of their abilities.
Employees can be an organisation’s biggest brand ambassadors. They can also be a company’s harshest critics. So it’s vital companies develop programmes that keep teams engaged and informed. This is where employee communications comes in. A type of PR that’s also known as internal PR or internal comms, it’s the business of making your staff feel satisfied, motivated and valued, and it’s rapidly becoming one of the most important aspects of any PR strategy.
Employee relations PR includes:
- Organising employee events, such as away days and lunches
- Creating internal newsletters and other regular communications to keep staff informed
- Introducing an employee wellbeing programme
- Knowledge sharing programme or academy
- Comprehensive onboarding programme
- Employee surveys and questionnaires
- Instigating a change management programme to manage an office relocation, new ways of working (such as hot desking), or a company merger
- Liaising with unions and resolving disputes
- Work/life balance initiatives
- Workplace awards
Further reading: Internal Communications in Public Relations.
7. Strategic communications
This is the final piece of the puzzle and where PR overlaps with marketing and advertising. Strategic comms is about giving co-ordinated messages that help an organisation achieve its objectives, rather than distributing information for the sake of it. It’s about knowing what a business’s priorities are and ensuring ALL communication activity supports these priorities.
It’s the role of the PR professional to raise an organisation’s profile with media outlets and stakeholders, such as partners, employees and customers, with controlled messaging that dovetails with all other comms activity.
Steps in a strategic communications plan:
- Identify the audience: Who do we want and need to communicate with?
- Determine goals and objectives: Why communicate with this audience?
- Develop key messages: What do we need to communicate?
- Develop a tactical plan: How will we communicate the message and when?
- Identify measures of evaluation: How will we know if we’re successful?