Public Relations – What it is. What it is not.

Doctors diagnose. Artists create. Builders build. Simple right? But what about public relations? What does PR actually mean and what do people in public relations really do? The answer, it would seem, is not as clear cut as your average job description.

As the founders of a boutique PR agency we constantly find ourselves debunking common myths around public relations and what we do and don’t do. You won’t find us giving out freebies at your local shopping precinct. Nor will you find us in a recording studio producing catchy jingles for radio. We don’t demand journalists churn out stories for our clients and we don’t pay for advertisements. On the flipside, what we are about is promoting our clients, our products and our business in the most effective, engaging ways possible.

Engagement – or communication – is undertaken with our audiences through trusted, not paid, channels. Unlike advertisers, we don’t pay for the pleasure of persuasion! We work to persuade external or internal audiences through earned sources – that is what public relations is all about.

Here, we’ve deconstructed the PR game to create a how-to-explain-to-anyone what public relations is – and what it is not.

Public Relations 101:

PR is the art of persuasion, delivered through a strategic communication process. Building mutually beneficial relationships between businesses and their audiences is what we do. As a business it is your goal to persuade your audience to acknowledge your achievements, purchase your product or service, promote your idea or support your chosen position.

PR can be an effective way to protect, build or enhance reputations through media platforms. If you’re a PR person, you’re a storyteller – you create the narrative to fit the agenda. Effective PR will look at a business, decipher the positive messages and use these messages to create positive stories. If things take a turn for the worst, PR is a tool to draft the best response and limit the damage.

Services you can expect from public relations include but are not limited to:

  • Drafting and disseminating media releases
  • Events – creation and execution
  • Market research about a business and or its messaging
  • Crisis management
  • Content creation – blogs etc
  • Speech writing
  • Sponsorship and networking
  • Social media promos and managing negative online media

PR vs Advertising:

Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for

An oldie but a goodie, this catchphrase nicely sums up the difference between advertising and public relations. Bottom line – advertising is paid media, public relations is earned media. PR agencies work to convince different media platforms to write a positive piece about their client. This positive story will run in the editorial section of earned media, in contrast to the ‘paid media’ section where advertising promos typically appear. In sum, a PR story enjoys greater credibility because it has been supported by a trusted third party, not purchased.

Another significant difference between advertising and public relations is the cost. PR firms work on monthly retainers or can be hired for specific projects or campaigns. Advertising, on the whole, can be pricey.

Key differences between advertising and public relations:

  • Advertising – paid
  • Public relations – earned
  • Advertising – builds exposure
  • Public relations – builds trust
  • Advertising – audience is sceptical
  • Public relations – media provides third-party validation
  • Advertising – guaranteed placement
  • Public relations – no guarantee. Must persuade media.
  • Advertising – complete control
  • Public relations – media controls final version
  • Advertising – is mostly visual
  • Public relations – uses language
  • Advertising – is expensive
  • Public relations – is less expensive
  • Advertising – “buy this product”
  • Public relations – “this is important”

And here’s the clincher. Advertising agencies will tell you what you want to hear because they want to sell you more ads. Conversely, PR people will tell you what you need to hear because they deal with crises, image protection and relationship building.

Understanding the nature of news:

First things first. Before you even think about engaging a PR agency or kick-starting your own campaign, it is essential you understand the nature of news.

Simply put, there are just two ways to create news. Create a story. Follow a story.

Understanding news – and how to create it – is imperative to understanding how to get the most out of public relations. A story will only resonate if it matters to the people writing it and reading it. Journalists, influencers and bloggers want to know what’s in it for them and what’s in it for their followers and or audience. A good way to test whether your story is newsworthy is to ask yourself the following questions – What’s the story? Why should I care? Why should I care now? And once you’ve answered these, test a few more such as: Is it new? Is it unique? Is there a human interest element? All these questions will help to guide you towards the likelihood of creating news.

So, how do you make news?

Create a story:

This is the most tried and true form of PR; creating a story to promote something fresh such as a new product, new app, new market, new person of influence, merger, award or business strategy – and make the news. Alternative methods of making the news include social media – think blog posts, tweets, photos, vlogs etc – as well as content marketing and more. Market research that creates new information that is also timely can also be useful to different media including news, trade and business media.

Follow a story:

This method of making news is based around noticing a story in the news, and responding. Whether it’s political, financial, or human interest – for breaking news, journalists seek out experts to comment in real time via a live cross, phone interview, video conference, tweet, email and more. This is an ideal time to get in front of the newsmakers as a trusted source of knowledge and expertise in a particular field.

Will traditional media be replaced by social media? 

The short answer is no. While some may argue that tweets or blog posts, if seen by enough people, are equal in their effectiveness as quotes in the NZ Herald, don’t be swayed by the hype. Social media does have its place however and that is to bolster PR efforts and further highlight key message/s. 

Social media or digital PR is a great way to develop strong relationships with the power players in the influencer and social world through techniques such as SEO, content creation, social media, online newsrooms, websites, blogs and online media coverage. Speed and relevance are key – think real-time media alerts, live or virtual news conferences and direct contact with journalists who you feel will be interested in your story.

Is it possible to measure PR?

Maybe, yes. But it is not an exact science. Over the years there have been endless models, spreadsheets and estimates drawn up to try to tangibly measure the value of PR. But that is just what they are – estimates. And while some are more accurate than others, this remains the most hotly contested and emotionally charged subject in the PR industry.

If you have questions about corporate communications, contact us today – we would love to help.

Fleur Revell

Fleur Revell

Director at Impact PR
Fleur Revell is one of the country’s most eminent PR consultants and public relations practitioners with more than 20 years industry experience behind her. Fleur is also a three times Qantas Media Awards winner and Feature Writer of the Year; and has an exceptional working knowledge of the New Zealand media landscape and its accelerating evolution in the digital age.