Although the formal practice of public relations is said to have emerged around the early 20th century, most historians point to the creation of the Publicity Bureau in 1900 as the founding of the public relations (PR) profession. Today, the Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “A strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Your “publics” could be anyone—governments, stakeholders, non-profits, individuals or your customers—and can include the many groups that possess a stake in the organization’s future. 

While seemingly simple and straightforward, even this definition of PR may not be enough to clarify what is often perceived as an ambiguous field that traverses numerous specialties. Still, most marketers can agree that the No. 1 job of PR specialists is to generate positive public awareness around a brand. These specialists accomplish this by using earned media rather than paid media to inform the public about the organization’s purpose, products and services.

PR: Why Is It Important? 

Despite the ongoing debate about PR’s role and its relevancy within the marketing mix, for many organizations, PR remains an integral component of a marketing plan. As stated by Brandchannel’s Dannielle Blumenthal, “One implication is that PR grows the reputation to protect the brand.” In other words, PR is essential to protecting a brand’s reputation and increasing brand awareness. 

Time and time again, bad crisis management has damaged powerful brands beyond repair. For example, BP’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon incident is ranked as one of the worst public relations disasters in corporate history. The company’s failure to establish prompt crisis management measures, which included the botched cleanup of an oil spill estimated to have released over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, has attached a negative stigma, perhaps permanently, to the company’s public image. 

Additionally, PR is just as important for small organizations as it is for multinational corporations. PR creates a sense of transparency around your brand, communicating to your customers, investors and even your employees that your business is trustworthy and dependable. The theory is that, as you continue to be transparent and build your organization’s trustworthiness, you also help to insulate it from future crises and public scandals. 

For new entrepreneurs and startups looking to build a name in their industry and attract future customers, brand reputation will be a significant part of the success of those new companies. Ultimately, consumers and other businesses avoid purchasing from companies that are unethical or that fail to deliver on their brand promises. PR’s job is to communicate your company’s values and actions objectively, so as to build trust with your target audience and credibility around your brand.

Elements of PR 

Public relations is considered part of promotion, one of the four pillars of the marketing mix. It can either be done in-house with PR specialists, managers and directors, or it can be outsourced to an agency. Hiring an outside consultant can give you access to resources and media connections that you lack inside your own organization. On the other hand, doing PR in-house gives you more control over the PR budget and process from start to finish. 

Regardless of which route you take, some industry proponents advise doing PR before you even launch your business. Luckily, there are a myriad of tools you can use to carry out an effective PR campaign and increase your visibility in the media. 

Here are a few examples of what you’ll need to get your PR activities off the ground and start building relationships with reporters, bloggers, analysts and other media outlets that will have an impact on your stakeholders:

Content 

Writing press releases is an inexpensive yet effective way to get media attention. Companies typically write press releases for the editor of a newspaper, magazine, trade journal or other publication that focuses on your target audience.

For instance, if you’re planning to launch a catering service, you’ll want to send press releases to food magazines, blogs and other media in the food sector. The press release will include your contact information, headline and, most importantly, the main angle of your story (e.g. new product release, leadership announcement, acquisition, etc.). 

While sending a press release via email is always an option, PR specialists commonly use PR Newswire, Marketwired, SBWire and other popular wire services for disseminating press releases to subscribing news organizations. Mashable also has a list of 20 free press release distribution sites for more affordable newswire options. 

Although a press release can serve as the basis for a news story, blogs and informational articles can also serve as endorsements of your brand. Entrepreneurs and executives of big brands often guest-blog on major blogs that have a wide following of readers.

As a business owner or individual consultant, you should continually pitch story ideas on general topics related to your product or service. Remember to include advice and best practices based on your own experiences. Offer helpful information to readers, and showcase how your product or service relates to the article topic.

Social Media

Besides blogs, having a presence on other social media channels, such as microblogs (Tumblr), social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn), video sites (YouTube, Vimeo) and others, will serve as powerful tools for sharing news and developments about your company. News pieces often become viral on social media due to the highly interactive nature of social media platforms. It also allows users of those platforms to become brand advocates by sharing, “liking” and commenting on your posts.

Events 

The “events” category covers a number of venues, ranging from large conferences in convention centers to smaller, more intimate panel discussions and workshops. PR professionals may also be responsible for monitoring developments that come out of press conferences, shareholder meetings and one-on-one briefings with investors. 

Press is frequently invited to conferences, so setting up interviews or doing a speaking engagement presents another opportunity to generate media coverage on your company. If you’re not convinced the registration fee and travel costs are a justification for the potential publicity, an EventTrack 2013 study said that 95% of respondents believe attending an event where a product or service was being promoted made them more likely to purchase that product or service.

Crisis Management Plan 

As mentioned earlier, PR is primarily about reputation management. Therefore, having a crisis management plan in place is imperative for defending your brand in the event of public mishaps, such as product recalls or Twitter disasters

Instituting a crisis management plan also helps during employee transitions, company mergers and other seemingly mundane business events. These restructurings can create a crisis if the proper processes aren’t in place to manage the organizational challenges that often follow, which can include negatively perceived events like layoffs. Make sure to work with PR professionals and agencies known for delivering results strategically and tactfully when faced with complex and stressful situations.

Final Thoughts 

While some have labeled PR as a thinly veiled attempt to dupe the public into believing that companies are something they’re not, in reality, PR comprises communications activities focused on earning the support and endorsement of stakeholders. Unlike advertising and other paid media, your organization’s actions must be compelling and authentic enough to attract the attention of reporters and the subsequent brand loyalty of your target audience. 

Developing strong press releases, building an active social media presence and participating in events that will position you in front of your ideal consumer are just a few ways to boost your PR efforts and strengthen your organization’s credibility. Getting your PR plan off the ground is the first step toward increasing your company’s visibility and success as an overall brand.