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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

Public relations has undergone numerous changes in recent years. 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 different types of content. But before you can create that content, there are some best practices you need in place.

It needs to be more than news, it needs to be a story

Craft your message so it not only conveys that your information is newsworthy, but hooks them into telling your story. Story is the keyword.

Build your message around that 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.

Be selective with how you deliver your message

Pitching your story to a readership that has no interest in what you’re saying 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 what places are best for your content. 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.

Make your public relations multi-dimensional

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.

What is public relations?

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.

Because of this, there are multitudes of misconceptions swirling around the PR industry. 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.

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

Public relations from the traditional to the digital

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 people expressing their opinion about those visuals. 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. Publicists don’t need the middleman anymore. They can attach their press release to a tweet.

When a company is introducing a new product or service, its public relations department will likely turn to social media to get likes or retweets.

The world has changed and if there’s one thing public relations professionals know, it's this: As the world changes, so does public relations.

Benefits of taking your public relations digital

Communicating online is crucial for today’s brands. Yet there are companies that still keep to the traditional, printed form of public relations.

Having a digital presence expands your audience reach and helps you connect and develop relationships with them. And that gives your campaigns a punch. So if you’re seeking to influence the general public in favor of your brand, you need to know the benefits of taking your public relations strategy online.

Social media works seamlessly with public relations goals

Social media has opened countless doors for public relations professionals. For one, social media gives you greater exposure. In fact, 95 percent of online adults aged 18-34 are most likely following a brand via social networking.

Developing relationships with consumers on social media can start by releasing exclusive information to your followers in order to generate positive feedback. Keep in mind, 71 percent of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others. That reach just keeps on growing.

Social media can also help keep you on top of critical situations. If you’re paying attention to listening tools (and if you’re not, what are you doing?) you can be alerted to crises as they happen. And that means you can be proactive about the situation, rather than reactive.

Public relations 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.

Remember, 54 percent of millennials said they stopped doing business because of poor customer service. The worst thing in the world you can do is ignore that interaction. Using social media means your brand is always open to that communication.

Now it's easier to measure results

One thing public relations professionals have always struggled with is being able to provide concrete results on their campaigns. When you integrate your PR campaign online, you remove the shroud.

For example, let’s say you posted your press release on Facebook. Users can respond to the post and tell you how they feel about the subject of your press release. Similarly, when you release a campaign, you can track different metrics, such as website traffic, to see the fruits of your labor.

Keeping an eye on the engagement and conversion rates of posts you put out on social media that are part of your PR campaign will let you know exactly where you stand with your target audience.

Whatever your PR goal is you can now use digital tactics and metrics to track how well you executed your plan.

“By providing a direct line to proving revenue for earned media, PR will now have a seat at the executive table and make the case to own a larger slice of the marketing dollar pie.” — Nick Bell, Vice President of Marketing Communications at Cision

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Content marketing boosts SEO and PR

If you’re only creating print items for distribution, then you’re missing out on a huge advantage with digital campaigns. When you create a digital form of your content, whether, through blogs or social media, it has the opportunity to be shared.

Think of this: When content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and public relations come together it creates a digital brand trifecta.

Public relations, when you break it down, is about creating the best content you can. The same can be said for content marketing and SEO as well.

“Another trend I’m noticing is PR and SEO working much closer together. When speaking with others in the industry, I’m hearing that the two channels are starting to work hand in hand, elevating both of their efforts and identifying ways to leverage each other most efficiently.” — Kate Lobel, Director of Public Relations at Power Digital Marketing

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By creating your own unique content for public relations objectives, you open your brand up to backlinks, which give a great boost to your search engine ranking. And when you create relevant and engaging content for your content marketing objectives, you potentially position yourself as a thought leader amongst the community (as well as helping boost your ranking).

And if you’re seen as a thought leader, it's easier to get other influencers within the industry to contribute to your content as well. Which continues the goal of creating exposure and building a positive image of your brand.

While content marketing, search engine optimization and public relations are often executed in different ways with different goals in mind, they tie together and support each other in their efforts.

“While new communications mediums do create more opportunities for direct customer outreach, they also introduce new risks that those customers will be missed in such outreach and/or that control will be lost over marketing messaging and the shaping of brand perceptions. This, self-evidently, raises the importance of marketing and PR people closely coordinating their work much more so than they have heretofore. They'll need to act as if they were joined at the hip.” — Marc Brailov, Global Corporate Communications Consultant

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“Every day, the goals for PR campaigns are shifting. PR used to be siloed as a channel, but now it must be integrated with the full marketing strategy (especially digital) or else the client will see very little, to no value in your efforts.” — Kate Lobel, Director of Public Relations at Power Digital Marketing

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“Public relations is poised to have a much bigger impact on marketing and the overall business. This is because marketing has evolved away from hard selling features and benefits to a model of utility. From content marketing to sponsored content - marketing is increasingly looking to techniques like storytelling that are largely influenced by journalistic principles and editorial know-how. Those are skills are traditionally rooted in the PR toolkit.” — Frank Strong, Founder and President at Sword and the Script

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Challenges or why marketers/brands hate public relations

The face of communication landscape for the public relations industry has been altered for good, thanks to evolving technology. And that means the PR industry’s perspective must change too.

As PR professionals work to adapt their strategies to this changing landscape, however, they’ve uncovered some challenges.

Keeping control of the message

It used to be easy to control your PR message so that you could shape the general public’s perceptions and establish credibility. Traditional distribution methods didn’t leave much open to change.

However, when you’re distributing your message on social media, for example, it's now mixing in with marketing messages. The trick, then, is to make sure that marketing messages and corporate communications messages align with values, behaviors and the company culture.

Creating messages social media users accept

The other issue is that many users will see the brand sharing its message and decide it’s too biased and go looking for what their peers are saying.

 

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 with them in a way that neither talks down to them or goes 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.

And don’t forget that many social media sites link to one another. Make sure you’re monitoring your social media and respond promptly to audience comments and reactions.

“As PR professionals have long read trade magazines and newspapers to see what particular reporters are writing about, they must now monitor the social media feeds of these journalists to get a better sense of what is currently on their minds and leverage this information to make a connection.” — Peter Gorman, Founder and Principal at Black Rocket Consulting, LLC.

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Growing channels of communication

Public relations campaigns are now distributed through a wide number of channels. Everything from traditional print to email newsletters to social media posts is used to reach an audience.

Delivering across all channels is crucial, but that means the message must be tailored each time to the different channels. Creating a message that can be delivered cross-channel is vital, but requires a hefty amount of research and curation.

All of that takes time. While the industry hasn’t yet found a way to resolve this issue, there are hopes that the future might find a solution via artificial intelligence (AI). And don’t worry, we’ll talk about that later on in the article.

How do you select the right technology for public relations?

Taking your public relations online and leveraging the tools that have come from this evolution is a powerful move. There are more ways to listen, more ways to broadcast and more ways to measure. The explosion of the marketing technology landscape has enabled public relations to grab hold of today’s audience.

Getting past traditional and into the future

Change is how we learn and grow. That’s true in general, but it's especially true for PR professionals. Agencies have had to update their roles in order to stay in front of the right audiences. And a lot of that is thanks to the social media and digitally driven world we now live in.

That means traditional methods of public relations have been turned upside down. PR professionals have to take risks now and get more creative with their campaigns.

It’s a balancing act for many agencies to keep enough of traditional values to make clients happy while adapting to new technologies in creative and engaging ways. Some of the things happening in the industry right now include:

  • Using social media to stay ahead of a crisis. Become aware of issues quickly, ensure you have all your information and then respond via social media to reach the audience as soon as possible.
  • Integrate your SEO, social media and PR efforts to close any gaps that might upset the user experience.

How can we expect public relations to change over the next 3-5 years?

Keeping up with public relations trends helps you take an “okay” campaign, something that’s maybe a little bumpy, into a strong campaign that's running smoothly. Paying attention to the changes happening in the industry allows you to adjust your plans as needed to keep them on track.

We asked experts in the industry what changes we can expect to see in public relations in the next few years as technology continues to change. Here’s what they had to say.

The way PR professionals pitch stories will change

Measurement and content distribution aren’t the only things that will be touched and changed by technology. According to our experts, the way in which PR professionals interact with and pitch to journalists will see a major shift.

“With the majority of news breaking on platforms such as Twitter, it has caused PR professionals to become active on the platform and to engage with media on social media.” — Alex Onaindia, Senior Account Executive at Green Room

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“As journalists tap social media for sources and tips, the major newswires will play less of a role in news distribution. Savvy PR pros will connect with journalists and share news on social media.” — Bob Geller, President at Fusion PR

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“The still-evolving rise of digitally enabled social media has fundamentally changed traditional media and journalism and how journalists work. That, in turn, is transforming how PR people must work.” — Marc Brailov, Global Corporate Communications Consultant

read more from Marc

“The days of pitching journalists will disappear. Instead, we'll see technology-enabled information exchanges where journalists and publicists can seamlessly upload, search, select, and publish content.” — Daniel Weinbach, President and Chief Executive Officer at Weinbach Group

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“I think that in the near future, we will see an increase in the number of targeted pitches and campaigning on behalf of companies as big data has allowed businesses and governments to pinpoint the individuals who are relevant to their speech, advertisements or messages more effectively.” — Nate Masterson, Marketing Manager at Maple Holistics

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Visual content will become the norm

You’ve probably read a lot of headlines the past year about how video has forever changed the way we do marketing. Well, it doesn’t stop there. It extends to our public relations campaigns as well.

“Visual content is becoming more important - PR teams will need to up their rich media games and employ technologies for video and audio production.” — Bob Geller, President at Fusion PR

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“I would say that the biggest trend is that stories must either contain video or be able to be turned into a video.” — Deidre Woollard, PR Representative at Lion & Orb PR

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“Experts in the field predict by 2020 video and audio exchanges will be more influential than text, which means the importance of the press release and other established pitching techniques will be less impactful.” — Katie Kern, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Media Frenzy Global

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“Great storytellers will continue to be an important part of the PR equation, but our craft is rapidly evolving from art…to art and science — from text to images and sound, from plain old reality to virtual and augmented reality.” — Marianne O’Connor, Chief Executive Officer at Sterling Communications

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“Putting yourself on camera not only makes you more vulnerable, it also shows off your true emotions and creates trust with a reporter as you tell them your story.” — Sandy Pell, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications at Vidyard

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Shifting toward digital storytelling

Digital storytelling has quickly caught the attention of public relations professionals. The industry recognizes that it keeps the audience engaged.

Why does it keep them engaged? Digital storytelling lets your customers get to know the people behind the brand better and understand what sets you apart from the competition.

“Digital storytelling will be one of the most important trends to impact the future of PR.

Through digital technology, PR firms can reach their target consumers with digital platforms to promote businesses and encourage purchasing decisions.” — Katie Kern, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Media Frenzy Global

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“In the next 3-5 years, content strategy will become the big thing as social media become a norm in the society. However, people do not want simple contents. They will expect social-caused and cultural contents.” — Lili Le, Marketing and Public Relations Manager at Great Wine

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“So as conventional media like print and television are crowded out by new media, like social, PR pros will need to adapt, and they will need to recognize their role will change from messengers to content creators.” — Daniel Weinbach, President and Chief Executive Officer at Weinbach Group

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“There are already programs, which are able to write targeted content but they have some limitations. In the future, these restrictions will be removed and the new solutions will be able to process big data in order to create content tailored to a particular audience.” — Anna Rozman, Public Relations Manager at Mediametric

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Using micro-influencers in campaigns

Partnering with micro-influencers has proven to be a powerful tactic for marketers.

Just look at this quote from Hubspot’s article on micro-influencers.

"Markerly CEO and co-founder Sarah Ware told Digiday that partnering with the Kardashian and Jenner sisters to promote a weight-loss tea on Instagram led to a significant number of conversions. However, Ware also noted that working with 30-40 micro-influencers achieved a higher conversion rate than when the celebrities were promoting the tea. In fact, 82 percent of customers surveyed by Experticity said they would be very likely to follow a recommendation from a micro-influencer."

And marketers aren’t the only ones leveraging micro-influencers. Public relations professionals are seeing the value in them too. By partnering with micro-influencers, PR content ends up in front of a highly targeted audience that turns into a loyal reader following.

“With influencers becoming increasingly more important, the new technologies will improve influencers’ search. Even though these techniques already exist, there’s still no concrete definition of who to consider an influencer.” — Anna Rozman, Public Relations Manager at Mediametric

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“I expect a new approach for agencies to take around influencer marketing from an earned perspective, rather than paid. How can you reach influencers and get them to be loyal to your brand without money exchanging hands?” — Nick Bell, Vice President of Marketing Communications at Cision

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Use of artificial intelligence

Many industries have high hopes for artificial intelligence (AI), and public relations is no different. In particular, the PR industry sees a potential for certain functions to be automated.

“In the coming years, it will be AI that allows public relations professionals to make decisions in a timely manner and even to prevent any problems.” — Cristian Rennella, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at oMelhorTrato

read more from Cristian

“A.I. will continue to evolve and will be used in many areas - e.g. to spot rising buzz, identify influencers and in general help us make sense (and act upon) of the ocean of online data.” — Bob Geller, President at Fusion PR

read more from Bob

“PR people in the future may routinely harness AI to help them find detailed patterns in the output of media sites to help them pitch to these sites more successfully. Perhaps AI may help PR pros to distinguish bot writers from real journalists, and to develop very precise pitch angles that can quickly attract bites in the rapidly moving 24-hour news cycle.” — Marc Brailov, Global Corporate Communications Consultant

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“PR is going to rapidly automate with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). AI will change how PR will monitor media coverage and sentiment, providing more in-depth reporting that is faster and more actionable than the currently available offerings.” — Curtis Sparrer, Principal at Bospar

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“One of the areas in public relations that AI will affect is sentiment analysis. … the biggest expectation from AI is that it will also be able to discern hidden irony or sarcasm and other literary techniques.

With this in mind, more effective reputation management systems will be created, which will enable PR specialists to respond to criticism and negative reactions in quick and easy ways.” — Anna Rozman, Public Relations Manager at Mediametric

read more from Anna

“As brands learn to properly harness big data as part of their communications initiatives, that’s when you’ll see AI alter traditional approaches to earned media/PR to increase engagement and impact on key audiences.” — Nick Bell, Vice President of Marketing Communications at Cision

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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 today, those who fail to keep up will be left behind.

“What PR professionals have to remember is the way we relay messages will continually evolve over time. We not only need to keep up, but we must stay ahead of the change. Technology and its growth in the industry is a given and not up for debate.” — Katie Kern, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Media Frenzy Global

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