Public relations (PR) plays a critical role in the success of businesses and organizations. It helps define an entity’s brand, promote its messaging, and anticipate (as well as minimize) the impact of any unfavorable publicity.
Distinguishing between PR and advertising is important; they are not the same. PR involves earned media, which is media that results from providing journalists with information through pitches, interviews, press releases, and other such avenues, whereas advertising is paid media. The two can be used together, but they are not synonymous.
Three primary examples of PR activities are issuing press releases, maintaining media relations, and managing crisis communications.
Press releases are written announcements that organizations deliver to journalists and media outlets and that provide information about newsworthy happenings at that organization, such as a significant new hire, the introduction of a new product, or an award received.
Media relations involves developing relationships with journalists, bloggers, editors, and other content producers who cover topics of interest to a company and its clients and pitching timely, relevant stories to them (as well as scheduling interviews with key staff members) in an effort to generate positive media coverage.
Crisis communications requires creating a multipronged, proactive plan for dealing with potential public relations crises, including response plans, to protect a company or client’s
PR can be a great career path, offering many exciting opportunities in a variety of areas. In fact, U.S. News & World Report currently ranks PR as the #3 best creative and media job. And individuals interested in pursuing PR can choose from a number of career paths.
For example, one option is to work for an agency, concentrating on PR activities for multiple clients at once as part of a team, with each person managing a particular aspect of a client’s promotional outreach.
Another possibility is to work as in-house PR for a brand, either managing the business’s PR program single-handedly or coordinating outside agencies to work together on the company’s behalf.
Some PR specialists work as freelancers, prioritizing one or two clients and handling pitching, media relations, and follow-up on their behalf.
PR can also be just one of numerous tasks in a professional’s communication mandate within a company or nonprofit organization.
Whether PR qualifies as “good” depends on the particular client and their needs.
Most often, good PR takes the form of proactive, positive communication for a brand that occurs on a regular basis. Examples of effective PR include the following:
- Positive stories about a brand appearing in targeted publications
- People talking favorably about a brand (e.g., “positive buzz” about a company)
- A company’s leadership being asked to give their opinions/quotes on related topics
- An increase in speaking engagements
- More extensive television/video/podcast coverage
In a crisis PR situation, on the other hand, the definition of “good PR” might be getting an unfavorable story about a brand out of the media, waiting for the commotion to die down, and then beginning the hard work of repairing that company’s reputation.
In any situation, good PR always involves the combination of effective research—into the publications, editors, bloggers, and journalists who cover the topics of interest to a business or its clients—persistence in building a real, meaningful relationship with these individuals, and understanding what truly makes a story unique, interesting, and inherently pitchable.
Anyone interested in working in PR should take relevant classes, including those related to communications, media studies, mass communications, and marketing. Such courses provide a core base of knowledge from which to build an applicable skill set, and employers look for this kind of training.
Also, taking advantage of PR internships at different organizations provides real-world experience that not only looks good on a resume but can also facilitate something even more valuable—the opportunity to discover which type of PR is most appealing personally. Interning in various situations can reveal the demands and style of different PR roles and responsibilities. For example, if someone likes working for multiple clients at once, a PR agency could be a good choice. But if handling PR for a single client or brand sounds more interesting, then being an in-house PR specialist for a business or nonprofit agency might be preferable.
The digital revolution has changed the business of Public Relations (PR) forever. Today, PR professionals must deal with not only traditional forms of media but also communications channels that have a habit of changing practically overnight. PR has always been about relationships and about using those relationships to promote your brand and your company. In the past, a PR representative might have needed simply to maintain a good rapport with a few members of the media, know how to write a compelling press release, and maybe do an occasional interview. That era is over.
PR is now a complicated and constant effort. It involves increasing measurable return on investment through new digital media content and innovative marketing approaches. It still requires all the traditional relationships, plus an abundance of new ones on social media, from old-school reporters to social influencers. It involves everything from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to snarky Twitter brands. And now more than ever, PR is tasked with projecting a company’s positive values as the public increasingly demands that businesses do real good in the world and that what they see and hear about various companies is not just for show.