Public Relations, Explained.

By November 1, 2014News

Last month a digital marketing expert wanted to include our firm’s public relations expertise in a new business pitch. ”How many impressions can you guarantee the client each week?” he asked. Hard to believe, but even a seasoned marketing professional doesn’t understand the basics of public relations.

For my friend, and all the friends of the PR pros who read this column, the family members who don’t understand what we do, and for entrepreneurs who need to understand public relations and how it can help their business, let’s explain Public Relations.

It’s not advertising. We don’t buy impressions. We don’t guarantee placement. But the coverage we get, in the media, online, social media, TV and other places, usually has much more credibility than paid endorsements. Public Relations consist of the following:




Third-party validation

Public opinion

Public policy

Promotion to drive sales, revenues or donations.

Wikipedia has a great overall definition:

“… The practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public.Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions. Common activities include speaking at conferences, winning industry awards, working with the press, and employee communication”

The Public Relations Society of America, PRSA, notes the concepts have been modernized. “The earliest definitions emphasized press agentry and publicity, while more modern definitions incorporate the concepts of ‘engagement’ and ‘relationship building.’” An international effort to update the definition led to the PRSA to note:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” At least we hope so. As any PR person who has pitched a reporter knows, and any reporter who has to field calls from publicists has learned, the relationship can be mutually beneficial, antagonistic or indifferent at any time. It depends on many factors including the news value of the story, the relationship between the two parties, the reputation of the subject, and the ideology of the media outlet.

The Princeton Review presents a very direct, some would say blunt, view of the industry.

“A public relations specialist is an image shaper. Their job is to generate positive publicity for their client and enhance their reputation. The client can be a company, an individual or a government. In the government PR people are called press secretaries. They keep the public informed about the activity of government agencies, explain policy, and manage political campaigns. Public relations people working for a company may handle consumer relations, or the relationship between parts of the company such as the managers and employees, or different branch offices. Though the job often involves the dissemination of information, some view this cynically as “spin doctoring.” … The successful PR person must be a good communicator-in print, in person and on the phone. They cultivate and maintain contacts with journalists, set up speaking engagements, write executive speeches and annual reports, respond to inquiries and speak directly to the press on behalf of their client. They must keep lines of communication open between the many groups affected by a company’s product and policies: consumers, shareholders, employees, and the managing body.”

Like many industries, PR can be divided into specialties:

Industry-specific: Consumer-Lifestyle, Videogames, Higher Education, Legal, etc.

Crisis Communications

Government Relations

Internal Communications

And of course, the internet and social media is a significant revolution. The biggest change for Digital Public Relations is this – you don’t need the traditional media as your megaphone, you can go directly to the consumer or audience via Twitter, Facebook, email, text, your website, etc. The upside is immediacy for your message without a filter. The downside is reaching that audience. It’s easier for a celebrity or a name brand than an unknown person or business.

There are many great resources to explain this phenomenon. From the website Business2Community:

“PR has always been about creating a favorable operating climate for a company or organization. Digital PR is no different. It’s about building that presence online, understanding the digital landscape you operate in and developing strong relationships with all the players in your social graph. The techniques include SEO, content development, social media, online newsrooms, websites, blogs and online media coverage. Online Reputation Social media and consumer generated content can have a rapid effect on your reputation – both positive and negative. Understanding SEO (search engine optimization) is not just a vital skill for PR practitioners today – it’s crucial. Should an online crisis hit your business the event itself will be bad enough, but the aftermath of the negative content online can extend the effect of the crisis well into the future. Every time someone does a search for your company’s name that pesky negative content will show up. Search engines index content on relevance. If you don’t understand how the search algorithms work and how to move that content down the rankings, it will linger like a bad fish smell. Building relationships Digital PR makes use of social media platforms, networks and tools to interact with people online and build relationships. The social media part is the content and conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouTube. The Digital PR part is the support functions needed to make those conversations relevant and effective – research, social audits, identifying influencers, developing and distributing the content.”

A good example of Digital PR includes the response of Southwest Airlines to a plane skidding on the runway of LaGuardia Airport in July of this year on Twitter and Facebook with screen shots of the posts thanks to the Likeable blog. Southwest responded almost instantly with updates on the situation and reported the news directly to the public. There’s also a great source, the Digital PR Guidebook from PR News Online with many more examples and essays.

For non-crisis PR, some brands are getting creative with digital platforms. J. Crew obtained media coverage for choosing to release its catalogue on Pinterest and Oscar de la Renta played the PR game well for premiering its lineup on Instagram. Whether these are marketing tactics, PR stunts or genuine evolutionary steps, they are working. When’s the last time you heard anything about Oscar de la Renta?

No discussion about Digital PR would be complete without a discussion of Content Marketing, the subject of a previous Forbes Column.

The website WhatIs defines it as “the publication of material designed to promote a brand, usually through a more oblique and subtle approach than that of traditional push advertising. The essence of good content marketing is that it offers something the viewer wants, such as information or entertainment. Content marketing can take a lot of different forms, including YouTube videos, blog posts and articles. It shouldn’t really seem like marketing — in some cases, in fact, it should only be identifiable as marketing because the advertiser is identified as the content provider.”

A contact in higher education notes research universities are leveraging their content to gain much more media coverage. The traditional research stories or essays, which used to be hard copy tip sheets for reporters on who to call for experts, are now ‘legitimate content’ for a media industry that operates with fewer reporters and resources. My source notes web portals picking up their material verbatim in some cases. Universities can now talk directly to the reader about faculty thought leadership in many venues, rather than rely on reporters as the sole channel for explicating faculty’s knowledge.

This trend applies to academic institutions, think tanks and possibly corporate or government research labs that are reasonably neutral. This may be much harder for consultants and companies pitching products. In other words, “Research concludes our shampoo has 97 more tingling action!” press releases are still not working.

Feel free to share this with your friends, colleagues and parents. And don’t forget to email a copy to the next person who asks you to guarantee something. You can always tell them you won’t guarantee X number of impressions, but you can be sure that when you get something placed in front of the right people, you can guarantee they will pay more attention to it compared to a banner ad online or coupon in the newspaper.

Written by: Robert Wynne Source:
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