According to the Public Relations Society of America, the official definition of public relations is, “a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics”. If that doesn’t mean much to you, you’re not alone. PR professionals often joke that we have no idea how to explain what we do to our friends and family.
PR is a vital but often misunderstood promotional tactic, which boils down to “persuading an audience”. If you’re considering hiring a PR firm but you’re not sure if it’s worth it, or if you already have a PR team but don’t know what they actually do all day, here are five basics to know.
If you’re looking for a magazine ad, a radio jingle or a TV commercial, at most PR firms you’d be out of luck. All of that falls under advertising. Instead, PR is centered around “earned media”; the process of developing an interesting story and convincing reporters to cover it without paying for the exposure. As consumers grow more skeptical of traditional advertising, earned media plays an important role in your marketing mix because it’s verified by the media and, therefore, more trusted by consumers. Plus, PR is typically much less expensive than paid advertising.
If we’re to believe movies and TV shows, PR professionals must spend their time schmoozing with celebrities and planning parties, right? While there are some PR pros who might spent some of their time doing those things, the vast majority of PR jobs are much broader (and much less glamourous). In a typical day, a PR pro might write a press release, conduct research, develop a blog post, reach out to reporters or create a social media strategy; ultimately with the goal of generating positive publicity for clients.
Earning media coverage is the cornerstone of PR. And according to public relations pro Robert Wynne, the only two ways to make it into the news are to create a story or follow a story. No matter how much you beg, plead or bargain with a reporter, in the end it’s up to them (and their editor) if they want to write about you. So when your PR team shoots down your story idea or says that making the cover of the New York Times is a little too lofty of a goal, it’s nothing personal. It’s actually a good thing; it means that your PR rep understands what kind of stories pique reporters’ interest and successfully make the news cycle.
While social media can play an important role in PR, it’s not going to replace traditional media anytime soon. Your PR team can help you develop a social media strategy and manage your online presence; however, it shouldn’t be their only focus. Instead, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram should be used to enhance other PR activities and expand the reach of media coverage.
Most CEOs don’t have the time to understand the nitty gritty of what their PR team does, and that’s O.K.; so long as the results are measurable and positive. While measuring the impact of PR can be tricky, it is possible. And it certainly doesn’t mean that businesses should skip PR in favor of marketing tactics that are easier to track. Measuring something intangible like positive sentiment will never translate into numbers easily. However, you can get a good idea through press clips, media impressions, surveys, website traffic and social media mentions.