This could be a very short article. Ultimately, PR is the business of persuasion. It is the process of trying to convince an audience outside your usual sphere of influence in order to promote an idea, sell a product, garner support for a position, or gain recognition for accomplishments. But don’t just take my word for it; after a few thousand submissions, here’s what the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) finally landed on as a definition:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
At their core, PR people are storytellers. They are tasked with creating narratives to further advance their agenda and can use their skills to protect, enhance or build reputations via the media, social media, or self-produced communication material. If you have a good PR practitioner on your case, they will have already analyzed your organization, mined the positive messages within, and translated those messages into positive stories. When the news is bad, they are able to formulate a rapid and comprehensive response and mitigate the damage.
“A public relations specialist is an image shaper. Their job is to generate positive publicity for their client and enhance their reputation,” says the Princeton Review, “they keep the public informed about the activity of government agencies, explain policy, and manage political campaigns. Public relations people working for a company may handle consumer relations, or the relationship between parts of the company such as the managers and employees, or different branch offices.”
Their tools are as numerous as they are disparate, and can include:
● The writing and distribution of press releases
● Pitch writing, which is less formal than press releases. They are typically about a firm and are sent directly to journalists
● The creation and execution of special events designed for public outreach and media relations
● The conducting of market research on the firm or the firm’s communications
● The expansion of business contacts over the course of personal networking, or attendance and sponsorship of events
● The writing and blogging of content for online channels
● The creation of strategies at a time of public relations crisis
● The promotion of messages on social media while mitigating the impact of negative opinions online.
As part of their role as communications guru on your behalf, a public relations specialist will be especially skilled at, and well connected to, convincing reporters or editors to write positive stories about you or your client, brand or issue. As such, good PR will ensure that your story appears in the editorial section of the newspaper, magazine or website, earning it substantially more credibility than advertising. Indeed, when something is published in media, audiences will perceive that it has been independently verified by a trusted third party (the media), and will be far more receptive to your messaging.
At the end of the day, public relations is about getting recognition for your brand, business or issue that is earned, rather than bought, and relies on the building of trust as its main currency. If you’ve been prioritizing your advertising budget at the cost of alternatives, it may just be time for a switch.