Defining Public Relations: Part One

PuzzleHiring a PR firm for your business can be a daunting process, especially if it’s the first time you have ever done so.  For one thing, you may be somewhat confused about what a PR firm does – and frankly, who could blame you?  Portrayals of PR practitioners on television or in the movies can be all over the map; schmoozers, hustlers, party planners and influence peddlers are all mixed in with the occasional true representation.    For the small business owner, it’s difficult to determine exactly what a PR firm does and how it can help their business.

It’s really up to PR people to define what they do and not assume everyone knows already.  Today, we begin a series about public relations and its various practices.  Some PR firms may do most or all of the practice areas we will cover; others may specialize in a few specialty areas.

But before we get into what public relations is, it might be a good idea to provide a short list of what it is NOT.

Five misconceptions about PR:

  1. PR is not just about writing and sending news releases.  Think of a news release as the bread and butter that accompanies the meal.  It’s not the whole meal or even the main course.  Every business or nonprofit organization needs to begin any public relations program with a strategic plan – one that incorporates their overall goal, short-term objectives, target audiences, strategy, tactics and how success will be measured.  A news release is one of many tactics that may be used in carrying out the plan.
  2. PR is not “free advertising.”  First of all, public relations and advertising messages are entirely different.  You can overtly promote your organization in an ad, while to obtain “earned” media coverage, your story must make a worthwhile contribution to the editorial content of that media outlet.  That can mean time spent doing background research, designing story angles and pitching ideas.  Second, public relations work is not free; whether you are using in-house staff or an outside firm, you will pay for the time and talent that it takes to get recognition for your business.
  3. PR is not “one size fits all.”  Every business or nonprofit organization is unique in some way, and no one PR plan will be right for each one.   That’s why when you call a PR firm and ask what they can do for you, you may instead get a series of questions in return or a request to meet and talk with you in person.  That’s because the answer to your question depends on all of the factors that will go into your company’s strategic PR plan (see #1, above).
  4. PR cannot cover up your company’s wrongdoing.  Hiring a PR firm to put a positive spin on bad acts by your company is pretty much useless.  The truth has a way of coming out, and in today’s media climate it can be devastating to your business, as online and social media can reach millions of people before you can do anything about it.  The best way – perhaps the only way – to counter negative media coverage is to apologize immediately for any wrongdoing and begin a long-term program to repair the damage to your reputation.  And that PR program has to be based on good acts, or it won’t succeed.
  5. Good PR will rarely bring overnight success.  Public relations is mainly about building a positive long-term reputation.  Yes, you may hire a PR firm to publicize an event, but for lasting impact, you will need a sustained effort over some period of time.

Next in the series:  Planning for success.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Share