How can your organisation build the reputation it chooses? Certainly through its deeds and through paid advertising. But one way trumps all others: good PR.
PR, or Public Relations is exactly what its name suggests. It’s about building relationships with your public. And it works whether you are a business, a not-for-profit, a political or governmental body, a product or service, or a celebrity; minor or major. Good PR gets the right part of the public interested in you and pre-disposes them to think in the way you choose.
So is it manipulative? Is it just an appealing term for what we now call spin and used to call propaganda? It can be. But in this article, we are going to stick to PR done with integrity. So the answer to those questions is: ‘it depends’. And what it depends on is the integrity of how your PR is carried out. And therefore on the integrity of the people who do it for you: your PRs.
Why do we Need PR?
As a business, you want people to recognise your brand and be interested in the products or services you offer. Advertising, and marketing in general do this, but they have two drawbacks:
- The first is that they cost money; often a great deal of money
- And second, people are savvy. They know a marketing message when they see one
If only there were a way to get your messages to your target stakeholders, by spending less, and in such a way that people see it as less connected to your organisation. There is. You need to get the word out, and start people talking about you.
But you also need to control their conversations as much as you can; otherwise it’s just news.
This desire has generated a discipline, and spawned a profession. Both have the same name: Public Relations, or PR for short.
What is PR?
PR, or Public Relations, is all about creating interest in the person, organisation, or thing you are promoting.
It’s come a long way in the last 100 years. And, as you’d expect, it is now a fully fledged profession, with training, codes of conduct, and membership bodies to represent the interests of its practitioners.
That’s handy for us, because who better to define what PR is?
Definition of PR
We’ll start with the definition that the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations has adopted:
PR is ‘the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest.’
In the US, the Public Relations Society of America defines PR in this way:
‘Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.’
But then, in 2012, the PRSA voted on a new definition from those its members offered. The winning response was longer, but easier to understand:
‘Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.’
In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the CIPR, is the membership body for PR professionals. It has a more long-winded definition:
‘Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’
The UK’s main trade body for PR organisations, the PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) has a similarly encyclopaedic definition:
‘Public Relations, or ‘PR’, is all about the way organisations communicate with the public, promote themselves, and build a positive reputation and public image.
The way an organisation is represented in the media has a huge impact on how people perceive it. PR professionals try to influence the media to represent their organisation positively and communicate key messages.’
The Origins of PR
There are two claimants to the title of ‘the man who founded modern PR’. And that’s if you ignore PR-like activities going back throughout historical records. There is no point in trying to arbitrate among the competing claims of these two men. They were friends and competitors and each made a significant contribution to founding and defining the modern discipline of public relations. That said, though, the term ‘Public Relations’ predates them, and goes back to 1897.
Together, Ivy Lee and Edward Louis Bernays had a client list that reads like a who’s who of early Twentieth Century American industrialists and corporations:
- Standard Oil and the Rockefeller family
- Pennsylvania Railroad
- The Democratic National Committee
- Procter & Gamble
- General Electric
- Dodge Motors
How to do PR
PR is about creating and maintaining relationships with an organisation’s stakeholders:
- the mass media
- relevant trade media
- opinion leaders
- and, through them, the public
So, PR professionals design and execute communications campaigns that get their clients’ messages out. The tools they use include:
- Engage market research
- Design the corporation’s messaging
- Press releases and press briefings
- Networking with media representatives and opinion-formers
- Acting as a spokesperson for the organisation
- Meeting and building relationships with individual journalists
- Arranging interviews for the company’s representatives
- Speech writing for corporate executives
- Mount conferences and events
- Sponsor external conferences and events
- Co-ordinate the corporation’s presence at conferences, conventions, and exhibitions
- Promote executives’ contributions to magazines, industry publications, blogs, and books
- Use social media to enhance brand reputation
- Reputation management to handle negative publicity
- Crisis management to handle extreme adverse publicity
What is Your experience of PR?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions about Public Relations. Please leave them in the comments below.