Public Relations: Don’t Get Lost Between the “P” and the “R”

Being a member of the public relations and marketing industry means constantly having to explain what exactly it is that we do. If we had a dollar for every time someone asked: “what exactly is PR?” we’d have enough to have happy hour every day for a year. We get it, it is confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. The PRSA has defined, and re-defined the term ‘public relations’ numerous times, in hopes of creating a definition that easily explains exactly what our industry does. In 2012 they finally settled on one universal definition which states: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics”, but even that still doesn’t give a clear picture of exactly what public relations professionals do. In simpler terms, PR professionals work to build and maintain relationships with other organizations (like journalists, for example) and their audiences, in hopes of communicating our client’s story with a larger audience. In a day-to-day routine, this could mean writing press releases about an event or a story that needs to be heard and sending it out to journalists. If a journalist thinks his or her audience will benefit from the story being told, they will re-tell it in their own words, causing their audience to now be aware of our client’s story which is the main purpose of our job: sharing a client’s story.

Who are PR Professionals?

  1. We’re storytellers, not advertisers—we don’t pay for our media coverage like you would for a Facebook or Instagram advertisement. Instead, we simply tell our client’s story to a journalist, or multiple journalists, in hopes of earning a story placement in their local or national publication. Earned media is much more credible because of the fact that we aren’t paying the journalist to do it, they are choosing to write the story based on what we have told them about our client. Then if they feel compelled by our client’s story, they write a story about the client, in their own words, and publish it to their publication. Because each journalist has already established trust with their audience they are more likely to believe the story about the client than if the client told it themselves.
  2. We might have journalism degrees, but we aren’t reporters—well some of us are (or used to be), but most of us just work closely with journalists that we have built relationships with over the years. We depend on journalists to share the stories about the clients we represent to their audience, who will hopefully share it with their friends and family, and so on. We can’t write our own stories because then it wouldn’t be earned media. We work for our client’s stories to be written from an unbiased source, otherwise, we’d probably just be raving about how great our clients are (which they are) but we already know that. It’s our job to make sure other people know that as well. In simpler terms: it isn’t our job to write the stories, it’s our job to get them written for us.
  3. We aren’t superheroes, but we definitely try to be—bad publicity is almost impossible to avoid, so when it happens a public relations agency needs to be prepared to save their client’s reputation in a timely manner. This doesn’t mean ‘spinning’ a story and telling the audience false facts to make our client look better but rather telling the audience about the crisis from a different perspective. This means communicating with them honestly and transparently to maintain the amount of trust they hold within our client. We can’t always fix every situation, but we try our hardest to find creative solutions that will help repair a client’s reputation if something damages it.

Despite what you see on television (Olivia Pope covering up a crime scene, or Samantha Jones using public relations to climb NY or LA’s social ladder) public relations professionals are only trying to inform an audience of how great their clients really are. We use the power of a great story about a great client to get our messages out to larger audiences. Forbes author Robert Wynne reminded us of a great quote: “advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” Which we think sums it all up pretty well. Is this something your company needs help with? If so, don’t hesitate to reach out, we’d love to help!