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TL;DR

Definition:

Public relations is an ongoing strategy that focuses on building positive relationships between the brand and the general public. Through media relationships, public relations professionals work to maintain a favorable public image for the company or organization.

Guiding Principles:

  • Know who your audience is and listen to them
  • Make your PR more than just news, find the story
  • Don’t just focus on activities, focus on the outcome

Introduction

Once upon a time, public relations was just about press releases and news articles and occasionally, the spoken word. It’s gotten more complicated in recent years. Why?

Probably because social media puts such a premium on visual images and videos? Now it’s about more than just what your brand says, it’s what your brand shows as well. Think about it. Where would Instagram be without selfies? Can you imagine a world without Youtube and viral videos?

Yes, online life is all about the visuals and images, and people expressing their opinion about those images. For this reason, public relations, which relies on conversation, opinion, and leaving an impression has gone online too. Google, bloggers, and online review sites like Yelp have become PR stomping grounds.  When a publicist has a press release, no longer does he need a middleman. He attaches it to a tweet. When a company is introducing a new product or service its public relations department well likely turn to social media to get likes or retweets.

The world has changed, and if there’s one thing public relations professionals know, as the world changes, so does PR.

 

What is public relations anyway?

It’s a  joke within public relations circles that if you ask six publicists what public relations is, you’ll get six different answers. Perhaps that’s because, public relations, in its effort to keep up with changes in the world, has had to adapt so many times, that it’s hard to self-reflect.

Even the Public Relations Society of America has struggled to come up with a clear definition. Its first attempt in 1982 produced this somewhat foggy definition:

Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.

Seeking a better definition, a crowdsourced campaign and general vote produced this 2012 updated definition:

Public relations is a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.  

So you can easily understand why people glibly toss about the term PR without specifically knowing what it means.

We like to think of it as this:

Public relations is an ongoing strategy that focuses on building positive relationships between the brand and the general public.

How public relations has changed

Public relations has evolved rapidly in the past ten years. Rather than being two-dimensional, and focused on relationships with influential members of the media, it has become multi-dimensional. PR today is all about communication, storytelling, and eliciting a response from the audience.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, people have misconceptions about it. The worst of these is that PR is all about “spin.” While there may be a few publicists who stray from the fold, the PR industry as a whole is dedicated to holding to ethical standards and conducting campaigns based on fact.

Public relations is a long-term process to build authority and influence over time.

In the past, PR has been slow to take advantage of technology which has been evolving alongside it. However, today’s new PR generation is not afraid to venture into online avenues. There it can engage in, or stimulate, two-way exchanges with a much less passive audience.

How to make sure your public relations campaigns relate to today’s public

Public relations has undergone a lot of changes in this rapidly changing world. Not only do publicists find themselves representing new types of companies, products, and services from year to year, but they now have an exciting variety of new communication tools and channels available to them. Social networks, tweets, videos, blogs and the like each require a different type of content. But before you can consider the content, there are some best practices you need in place.

Know your audience

All effective PR campaigns begin with taking a step back to analyze the intended audience. Who are they? Where and how can they be reached? What do they need to know? What do you want to tell them? How can you connect your subject matter experts with them that neither talk down to them or go over their heads? Knowing your audience is the first step to knowing what they want to hear and where they want to hear that message.

Listen to your audience

PR is not a one-way street. The beauty of using social media is you get a response from the audience. If the response is positive, you know you’re on the right track. If it hits a sour note, it may mean going back to the drawing board. The worst thing in the world you can do is ignore that interaction. In fact, 54% of millennials said they stopped doing business because of poor customer service.

Be genuine

While your aim is always to raise a positive feeling surrounding your brand, don’t make the mistake of making it all about the brand. Even worse is talking in corporate-speak. Today’s public likes to interact, and they can’t interact with a stiff, corporate company. If your message is not authentic they will see right through it. To truly engage them, speak in a language they can respond to - human- speak

The thing to remember when crafting a  public relations campaign for today’s public is that not only must it talk to your intended audience, but it must leave room for responding as well.

Be selective with your message

Are you anxious to launch your PR message into the media? Don’t rush yourself. Pitching your story to a readership that has no interest in your topic is like leaving a stack of papers on a street corner in a hurricane. Your press release or Twitter hashtag may travel, but it will get no takers.

Take the time to research news media, social media, and other channels/platforms and find out what places are best for your topic. Make sure your hashtags are clear in addressing your product, cause, or concern. It may take a bit longer, but it’s the only way your message will find interested takers. For example, you might find your Facebook followers care more about press releases, so you share those there. Meanwhile, your Twitter followers would rather see a short announcement video.

Tell a story, hook the media

Craft your message so it not only conveys that your information is newsworthy, but hooks them into telling your story. And "story" is the keyword. Craft your message around a story. Whether it’s how the company came into being, or how a product impacted a user’s life, nobody can resist a good story.

Don’t be afraid to speak for yourself

People who attend trade shows or conferences regard speaker sessions and panel discussions as learning opportunities. Be there for them. If there is an upcoming show or conference that your targeted audience will be attending, propose a topic for discussion and offer an experienced member of your staff to serve as an expert panel member.

Be a sponsor

Even if it doesn’t specifically pertain to your product or cause, serving as a sponsor for a charity run, kids fair, senior health event, or pet adoption day is a win/win proposition. You’re contributing to a cause, plus your name on the back of that event t-shirt or Frisbee will be remembered as part of a special day.

Give it away

Giving something away is one of the best ways to make a lasting impression. A beverage company might distribute free bottles of iced tea on a sweltering summer afternoon in the city, or a nail salon may offer free manicures at a senior health fair. While there are those who say these types of practices stray very close to marketing or advertising territory, they definitely spread positive awareness which is what PR is all about.

A company does not live by PR alone

No matter how successful a public relations campaign maybe, it won’t reach everyone all the time. It takes a village, so to speak, to put together a powerful communications plan to effect these touches. Public relation associates need to work side by side with marketing and business development. And all involved need to make the most of social media and networking to build up an active online presence.

It’s the results that matter in the end

While it would be great for your message to go viral, don’t expect that to happen. Tallying up how many impressions your post attracted or how many likes or shares your FaceBook video got is the realm of advertising. The goal of PR is to elicit a response to your call to action. Evaluating you PR campaign takes more than looking at metrics. Were more tickets sold to this year’s charity dinner over last year’s? How many people now have a more favorable opinion about your controversial CEO? In the end, it’s the results that matter.

Experts share insights into today’s public relations

“In 2006, for me, PR was simply about building and managing a brand’s reputation – how companies or individuals are perceived, how they perceive themselves and how any disconnect between the two can be addressed. This relied heavily on strong media relations and resulted in positive coverage in newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio. Job done. In 2016, reputations are still at the heart of PR, but the road is longer and has many more twists and turns. Today, for me, Public Relations is about the art of communicating, creating debate, shaping personalities, influencer relationships, producing quality content and owning the conversation .”

Danielle Hibbert, Senior Project Manager at Clearbox

What is Public Relations

Prowly Magazine

Many security executives refer to public relations simply as “free advertising.” I must disagree with this notion. It is not advertising, nor is it free. Though there is not a set cost to secure media coverage, there is a cost in the time, knowledge and skill to obtain it. That being said, to be successful in PR you must have a clear understanding of what it is and is not. 

Kevin Friedman, President of Maize Marketing

What’s PR and Why is it So Important to Security

MaizeMarketing.com

“In my view, the public relations industry took a wrong turn in the 1950s or early 1960s. The leadership and vision – and opportunity – provided by early professionals throughout the first half of the twentieth century was squandered…..The threat to public relations is its previous failure to adapt to new forms of media as quickly as other disciplines.”

Stephen Waddington, Partner and Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum

What is Public Relations

Wadds.com

“Public relations is more than just about gaining publicity in the media, though. It is actually a long-term promotional strategy aimed at building authority and influence over time.”

Zoe Hiljemark, Freelance PR Consultant

What is Public Relations

Sixth Sense PR

“A PR guru once suggested that public relations is a lot like fishing: One can arrive at the water early on a beautiful clear day with the right bait and still not get any bites. But that attitude is no longer valid in our 24-hour news culture. A proactive PR strategy will root out inventive ways to get your company in the news and keep it there, whether that means yoking your story to trends and current events, positioning your CEO and executive leadership as expert spokespersons or using holidays and seasonal occasions as news pegs. ”

Dian Griesel, President of Dian Griesel International

The Value of Consistent Corporate Communications

Commpro

Conclusion

One of the reasons it’s so hard to tag a definition to PR is that it’s always in flux. Yet its purpose has remained unchanged, even as everything around it is either evolving or expanding at a rapid pace.

Whether centering on a brand, a company, a service, charity or cause, PR’s concern is to help shape and maintain a positive image in the eyes of the public and to build positive relationships.

In order to forge a powerful and effective public relations campaign, you need to use all the tools at your disposal. Make use of social media, online networks, and business blogs. Don’t cast aside tried and true practices, but try new approaches as you see fit. Issue press releases online, and establish media relations with bloggers and editors of internet newsletters.

In public relations as with everything else in 2017, those who fails to keep up will be left behind.