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What do Public Relations do? Very few people can explain what PR people really do. If you’re a policeman, a construction worker or a banker, everyone will recognise the job.  

As the owner of a PR agency, I constantly have to explain that we don’t buy ads, order journalists to write stories for our clients, produce cute radio jingles or hand out free samples at the mall. Yes, we try to promote our customers, our products or ourselves but, unlike advertisers, we use unpaid methods to convince our external or internal audiences of the quality of our clients’ services or products. Whether it’s traditional media, social media or we communicate with our clients’ audiences through trusted, unpaid sources.

To help the general public understand public relations and how to use these skills and for those in the industry who need to explain their jobs to grandparents, strangers and friends, we present:

Five things everyone should know about public relations

1. What are Public Relations? PR is “Business Persuasion

You are trying to persuade an audience, inside your building or city and outside your usual sphere of influence in order to promote your idea, buy your product, support your position or recognise your achievements.

Here’s a scientific definition of public relations: “Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their audiences”.

PR people are storytellers. They create narratives to advance their agenda. PR can be used to protect, enhance or build reputation through media, social media, etc.

A good PR practitioner will analyse the organization, find the positive messages and translate those messages into positive stories. Princeton Review notes that, “A public relations practitioner is an image shaper. Their job is to generate positive publicity for their client and enhance their reputation … They inform the public about the work of government agencies, explain the policy and manage political campaigns. Public relations people working for a company may manage consumer relations or relations between parts of the company, such as managers and employees, or different subsidiaries.”

Our tools as PR people include the following:

a) Writing and distributing press releases.

b) Speech writing.

c) Writing briefs (less formal than press releases) about the company or a company representative and sending them to journalists.

d) Organising events specially designed for media relations (press conferences, corporate events to launch a product/service).

e) Conducting market research to identify the target audience, the company’s key message and the company’s strengths/weaknesses.

f) Expanding business contacts through personal networking and sponsorship at events.

g) Writing articles for blogs/websites.

h) Crisis public relations strategies.

i) Social media promotion and the management of negative online responses.

2. What is the difference between public relations and publicity (advertising)

Unpaid vs. paid. Earned vs. bought. Credible vs. sceptical.

Advertising is paid media, whereas PR is earned media. That means getting reporters or editors to write a positive story about you or your client, candidate, brand or issue. It appears in the editorial section of a magazine, newspaper, TV station or website, rather than in the “paid media” section where your advertising messages appear.

Another huge difference is price. PR firms charge monthly fees or can be hired for specific projects. Advertising can be very expensive. A former client bought a full-page ad in a weekly magazine that cost him several thousand euros. He expected a flurry of phone calls, viral media and multiple conversations about the ad. He got none. Instead, after being quoted in a well-known publication, he received dozens of calls from potential clients and was invited on several TV shows.

Not everyone can afford to spend thousands of euros, but advertising can be expensive when you calculate the cost of space or time, plus creative designs and production costs. And most ads need to be repeated several times before the consumer can be influenced. As it’s in their interest to sell you more ads, advertising people tell their customers the right thing: “You’re the best! You just have to pay a few more months for billboards and TV spots!” As PR people deal with crises, image enhancement and long-term relationship building where your story often has to be accepted by others (media) before you get recognition, PR people tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

3. What is the news?

Before you hire a PR firm or start your own PR campaign, it’s important to understand the nature of news. There are two ways of making news:

1) Create a story


2) Follow a story.

This is vitally important for anyone who wants to understand, perform and harness the power of PR. Before you respond to the client or boss who orders you to “Put me on the front page of the Financial Times!” you need to know that getting a story in a publication because you want it there or your boss demands it doesn’t matter. Remember, journalists are bloggers are not stenographers. They will ask “Why is this important to me and my audience?” In other words, they’ll get on the other side of the fence! Answer these questions: “What’s the story?”, “Why should I care?”, “Why should I care NOW?”.

Here are several criteria to consider:

Is it new? Is it unusual? Is there a human-interest angle? Here are the two ways to make news. Create a story. This is the most common form of public relations.

Most of the time, companies looking to make news want to promote something fresh: a new car, a new app, a new market, a new CEO or other significant hire, a new business plan, merger, winning an award. Other ways to create news include articles written for an independent publication, opinion editorials (not about you, about a controversial topic), social media (blog posts, tweets, photos, videos, etc.), content marketing on your website and more. Some companies create their own events or speak to prestigious groups. This can be great, but it can be time consuming and expensive, with no guarantee of coverage.

Many colleges and universities create news with original polls and research. Entrepreneurs and small businesses can’t afford the expense. It may be easier to conduct simple phone and email surveys of colleagues, customers and suppliers. A short series of questions leading to new information that sheds light on a particular issue could be topical for trade media.

For breaking news, journalists often need an expert to comment in real time via a phone interview, a video conference, a live video interview, a Tweet or an email. Reporters often reach out to their usual list of contacts – experts they know or trust. With quick thinking, reaching out can lead to new connections and attention to media exposure. When the story is not immediate, companies can insert themselves into a trend. These are usually stories, in contrast to the news that is happening today. If several law firms are cutting deals on hourly rates in exchange for definite monthly guarantees, and your lawyers have signed a big deal like this with a major client, this is an example of a trend.

4. Can social media replace traditional media?

No, it cannot.

If a site or account has enough followers, there is a growing perception that blog or Instagram posts are just as good as an appearance in a well-known publication. Don’t be fooled! Social media can enhance PR efforts and serve as a booster, but it can’t replace media appearances. Greg Galant, CEO of the website Muckrack, which connects PR practitioners with journalists, offers tips for digital outreach. “Boring doesn’t work on social media,” Galant says. “The last thing you want to do is take a press release and post it on a social network. It’s much better to tailor your announcement in a human way for each social network.  On Twitter, come up with an interesting way to formulate your announcement in 107 characters. Remember that you will need to save 23 characters for your link.  Find a great image related to your ad to include in your Instagram and Pinterest posts. Even on social media where you can post a lot of text, like Facebook and Tumblr, don’t post a press release! Rewrite it without jargon, stock quotes and meaningless phrases as if you were telling a story to a friend.”

5. Can you measure Public Relations?


But it is not an exact science. There are many people and companies who have created many models, spreadsheets and estimates. And let’s be clear. They are all estimates. Some are better than others. This is certainly the most delicate subject in the PR industry.