What is Public Relations?
Ask 100 members of the general public What is PR? and chances are you’d get 100 different answers. So let’s start with a couple of public relations definitions.
The CIPR (The Chartered Institute of Public Relations) PR definition is:
“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”
While the definition of public relations from the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) is:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
The role of PR
The business of PR is all about persuasion. It’s about persuading an audience, whether that’s customers, prospects, employees, investors, partners, suppliers, press, news outlets or social media networks to recognise your idea, or your position, or your product or service, or your achievements and successes, in a positive light.
Public relations is about influencing opinion and behaviours and cultivating a positive reputation for our clients. And we do this through unpaid or earned communications using traditional media (like newspapers, magazines, TV and radio), social media and events and appearances.
So as PR professionals, we talk to reporters or editors about covering a positive story about our client, which could be an individual, a brand, an organisation or government department. And the story will appear in the editorial section of their magazine, newspaper, TV programme or website. Because the story appears in the editorial section and is crafted by a journalist in a reputable news outlet, it’s seen as unbiased, well-researched and fact checked. Consequently it’s seen as more credible.
This PR activity could be ongoing over a number of weeks or months. Or, it could be a one-off PR stunt that goes off with a bang and garners lots of coverage over a couple of days.
What PR isn’t
Which leads us into what PR is not. PR is not advertising. It’s not about writing advertisements or jingles or straplines. It’s not about paying journalists to write stories.
It’s true that PR pros and advertising agencies share a common goal: to promote our clients and make them successful. But unlike PR which is unpaid or earned, advertising is very much paid for. Consequently, it doesn’t have as much clout.
There’s an old saying which sums this up perfectly: “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.”
Read more: The Difference Between Advertising and PR.
How PR professionals work
So the next question is: how do PR professionals persuade editors and journalists to cover their clients’ products or success stories? What PR magic do PR professionals use to get coverage in the big publications and on TV?
Two ways. They either create the story. Or they follow the story.
Creating a story
Public relations professionals are master storytellers. A good PR practitioner will dig deep into an organisation or brand and unearth interesting nuggets of information, then translate that information into a positive news story with an interesting angle.
It may be a new product. Or, an achievement or success. Or, a new way of doing something that disrupts the industry. News outlets are always looking for something new to report on. It’s a PR consultant’s job to make that news fresh and exciting.
Following a story
Or sometimes, it’s about following a story that’s already trending, and adding to the conversation. This may be a policy change that affects your industry, or a natural disaster, or even a political or economic one. When news is breaking, journalists will want an expert they can call or email or text or even interview on Skype and get an immediate response. A quick-thinking PR will make sure you’re the person that journalists want to talk to when a story is breaking.
Examples of PR campaigns
So let’s look at how PR campaigns work. Perhaps you’re opening a new hotel and you want to publicise the fact. Chances are you’ll take out some advertising space in a local or even national paper. But a better way to spend the marketing budget is on PR activity. Your PR consultant can send a news release with an interesting angle to journalists from the travel, hotel and hospitality media, not forgetting to include beautiful imagery. Even better is to invite journalists from the leading publications to spend a night or two at the hotel and then write about their experience.
Read the Laura Ashley Hotels case study.
Or, perhaps you’re launching a service that’s completely new to the industry and consequently, the audience is completely unfamiliar with it. An ongoing PR campaign gives you an opportunity to speak passionately about your product or service, educate the general public and build up a following. Something that’s not achievable through advertising alone.
Or, perhaps you have a luxury product you want to launch in another country, which is unfamiliar with your brand. An advertising campaign on its own would be costly and likely unsuccessful. But a well-thought-out integrated PR campaign gives you the opportunity to explain in more detail the benefits of your product and raise awareness of your business to an international audience.
Read the Balsam Hill case study.
So far so good news. But what happens when the news is bad?
Using PR to protect reputations
If only all public relations activity dealt with new products or new ideas and fun stuff.
Unfortunately, there’s always an insensitive CEO or politician around the corner, who is guaranteed to handle a disaster poorly and thoughtlessly. This is where crisis PR swings into action to mitigate the damage.
Another old saying that’s popular among journalists is: ‘It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.’ If journalists think you’re hiding something, they’ll dig around until they find it. If there’s bad news or a scandal on the horizon you’re better off getting your PR onboard as quickly as possible and facing the consequences calmly and honestly.
Read more: What Does a PR Pro Do?
So now we have the answer to What is public relations? And we’ve looked at the role of the public relations professional. The next challenge is finding the right person for the job.
Choosing a PR expert
Relationships are key when it comes to public relations. Not just the relationship you have with your PR professional, but the relationship they have with journalists, editors, producers, influencers, industry experts and bloggers. The best PR professionals have outstanding – and longstanding – relationships with different media across different sectors.
The best PR pros (in my opinion!) are former journalists. They know how to pitch a story with an exciting angle that will get interest from editors, journalists and producers. The PR practitioner you appoint should also be a solid team member and someone who is dedicated to building and protecting your reputation in the media.
We already know that public relations professionals are adroit at uncovering positive messages within an organisation and skilfully dealing with bad news when it happens. But what other skills does your PR need and what tools do they use to get you that all-important coverage?
PR job profile
- Good verbal and written communication skills
- Analysing future trends and predicting their consequences
- Multi-tasking and working under pressure to deadlines
- Creativity and imagination
- Keeping up-to-date with the latest market trends, current affairs, technology and the competition
- Researching public opinion, attitudes and expectations
- Good relationships with a network of high-profile journalists, editors, producers, influencers and bloggers
- Being good with detail, organisation and planning
- Thinking strategically
- A deep knowledge of all forms of media including newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, online and social media
- Being honest and trustworthy and sticking to the truth
- Flexible and adaptable to change
- Having an international approach
- Writing and distributing news releases to media outlets
- Organising client interviews with the media
- Speech writing
- Managing photocalls
- Creating events for media relations or public outreach
- Writing and blogging for the web (internal or external sites)
- Social media activity and responding to negative feedback
- Handling press enquiries in the event of a crisis
- Sending pitches to journalists
How does PR fit into the marketing mix?
All PR activity should be an integral part of any marketing strategy, if you want to get the most bang for your buck. But what’s the difference between PR and marketing? And whereabouts does public relations fit into the marketing mix?
We’re all familiar with the 4Ps of the marketing mix. Products (or services), Price (of those products or services), Place (distribution) and Promotion. Advertising sits comfortably in the promotion section, but the role of PR is harder to pin down.
As we have already discussed, advertising and PR are different and may have different audiences, but they are both more successful when working together. An advertising campaign is more likely to succeed and be recognised if it’s supported by a PR campaign that increases knowledge and understanding about the product or service it’s promoting. In fact, it’s a waste of the advertising budget when it’s not supported by some kind of PR activity.
While advertising is about promoting goods and services, public relations can be used to benefit the whole organisation, not just the latest advertising campaign. PR is a key marketing tactic that can be applied right across every element of the marketing mix and its application can influence the performance and outcomes of all your marketing activity.
Why every company should have public relations
From start-ups to multinationals: PR is a key activity for every type of company.
PR can help you promote your brand’s values and strengthen your reputation through speaking events, leadership pieces, networking and influencer strategies.
PR can help you manage your reputation when things have gone wrong: From bad products to bad service and disasters to social media meltdowns. An experienced publicist will carefully handle the fallout.
PR can boost your online presence with SEO news releases and social media content that drives traffic to your website.
PR can improve community relations through organised local events, supporting good causes and charities, and by having an actionable corporate social responsibility policy in place.
And PR enables management teams to keep their fingers on the pulse of public opinion and discover how customers, partners, suppliers and employees really view the organisation, through market research, events and ongoing dialogue.
So what is PR? Well it’s not a silver bullet. But a good PR strategy can positively affect the future of your business and when used effectively can raise your organisation’s profile, boost sales or engagement, and help overcome any challenges the business may face.