When you consider that entire textbooks and university degrees are based on the premise of public relations, writing a blog post titled “What is PR?” can be a daunting task.
Yet it’s probably the top question we get as PR pros (right after, “How can we get into the New York Times?”). Here’s the answer: At its essence, public relations is simply an organization speaking to its audience to build a relationship.
It’s important to note off the bat that public relations is not advertising. Strictly speaking, organizations do not pay for coverage. If they do, it’s advertising, be it traditional or digital.
Public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with an audience – which can be internal or external, consumer or B2B – to achieve objectives. And we do this the old-fashioned way – building a relationship with media with trust and mutual understanding. In today’s digital age, our tactics might change, but our goal as PR practitioners stays the same.
Of course, that’s just the beginning. There is a lot more that goes into public relations as both an organizational function and a practice. Other areas include:
- Brand reputation
- Crisis and issues management
- Event planning and management
- Executive communications
- Internal/employee communications
- Social media community management
- Media relations
- Content management
The above functions are all designed to carefully curate how an organization is perceived by the public, so understanding trends is critical, as they can affect how a business responds to protect its interests.
Public relations also helps an organization influence or change public policy. This is done through a combination of the above tactics, but more importantly, by anticipating the issues that can create an impact, and executing tactics around those issues to help achieve objectives. And PR pros keep an eye on the social and media landscape so you, the client, don’t have to.
Public relations doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s how an organization speaks to the public based on what is happening at any moment in time; it’s a give-and-take between a company and its buyers. That’s why reputation management is such an important part of public relations. For many companies, its reputation is valuable currency. It’s why we’re so quick to hear about what happens when things go wrong.
As PR pros, then, it’s our job to tell the stories of when things go right, and when a company is impacting more than its bottom line. It’s about influencing that public narrative, as opposed to promoting or selling something.
Finally, here’s a graphic that every PR student and new intern learns on day one, and it’s an easy way to understand the difference between PR, advertising and marketing to achieve branding:
Image courtesy of Author Your Brand via Medium.com.