Public Relations is a complicated process to define. Its literal meaning is to build mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics, but there are a broad range of services which fall under this. If I was asked what PR means to me, I would prefer describing it as image building. It is the way organizations, companies and individuals communicate with the public and media.
Even though the formal practice of PR can be traced back to the 20th century, it is only in the past few years that people have started to understand its importance. While advertising is a more controlled form of marketing, PR takes it a step further with organic marketing which helps connect with the target audience in a better way.
A PR agency/specialist communicates with the target audience directly or indirectly through media with an aim to create and maintain a positive image and create a strong relationship with the audience. Examples of PR tools include press releases, interview/feature placements, public appearances, etc. as well as the utilization of digital media. They also help their clients both create and maintain a good reputation among both the media and the target audience by communicating on their behalf and presenting their products, services and the overall operation in the best light possible. A positive public image helps create a strong relationship with the target audience which in the long run translates into business.
PR people are storytellers. They create narratives to advance their agenda. PR can be used to protect, enhance or build reputations through the media, social media, or self-produced communications. A good PR practitioner will analyze the organization, find the positive messages and translate those messages into positive stories. When the news is bad, they can formulate the best response and minimize the damage.
The biggest challenge I face on an everyday basis is probably trying to explain to people the difference between PR and advertising. Let’s just put it this way – it is unpaid vs paid and/or earned vs purchased. The results of PR may take longer to achieve than advertising, because you convince reporters or editors to write a positive story about you or your client, your candidate, brand or issue. It appears in the editorial section of the magazine, newspaper, TV station or website, rather than the “paid media” section where advertising messages appear. So the story has more credibility because it was independently verified by a trusted third party, rather than purchased.
Any article related to PR in this day and age would definitely be incomplete without the mention of social media and the role it plays. Social media has undoubtedly been a game-changer for the way PR is managed – and it is still evolving every single day! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have people hooked and are great platforms to connect with them. However, they have also made things move very instantly. The opinion formed on social media cannot be controlled easily, which is why it holds the power to make-and-break reputations. PR practitioners now have to plan to monitor and respond to social complaints and questions in a reasonably fast amount of time. Bloggers/influencers can no longer be ignored because of the strong outreach they have.
In the coming years, I envision the industry of PR growing more than ever. Advertising is no longer enough for the reputation management of any corporation. People are more interested in hearing other people’s perspectives which only be achieved through earned media. Sending out the right message is now the only way to connect with your target audience!