What is Public Relations? The Ultimate PR Guide
So you have a great product or service that customers love, a killer staff and you’re ready to raise funding, scale your business and make an impact in the world. It’s time to ramp up promoting your brand. But how? What’s the next step? How can you ensure your time and hard-earned dollars are well spent? With a pressing need to build brand recognition, one of the biggest mistakes startups can make is not choosing the right channels to get the word out.
Here, the dream team at Trust Relations has created “The Ultimate PR Guide” to answer your questions and help you reach the right audience, meet your goals and increase your bottom line.
We’ll start with the basics by defining public relations.
What is Public Relations?
Public relations (PR) is the hand that reaches out and connects brands to the world. It’s about introducing brands to their target audiences and reinforcing their value through thoughtful and strategic communication tactics across different platforms to shape, build and maintain a solid perception and positive online reputation among key stakeholders.
PR encompasses many different functions, including:
At its core, a carefully crafted PR campaign introduces a company, an organization or a person to the markets and mediums that matter most. This helps to secure earned media opportunities, build third-party credibility and encourage a positive relationship with the public.
History of PR
Public relations is nearly as old as civilization itself, with communication dating as far back as cave drawings in 37,000 B.C. and “sacred carvings” in ancient Egypt. Modern PR, though, has its roots in the industrial revolution of the early 19th century, with Ivy Lee. Lee, a former newspaper reporter who established one of the first public relations firms in the U.S. — Parker and Lee — is widely recognized as the founder of PR. In 1906, two years after opening the firm, Lee created his “Declaration of Principles,” which identified PR representatives as having a public responsibility to provide information that was factual and accurate, and touted the importance and impact of newspaper reporting versus newspaper advertising. The responsibilities of PR reps, he added, should go beyond the needs of the client to serve the public itself.
That same year, Lee issued what is believed to be the first press release after convincing Pennsylvania Railroad executives to disclose information about an accident involving company trains. Notably, Lee was hired by John D. Rockefeller, who was the wealthiest person in the world at that time. Lee helped overhaul the public’s perception of Rockefeller as a cruel oil magnate to a respected and admired philanthropist.
After World War II and the emergence of television, PR agencies began cropping up all over the world. Throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, a dramatic increase in public awareness combined with a push for societal change — “Make love, not war,” for example — led to the creation and continued growth of public relations as an industry of its own.
As the 20th century drew to a close, the digital age was already booming, and the PR industry remained a crucial asset along for the ride. Today, with technology, social media, content marketing, a 24-hour news cycle and the spread of information moving faster than ever — PR remains a powerful, important, versatile and thoughtful resource for companies, organizations, media outlets and the general public.
Top Reasons for Hiring a PR Agency
A brand might be great, but it only comes to life when people are talking about it. (You can also check out our ebook to help determine if your brand is “PR ready.” Hiring an experienced PR agency can take your brand to the next level. Among other things, enlisting the help of a PR agency can:
The Role of a PR Representative
The best PR representatives develop and implement comprehensive and strategic communications plans that attract media, build brand reputations and ensure effective media coverage. They also draft press releases and key messages, forage relationships with targeted media outlets, manage social media and website content and oversee responses to crisis situations.
PR reps work with virtually every business sector, including technology, beauty, finance, fashion and more. They have strong critical thinking skills, creative, yet effective writing abilities, and can easily communicate to help secure media coverage and connect a brand directly to its audience.
Public Relations vs. Marketing and Advertising
“Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” It’s an old saying as well as a concise definition of the key difference between paid and earned media.
Public relations has traditionally fallen under the umbrella of marketing, alongside paid and earned channels like social media, SEO, influencer relations, advertising, digital marketing, among others. But there are key differences between marketing and PR.
Marketing, by definition, is promoting a brand’s products or services with a goal of connecting directly with customers, highlighting a solution to their problem. By being the solution, marketing drives a conversion (ideally a purchase). Advertising encompasses the production of ads to promote these solutions.
Meanwhile, PR is the hand that reaches out to introduce and promote a brand by strategically building relationships with the media, potential customers, employees and investors within the brand’s respective industry, and works to build and maintain its goodwill and reputation.
Understanding the differences between the goals of PR and marketing, and when to leverage these tools, is crucial to successfully scaling a business. PR is all about relationships — and those relationships often take time.
Bill Gates once said that if he had one marketing dollar left, he’d spend it on PR. When you invest the time and the right strategy, the dividends pay off in ways that are nearly immeasurable.
Paid, Owned and Earned Media
There are three types of media a brand might seek to promote itself: paid, owned and earned. Here is a breakdown of each.
Paid media is exactly what it sounds like: it’s any media a brand must purchase for promotion through that particular channel. Examples include paid Facebook and Instagram ads, paid Google ads and any other pay-per-click (PPC) campaign. Influencer marketing is often paid as well, as a brand might pay an influencer to post about its product on Instagram or TikTok and encourage their followers to buy it for themselves. It’s important to note that most consumers recognize paid media as a sales tactic or lead generation. Millennials — the country’s largest and most sought-after demographic by brands — prefer trusted sources over being bombarded by PPC campaigns and other digital advertising.
Owned media is anything a brand owns and controls, such as its website, logo, social media channels and blog, which feature a brand’s messaging. This makes it especially important to align the brand’s key messaging across all marketing and communications efforts.
Earned media is all the media coverage and other exposure a brand receives without paying for it. Media coverage is the most obvious form of earned media; for example, when a PR agency lands an article for your brand in a top target like The New York Times. Facebook and Instagram shares, Google reviews, Yelp reviews, backlinks, blog mentions and retweets are also all earned media.
How PR and Marketing/Advertising Work Together
Public relations, marketing and advertising professionals wear a lot of hats — and they typically share similar goals, such as storytelling, branding and reputation management. From social media to SEO, content creation and more, the lines between PR and marketing are sometimes blurred. Turns out, that’s a good thing, because they often complement one another.
PR takes information stemming from key messaging and distributes it quickly to a wide, yet strategic audience. Because of that, public relations agencies are skilled at developing key messaging, press releases, bylined articles, thought leadership pieces, press kits and ongoing media relations campaigns to draw attention from reporters, consumers, investors, industry leaders, elected officials, policy makers, employees, partners, suppliers, social media followers, influencers, celebrities and website visitors, among others. The possibilities are nearly endless and always evolving.
A prepared, responsive PR team is the best answer to smoothly and efficiently navigate any sort of crisis communications situation, and encourage a positive outcome. What’s more, PR is an important tool in helping a brand remain culturally sensitive in an age where information moves fast and is easily accessible — and is also ripe for miscommunication, misunderstanding or misinterpretation.
As communications, technology and digital media continue to evolve, it makes sense that the PR, marketing and advertising industries work together to ensure success, often by combining in-house marketing and advertising teams with PR agencies.
PR and marketing are still separate disciplines, and while various aspects of “marketing” a brand, whether it be through social media, SEO or paid advertising, among others, will continue to be relevant, so will PR, as it continues to have its own place in the marketing mix of a company’s brand and will amplify the other disciplines.
What is a Press Release?
A press release is a written statement to the press disclosing major company announcements, hard news and official public statements, such as financial announcements, important partnerships, new hires or product releases. Traditionally, a press release is distributed for a fee over a wire service to newspapers and broadcast outlets. It also is a great tool for SEO and securing media coverage as part of a larger public relations strategy.
PR Tactics and Strategies
PR agencies create and implement thoughtful tactics and strategies that not only work — but can be leveraged across different digital platforms and channels. The right tactics and strategies can create a wealth of opportunities for brands and help them grow momentum in their respective markets. Here are a few examples of effective tactics.
Media Pitches that Go Beyond Press Releases. Great press releases are a staple of any PR campaign, but releasing news on the wire isn’t enough to secure great coverage. The best of the best PR agencies have resources like Cision and Muck Rack, which provide them with the contact information for journalists worldwide. PR agencies know how to contact reporters with well-thought-out, customized pitches that target individual reporters, which is the only consistent way to snag their attention and show you respect their time and profession. Media relations involves getting a brand in front of online, print and broadcast media outlets that cover stories the right audiences care about. This includes the consumer industry, financial, regional, national media, and more. PR agencies are made up of talented people who have been making media connections for years. This means they have the right contacts and the foot-in-the-door that’s needed to gain a reporter’s attention and secure coverage.
Embargoed Pitching. Most reporters today want access to a press release first — before it goes out on the wire or to competitors. This means it’s sent under an honored embargo before disseminating the release publicly, which gives reporters time to conduct interviews, request written Q&As and/or receive a demo in advance of the news going out
Bylined Articles and Thought Leadership. Given how many reporters were laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are quicker to accept a contributed article with a brand executive’s byline than they are to write a story amid all of the other stories they have to write. As an added benefit, interesting story angles can showcase expertise without being promotional or self-serving. Thought leadership is a proven PR tactic that positions brands as the go-to source on a particular topic people are talking about.
Listening Tools. Social media listening tools such as those offered by Cision and Muck Rack watch what people are saying about a brand, as well as its products and services.
Influencer/Spokesperson Relations. Influencers are, well, influential — at least to their followers. Part of a successful PR campaign often involves targeting potential influencers and spokespeople to represent the brand online, at events and in interviews. This tactic can blur the lines between earned and paid media, as most influencers now require compensation.
The Development and Alignment of Key Messages. In PR, key messages make a brand stand out against its competitors, as well as against all the online noise bombarding consumers on a daily basis. Aligning those key messages creates greater impact and should be the foundation of a brand’s overall communication strategy.
The Role of PR in Branding
PR is all about credibly and authentically communicating with stakeholders who have a significant impact on a brand’s bottom line. This is important in effectively revealing the value and staying power of a brand in an ever-changing culture and society.
Branding is more than a neat logo and a catchy tagline. It’s about sharing a message that deserves to be heard. This is why PR and branding go hand-in-hand. Effective brand messaging is done best when it is custom-crafted to a customer’s needs and wants. This imprints the brand’s uniqueness, with a bespoke visual identity system designed to make it memorable. Branding and PR serve similar purposes and can work together to achieve marketing and advertising goals.
Again, PR establishes brand credibility, which is an essential part of any marketing and branding effort. Brands that are covered by legitimate news sources — online, print and broadcast outlets, including consumer, trade and industry mediums — are widely considered to be trustworthy and credible. Media hits are a valid key performance indicator (KPI) that brands should look at, as they weigh the success of their overall communications, marketing and advertising campaigns.
The Importance of Storytelling in PR
Every business is a brand, and every brand has a story. Storytelling is to PR as sales are to marketing. It’s about showing — not telling — audiences why they need a brand’s product or service, how it can solve a problem, bring them joy or enhance their quality of life.
PR storytelling through press releases, thought leadership pieces, press kits, white papers, social media and more allows companies to connect with their target audience on a deeper, more personal level. As a result, the audience develops feelings, attitudes or opinions that can stimulate an action stemming from the brand’s overall marketing goals. Most PR pros are great storytellers. They are creative, strategic and keenly understand what reporters and other stakeholders want to read, see, hear and feel.
What Makes a PR Campaign Successful?
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Key performance indicators, or KPIs, are metrics used to measure the performance of a communications or marketing campaign. Certain metrics commonly used in public relations, while not an exact science, are useful in measuring results.
6 Common PR Mistakes to Avoid
Some things simply can’t be learned from a book — including PR. There is a lot of trial and error to navigating the ins and outs of a fast-paced, often high-stakes industry that historically carries a lot of influence, both nationally and globally. Here are six of the most common mistakes in PR and how to avoid them.
Is PR Dead? The Future of Public Relations
While print media is in a fast decline and mass media is evolving with lightning speed, public relations as a standalone entity is not only not dead — it is more valuable than ever. The key is to think strategically, keep moving forward and expect the unexpected.
As the media landscape changes, there will always be a need for PR. Knowing how to message and frame things in a politically correct and concise way that shows the value, credibility and proof points of a brand will never be obsolete. It’s a skill as well as an art form that will always be important and needed.
The credibility of the media has been at risk in recent years due to various economic and sociopolitical factors. In response, the public relations industry is obligated to ensure the media is viewed as a trusted and reliable source of information. After all, the primary value of PR is building third-party credibility for brands of all shapes and sizes. But if the public doesn’t view reporters and media outlets as credible or trustworthy, the value of PR will be compromised as well. PR upholds and respects our greatest asset, a free society, through preserving the objective press.
PR has grown way beyond the traditional press release, and it’s exciting that a brand and its news can be repurposed and promoted across so many meaningful, relevant and ultimately effective tactics, strategies and platforms.
From writing press releases, creating press kits and pitching media to social media, thought leadership, influencer marketing and bylined articles, the best PR comes down to building relationships and building trust.