What is a PR firm?

2021-08-24 by JamesD

A PR firm is an organization consisting of public relations experts who promote clients and get them strategic communications excellence. It is essential that a PR firm is a good fit for the culture of a given business. PR is not simply another tool in the marketer’s toolkit.  It is rather it’s own strategic discipline and management function.

In the social media age, the public relations industry needs a broader skill set. The industry has to embrace multiple channels and tools so that they can help client organizations manage relationships with their stakeholders. However, PR experts are more than communicators, and communications is only one aspect of the far broader role that public relations experts can and should embrace.

A PR firm or a pr agency is focused on public relations excellence. Public relations efforts are no longer confined to print media and television. Today, PR professionals utilize online media. One of the biggest trends in the industry is the rise in social media. Professionals have been using online communities such as Facebook and YouTube more frequently. Social media capabilities are considered to be a necessity by PR firms, and firms enjoy a competitive edge in pitches if they display expertise in digital media. Using LInkedIn to build and expand contacts is common and use of social media tools can be extremely handy in ‘getting the word out’.

Change in the practice of public relations- In the past couple of decades, the PR industry has grown vastly in scope. It is no longer about just drafting press releases for the launch of a new product, or helping a corporate entity with damage control. PR has become increasingly sophisticated as the media world has grown in complexity. It is not confined to generating buzz or maintaining an image, but now also includes complex strategic communications. Firms have widened their scope.

Candice Huang, a PR professional with a technology firm in California likes: ‘to think of PR firms as organizations with professionals who are strategists or think tanks. They help identify the current, important issues to the clients, and watch for any crisis or significant trends that their clients should know of.’

The different divisions of public relations- 

Firms and agencies- Although a PR firm is used interchangeably with a PR agency, the difference normally lies in the size. They both pitch their services to clients ranging in type from government agencies to nonprofit organizations to corporations. These services include writing press releases, organizing press events, launching new products, providing damage control for corporate missteps, and a variety of other strategic support.

Publicists- This is a public relations function in which the communications need of a single individual, such as an author or other celebrity, is served. Stephen Huvane is a well-known publicist who has represented clients such as Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston, Liv Tyler, Brad Pitt and Helen Hunt.

Corporate communications – There are two important corporate communications roles: media relations and investor relations. They are known for covering  the ‘client side’ in the public relations world. In this age, which faces the challenges of fake news and constantly changing mediums of communication, media relations focuses on relationships with media outlets. Investor relations focuses on shareholders with a financial stake or interest in the client company–shareholders like financial analysts, potential investors, and stockholders.

Most PR firms share quite a few common traits, as described below-

a) Uniqueness – When compared with other areas of information media, the most striking difference of public relations firms is their lack of a dedicated distribution channel for their content. A firm is dependent on all of the available media outlets to help spread the information it has gathered on behalf of its clients. Firms work with websites, blogs, newspapers, television channels, and social media platforms to get their message out. The PR professionals are advocates for governments, business, nonprofits and other  organizations, and seek  to help those entities better communicate with the public.

b) Media relations- A PR firm will have relations with producers, on-air talent, freelancers, and journalists. For many organizations, the media is critically important. An article in the Wall Street Journal can still brand a company as a competitive player. PR is no longer an esoteric discipline where companies make efforts only to communicate exclusively to a handful of reporters. Now, great PR includes programs to reach buyers directly and also to seek the help of media gatekeepers like editors, journalists and producers. PR professionals have to get to know their target audience and the gatekeepers and learn about their tastes and biases.

c) Adaptability – PR firms are used to working on the fly, hence most of them are well-equipped to push through the pandemic and all its implications. Strategy had to be changed in 2020, and the challenge with this was doing so with humanity, compassion and sincerity. The broader public will be able to see through opportunistic PR as crisis plagues the world. PR professionals shifted their focus to make the public feel comfortable with the new normal, and quite a few firms remain solemnly aware of the situation by retaining a degree of compassion in their communications. According to Edelman Asia Pacific COO Bob Grove, ‘ No one knows what a post COVD-19 world might look like, but the expectation of the brands to be very clear about what they are doing to support jobs, communities and societies in rebounding successfully, will be with us for quite some time.’

d) Proactive partners – PR firms are often faced with budget restrictions and sometimes ‘have to do the most with the least’. Well-crafted partnerships with their clients help firms share marketing resources, objectives and audiences. Some firms also work with their clients as marketing partners, becoming an extension of the company and team. When a PR firm acts as a proactive partner with its client, it enables honest communication about expectations and potential challenges.