Public Relations: What is It?

“Good public relations starts with the basic fundamentals of doing good business.”

Public relations is how you or your business interacts with the public. From wrangling the media, to strategically planning marketing campaigns, to your customer service apparatus and brand. Public relations is everything that has to do with how you interact and communicate with the rest of the world. 

Good public relations starts with the basic fundamentals of doing good business. 

You have a product or a service that you want folks to spend their hard-earned money on. So you need to get the word out, get people excited, maybe even go viral on social media. How else do you get noticed, make inroads into the market, and build your empire?

More than “Crisis Management”

Too often public relations is considered just a reactive spin doctor – something bad happened and you’re in the news, so now you need someone to help you weather the storm.

That’s crisis communications, and it’s one of the most important facets of public relations. 

But in a way, only engaging in crisis communications is like patching a leaky roof instead of fixing the real issue. It’s throwing money at a problem rather than proactively investing and building your operation resiliently, to not only grow through good times but sustain through tough times as well.

And if you’ve been doing business in the past ten years, then you’ve definitely persisted through tough times, from recessions to global pandemics.

So if you’re planning on becoming a public relations practitioner, or if you’re skeptical of what you’re paying for if you’re in the market to hire one, let’s make sure things are copacetic.

Starting the PR Conversation

First off, any conversation about public relations, communications, marketing, and advertising should start with laying out your goals and sharing your strategic plan; how do you expect to accomplish what you’re setting out to do as a business? 

If you’re passionate about the work, this conversation should be, in a word, epic. 

Your hopes, dreams, blood, sweat, and tears have all gone into this business, it’s basically a part of your family, and now’s the time to talk about it to someone who wants to listen. PR pros come from many different backgrounds, journalism included.

There’s a good reason for that: it’s all about telling a compelling story, and journalists are often able to master the art of the interview and tell story after story—years of those newspaper deadlines are priceless experience!

Develop Your Elevator Pitch

Through this conversation, and hundreds of others prior, you should have developed what is typically called an elevator pitch. If you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s even more self-explanatory than public relations.

Imagine yourself walking onto a public elevator – actually, first pretend it’s sometime before March 2020, then imagine yourself walking onto a public elevator. Standing next to you could be anyone: a bigwig businessman, a potential buyer or investor, maybe your ex boyfriend. 

Regardless, you have an opportunity to shoot your shot and sell your business, product, or service to a captive audience. You may only have 15 seconds until you get to the next floor, but you have a chance to make your pitch. On an elevator. Woila – elevator pitch.

Pillars of a Good Pitch

What’s an elevator pitch sound like? Definitely not War and Peace.

You need to set the stage, get to the point, and keep them engaged all while running up against a tight clock. That might sound like a challenge, but how you refine that message is critical. 

They say iron sharpens iron; coal turns to diamond under pressure. Same concept – this is your high stress, high reward opportunity. And if you’re really serious about your business, you probably have this conversation all the time anyway. At home, at work, with family, in the mirror, definitely in the shower. 

Your PR practitioner needs to be able to make that same pitch whether it be to the media, to potential sponsors, or whatever audience you’re targeting.

Defining those target audiences and having clear expectations are a priority in early conversations. The PR pro needs to be an extension of the brand, an expert who can pitch, sell, and vouch for you.

Develop Your Narrative

Now maybe your elevator pitch isn’t as refined as you need it. Maybe you didn’t even develop a strategic plan, a style guide, or any of the fundamentals to communications and advertising.

That’s okay – that’s why PR pros have a job!

If that pitch isn’t as refined as you’d like, take a step back and develop your narrative. Now you can take all the time you need for setting that stage; let the PR pro shape that information into your new narrative – which will make that elevator pitch all the easier. 

So what are the positives? Are you saving the world? Saving folks money? Offering the coolest new product or most convenient service imaginable? Those are clearly strengths, and that’s what you’re selling.

What’s the Catch?

But what about the catch? There’s always a catch, right?

It could be that you cost big bucks and need to justify costing consumers two months salary? Maybe you’re eschewing union labor for something cheaper that helps your bottom line? Did the company principal behave badly back in college? A sloppy holiday party from a few years back has photos leaking? The internet remembers many things that used to get lost in the ether. 

That’s another reason why proactive PR is all the more important in a globally connected society. There’s only so much you can control, but your brand, messaging, and assets are in your wheelhouse.

Maximize your potential, and make sure you’re keeping up with dynamic best practices that evolve with technological innovation.

Define Your Audience

So now let’s skip ahead just a bit. You have a narrative, a pitch, a brand; you’re ready to put yourself out there. 

Who do you want to reach?

Identifying that is key, because it informs how and where you communicate. Age, income, opinions: almost anything is able to be targeted, especially when putting content on social media or doing SEO work hand-in-hand with a campaign. 

But while that organic or paid content is one way to tell your story, earned media is the backbone of PR.

Getting you in the news: newspapers, blogs, TV, or podcasts, there are more possibilities than ever – and also more competition.

Basics of a Press Release

Developing relationships with media is a process that relies on ethics and professionalism, things to be covered during a later course. But reaching out that first time doesn’t need to be as scary as it might seem.

A press release or media advisory is your best friend. It has those five W’s from elementary school: who, what, where, when, and why (and how!). It lays out what you’re trying to say and gives the press all the information they need to assess if this story is worth their time to be picked up. 

It’s like an elevator pitch, but for the press. It speaks their language, and it should include certain basics. Contact information that’s reliable —and a person who will pick up the phone when they get the call.

That reliability is key to working with media. If they set a deadline, meet it. Don’t lie or waste their time. Be polite and professional, friendly but business-oriented. Their time is money, just like yours.

Letters to the Editor & Op-Eds

Sometimes a press release or press conference is a hammer when you need a much smaller incision.

Letters to the editor are great, and they can come from you or anyone willing to attach a name. It’s a subtle yet effective way to get your message out there.

Op/Eds are even better, full-length opinion pieces authored by you that can carry your independent message. These are a dream for many campaigns and getting your message out there unrestricted.

Where to Target

Where those letters or op/ed’s are placed is the strategic question.

The biggest regional paper is always a good target, but local or hyperlocal papers often are easier to get. Specialized publications could be awesome opportunities to hit a very targeted audience, or they may be pay-to-play and you should circle back when you have an advertising budget to influence your options.

And there’s endless endless media opportunities where you can get your press release, phantom blog post, op/ed, or any piece of content placed online. 

Now that you’ve been acquainted with PR, you have the opportunity to think bigger. The fundamentals of how you communicate is a foundational piece of your business and are critical for your long-term plan. Problems can always bubble up, and there’s always a chance to react, but being proactive is what can set your business and brand apart from the field. 

There’s work to do, no question about it. Plenty of angles for you to consider, and opportunities for growth and breakthroughs that you may never have thought possible. 

The name of the game is honesty, integrity, and transparency. It’s about treating every potential customer with respect, while also putting you and your company at the forefront. Time and effort are investments, sometimes worth much more than money.

Public relations is a door to so many potential strategies and outcomes, so there’s no better time to get started than now!

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