Don’t underestimate the breadth, depth and power of true PR
PR, or public relations has been around for decades. But for a profession that’s all about managing reputation, it could be argued that it hasn’t done the best job of managing its own. The main problem is that too many people think that PR and media relations are one and the same thing. They think that PR professionals work with journalists to get a company’s message out to a mass audience, and that it’s all about writing press releases. Well let’s get one thing straight up front – it’s not! True public relations is so much more than that.
In 1922, Edward Bernays – often referred to as “the father of public relations” – explained that the object of public relations counsel is to interpret the organisation to the public and the public to the organisation. The British Institute of Public Relations defines public relations as “the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain a mutual understanding between an organisation and its public”. Notably, both definitions convey the importance of two-way communication and neither of them specify what form that communication takes. Media relations occupies a powerful position in the PR toolkit, certainly. However, to limit PR’s scope, capability and potential to that one communications channel does it a real disservice and greatly limits the value that it can deliver for an organisation.
Confusing PR with media relations is a commonly held misconception. But why has it become so widespread? As a profession, we have to assume at least some of the blame. One challenge is that many former journalists decide to embark upon a career in “PR” with a rather blinkered view of what PR professionals actually do. To be fair, as a journalist, the only contact you’re likely to have with PR people is in a media relations context. If your career background has not been as a communications professional, you may perhaps be forgiven for having a rather narrow vision of what PR is and what it can achieve. And if those working in PR, and purporting to be “PR professionals”, are saying that it’s media relations, what hope is there for anyone else?!
So confusion reigns. But, in very simple terms, the starting point for effective communications should be your business objectives and marrying communications objectives with those. You can then explore who you want to talk to, what you are trying to achieve, what you want to say… and then define the best ‘way’ to say it. If you know who you want to communicate with, then you can identify how those people prefer to communicate and how they are influenced. Do they attend certain events? Are they members of certain trade bodies? Do they read certain online or print publications? Are they active on certain social media platforms? Do they listen to podcasts? Are the influenced by the opinions of certain commentators in the market? It is this analysis that will enable you to work out an impactful PR programme, which may or may not include media relations.
Despite prevailing stereotypes, PR does not stand for press release, it has nothing to do with celebrities and it is not only adopted by large blue chip companies. PR is about building, managing and safeguarding any organisation’s reputation. If people know you and like you, they are more likely to buy from you, work with you, and for you. In today’s hugely competitive marketplace, the value of a solid and positive reputation should not be underestimated. And neither should the power of true PR.