Everyone may have a different idea of what public relations is and does. And that’s for good reason. The term public relations can encompass many services, but broadly speaking, public relations help to create a positive reputation within your business or organization through unpaid and earned media.
We’ve compiled a few crucial areas of public relations below to help you learn more, answer your questions, and help you execute successful PR practices.
In this guide to Public Relations, you’ll learn:
- What Is Public Relations?
- The Importance of Relationship Management
- The Basics of Media Relations
- How to Manage your Online Reputation
- What Thought Leadership is + the Benefits
- Public Speaking and Meeting Facilitation
- How to Manage a Crisis
- Why Your Workplace Culture & Internal Communications Matter to your PR
- How to Measure your Public Relations Efforts
- Download the FREE Public Relations Checklist & Template
What is Public Relations?
Understanding public relations should be an important tool in your marketing arsenal. No matter what your marketing plan is, you will, at some point, be tasked with handling responses to your business or organization whether positive or negative. Keep in mind that “hope is not a plan”
We’ve used this saying about many things – including marketing planning – but the relevancy is not lost when it comes to public relations. According to the Public Relations Society of America, “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relations between organizations and their publics.”
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, in order to achieve the end goal of this definition, a plan for handling each situation that arises is crucial. Public relations is not only promoting your business in a healthy light, but combatting any negative comments, reviews, or thoughts and feelings about your business. However you decide to approach public relations, always remember to address the bad with the good. This will not only make you more relatable, but more trustworthy in the eyes of your target audience.
The information on this page will help you to form or reevaluate a current PR plan to set you up for success. So, keep reading!
The Importance of Relationship Management
Public Relations is largely about relationships—those you need to establish and those you must maintain. Whether with your customers/clients, the media, partners and stakeholders, or even your team, managing relationships should be a critical piece of your PR strategy.
Relationship management is more than who you know; it’s about nurturing the relationships you have, plus acknowledging relationships you may be missing in your marketing strategy and reaching out to establish a mutually beneficial connection. The key here is mutually beneficial. A relationship should never be thought of as transactional or one-way.
It’s important to view relationship management as a partnership. Concentrate on building an ongoing level of engagement. Weather on a B2C level or B2B, maintaining open communication will help build a foundation of trust and honesty, critical factors in any relationship and key elements of engagement.
If your audiences don’t trust you or feel you’re genuine, the relationship is doomed from the start. Various strategies exist to help businesses build this foundation, but the bottom line is that quality relationships take work and it’s this work that separates your long-term relationships from your short-term ones. Put in the work, build trust, take the time to nurture your connections and manage your relationships; your business and bottom line will thank you.
One way you help shape your relationships is by using strategic messaging and positioning tactics.
Part of public relations is ensuring your sharing the right message. And part of strategy is knowing who your audience is. Magic happens when you align your message with your audience, creating a clear position for your business and your brand in your audience’s mind
As a business you likely have many customers and you may even have many audiences. However, if you do not know who they are, that can lead to a scattered and aimless message (click here for a refresher on analyzing your audience). And without a focused message you will not be able to gain any sort of position within your industry. Positioning is important as it lets your audience know where your business fits in the market and what sets you apart from other, similar companies. In public relations it’s important to stick to key messages aimed at the right audiences.
To illustrate the importance of messaging and how it plays a role in positioning consider these two examples. If you are in the business of selling gears for a machine that is used in the automobile manufacturing industry ,you wouldn’t want to sink all your public relations efforts into promoting those gears to the desktop computer manufacturing industry. Or let's say that you are a clothing designer and create athletic apparel for long distance runners, you need to ensure your messaging speaks to that type of athlete as opposed to athletes that predominately play hockey for instance.
While these examples may be extreme, you can see how easy it is to get sidetracked or want to cast a very large net– which is understandable. As a business owner you want your product or service to be adopted and benefit as many customers as possible. But without messaging to the correct customers you risk wasting your time, energy and budget.
No matter how streamlined your messaging or spot on your positioning, you can’t engage in PR without dealing with the media. In fact, we’d recommend that you ensure Media Relations is part of your overall PR plan.
Media Relations 101
Media relations is an important part of PR. Journalists have the ability to influence massive markets, audiences and consumers. However, getting traction with journalists and media outlets can feel like an uphill battle. They receive dozens of calls and e-mails each day about businesses and products that go unreturned. Responsible for creating many stories each week, they have no time for wasted time.
If there’s one thing to know about media relations, it’s that it’s all about relationships…which should be no surprise since it’s called media relations after all.
So, how to make media relations feel like it’s about relationships and not sales? You humanize it. You remember that the people you’re reaching out to and coordinating care about what they’re covering; experience challenges and frustrations just like you do; and they appreciate help.
As one of your first steps, you need to learn your audience. Take an interest in what each reporter writes about and what seems to be their passion. Take genuine interest in what they care about. Meeting them face-to-face will show you’re interested in getting to know and help them and form a stronger connection. Connect with them regularly to offer help and show interest but be sure to have boundaries and not overwhelm or push them away. You should be a help to them not a burden.
Remember, that this relationship isn’t all about you. While you and your business stand to gain an advantage, find a way to foster a mutually beneficial relationship. They’ll be interested and on board much quicker. Ensure what you’re offering isn’t adversarial and instead informational or valuable to the journalist. Get creative and offer them a tour of your office, access to executive team members, a new contact or a network opportunity. Before long, you’re calls won’t go to voicemail.
While maintaining solid relationships with the media is a PR must, it’s also important to monitor your online presence and manage your reputation across your digital platforms.
How to Manage Your Online Reputation
Your online reputation is how well you are perceived when someone finds something about your business on various digital platforms, such as business websites (your own included); social media pages; review pages like Yelp and Angie’s List; and even within comments on posts from news coverage and announcements. Your online reputation can make or break your business, especially in today’s world.
What is even more bothersome is that it just takes a matter of minutes for your reputation to be targeted and negatively impacted. We’ve all seen it before, perhaps a brand out there makes a poor choice in their business practice, or releases a questionable product that doesn’t meet client satisfaction, or that misinformation is released about you that is not factually based. These sorts of situations can spiral out of control should you not have measures in place to not only prevent such instances, but also how you respond should a problem arise. Because of this, it is critical for you to have a plan in place for online reputation management.
Business reputations are earned, just like in our personal lives. If you are not aware of your reputation from the start, you are already in some trouble. If you already have a stellar online reputation – fantastic. Maintaining that will require some work but carries a big return! If you grow and foster relationships where your client become loyal advocates, you are in a much better position should a crisis happen.
You may know your worth and that you are an expert in your industry, but does your audience? How do you become a thought leader in your industry and what does that look like?
Thought leadership is a powerful trait for any business. When you can use content marketing to bring out the best of your business, your community, and your team through experience, knowledge, and expertise on a particular topic, then you can consider yourself a thought leader in your industry.
Think about your customers’ biggest questions. How can you answer them in a meaningful, in-depth manner in a way that they will understand and consume? This may take some time on your end as far as research and preparedness go, but the outcome will surely resonate with your target audience. The more you can inspire your customers to act in a manner that will benefit their businesses, the more valued and trusted your expertise will come across.
A Couple of Tips to Becoming a Thought Leader
Build A Relationship of Trust
As with any new relationship, people want to know that they can trust their new partner. You can do the same thing with your target audience. harness a part of your business that you are passionate about and that matters to your target audience. We don’t mean that you are good at. We mean one that you truly care about. Focus on this area and share insights and expertise with your audience FOR FREE. That’s right, share this valuable information without making your audience pay a penny for it. When you can teach and solve problems for your audience with no strings attached, they will come back to you because they know your methods are tried and true.
Create Powerful Content
You’ve heard it here before: content is king. Use this knowledge to create content that is specific, in-depth, and useful for your customers’ biggest problems. Then, keep engaging them with consistent, relevant content like case studies, blog posts, and resources tailored to the specific area of interest. Don’t be afraid to re-use this content in social media posts, and e-news publications. Good content won’t go out of style if you use it thoughtfully and intentionally.
Speaking of leadership, if you own a business, chances are you’re a leader within your company and possibly even within your industry. Which means, you’re likely going to find yourself in a speaking engagement or running a meeting or two: both key elements of PR.
Public Speaking (gasp!) & Meeting Facilitation
It’s a well-known fact that public speaking tops the list of many people’s biggest fears. However, it’s also one the most valuable skills you can have in your professional arsenal and an experience that’s often very hard to avoid, especially if you find yourself facilitating meetings and/or executing events.
So, rather than run from public speaking opportunities, which can seriously jeopardize your business growth, embracing your nerves and remembering a few simple points (+ a lot of practice) can help you overcome your fear, lead your business to success and help you achieve personal growth.
First, nerves are good. Everyone gets nervous and that’s ok. Rather than trying to eliminate nerves (which is next to impossible), channel that nervous energy into preparation (big tip for success). Second, embrace your nerves and understand them. If you are someone that fidgets when you get nervous, try and ensure you can stand during a meeting or presentation. That way, you can “walk off” that nervous energy and use it in your presentation (no one likes to just watch someone stand like a statue anyway). If you’re not able to walk around (for example, if it’s a virtual/Zoom meeting), ensure you allow time to go for a quick walk or run through breathing exercises ahead of time so again, you can burn off that energy. Another helpful way to deal with nerves is to drum up some confidence. Remember if you are being asked to speak at an event or run a meeting, you were asked for a reason. You have either proven your knowledge is valuable or demonstrated that your experience is worthy. So, take pride in that and remind yourself that you’re qualified to be here!
Second, be prepared! As mentioned above, preparation is one of the biggest catalysts for success. A key element in preparing is knowing your audience. This includes their knowledge level on the subject, their interests, and method for delivery. Knowing your material goes without saying, but it’s often how you present it that allows you to command a room. Build your confidence with practice, practice, practice. If you’ve prepared and rehearsed, when you get up to share your material it won’t be the first time, which can give you the confidence to make it through. Also, the more prepared you are the more confident you’ll feel going into the speaking engagement, which will help with that tip mentioned above: you’re the expert because you have knowledge that got you the invite in the first place + the preparation that allowed you to succeed.
Third, get organized! This could not be more important than in meeting facilitation. No one likes to feel like their time is being wasted. So, have a plan or agenda and keep everyone on track by bringing them back to the agenda when the meeting gets off topic. The same can be said for a public speaking engagement—people want to know why they’re there and what they are going to get out of it. So, tell them. A simple tip is to ensure you have a preview and a conclusion that summarizes your points and wraps it all up. You also should never have a hidden agenda and if you want your audience to remember something, you need to tell them more than once. Repetition is a great organizational method and helps ensure the audience retains the information you shared.
While speaking publicly might feel like a personal crisis, there’s a chance that as a business owner, you’re going to encounter a real-life crisis that if not prepared for, could send your operations into a tailspin. Luckily, we can help you get prepared!
Why Your Workplace Culture & Internal Communications Matter to Your PR
So why are we talking about workplace culture and internal communications when it comes to public relations. Because, your employees and your team can be your biggest allies or your greatest enemies.
When employees believe in what they’re doing and are behind you and your business, the possibilities are unlimited. You can reduce recruitment costs, increase business development and sales, elevate the quality of work, improve customer service, and create a happier, more positive work environment.
Your team represents your business. In some way, each and every employee acts as spokesperson for your company, and you want your spokespeople to share positive, accurate information. When they’re selling products or services, presenting at conferences, or just sharing information on their personal social platforms, their perception and feelings about the company come through to these audiences. Workplace culture and internal communications can help align and communicate the vision, improve transparency and build trust, all laying the groundwork for solid public relations.
Workplace culture and internal communications should be the foundational piece of your public relations efforts.
You know what PR is and the different areas and tactics involved in PR. So, let’s dig into how you can measure the effectiveness of your efforts.
Let’s face it - no one likes to talk about it, think about it, or even worse – live it. But crises DO happen. And they come in many shapes and sizes. From wrong phone numbers on a printed direct mailer to your product not being ready in time for a crucial launch date. Crisis management is not only a key component to public relations, but also a necessary one.
There is never a good time for a crisis; and they come at the worst possible times. Having a plan of action on how to handle a crisis in advance is an essential component for your public relations and overall business strategy.
So, what should you include in your crisis communication plan? Include key points of contact - such as who is going to be the main point of contact for the media- what the strategy is going to be for addressing the crisis, i.e. what position you are going to take, and what forms of communication are going to be used.
Consider this infamous PR quote - “never let a good crisis go to waste.” While you may debate the merits of that quote, there is a lesson to be learned here: in public relations, as well as life, there is much to learn from “failures.” Knowing that a crisis IS going to happen and being prepared for it, is good business sense. You can really gain an advantage over your competitors by having a solid crisis communication plan in place for when the inevitable does happen.
Though many of the previous topics have focused on external PR practices, you must not overlook the importance of internal PR practices.
How to Measure Your Public Relations Efforts
If you are spending time and money pushing information out, it would be nice to know what is or is not working. Although public relations can be a bit trickier to track in comparison to other marketing and communication efforts, it should not be overlooked or given any less attention. Using the measuring methods below, you will be able to provide a better sense of what tactics are getting the most traction.
Social Media Mentions. There are ways to track if your business is being “talked about” on the various social media platforms. You can do searches or even secure software that alerts you when you are mentioned.
Website Traffic. Measuring how much traffic your website is getting as it relates to your public relations campaign will help you determine if your information is being seen and if it prompts users to visit your site. You can establish landing pages per campaign so that the link is only associated with your PR efforts, allowing you to track exactly where viewers are being pushed from.
Media Mentions. Much like social media, you can track media mentions similarly. This way you will be alerted whenever a news outlet mentions your business. Perhaps you are showcased in a publication, or quoted in an article, these qualify as “mentions”.
Media Impressions. Once you know where and what media has mentioned you, you can track potential impressions. Research the specific media outlet and determine their total circulation. This will give you a very general idea of your potential media impressions.
Surveys. Surveys, in a variety of ways, can also help determine success. Surveying your audiences or specific business market can help you gain insight into what they saw or learned about you through your public relations efforts. You can also survey new customers to determine how they found you.
These are just a few of the top ways you can determine and measure your public relations efforts. The most important thing to remember is that to best reach your goals and determine next steps, you need to know what is or is not working.
We hope you’ve learned more about what public relations is/entails and how important good PR strategies are in your overall marketing plan. Your business’s reputation is everything and can literally make or break your success. By building and maintaining the important relationships for your business—with the media, your customers, stakeholders, the general public, and even internally with your team—you can help ensure the image you want to project is actually the one being received. For more information and resources related to these topics, be sure to check out the following links:
For more information and resources related to these topics, be sure to check out the following links: