FAQ – The Public Relations Edition

If you’re an account, builder or photographer everybody knows what you do. Yet very few people can explain the role of a public relations practitioner. As a budding PR practitioner, I often find myself having to explain what public relations is and separate facts from fiction. So, I decided to put together some FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) to help.

What is Public Relations?

Public relations has historically meant different things to different people, which has resulted in confusion about the industry. But the industry body, PRINZ, says Public Relations’ core purpose is to build effective relationships using written, visual and verbal communication which support an organisation’s strategic goals and enable its licence to operate (operate a licence).

What do you do every day? 

In essence, PR practitioners are storytellers. We construct plans and create communication campaigns which support our clients’ organisational goals and strengthen the link between our clients and their important audiences. That means what we do will vary according to the needs of our clients: If they want to achieve a higher profile we might work on a media campaign, but if they need to build bridges with regulators or investors, for example, we would take a different approach. We act as crucial links between organisations and the people that are important to them. We do this using social media, traditional media management, crisis and issue management and strategic internal and external relations.

To cover this diverse range of work, we use a communications ‘toolkit’ which might include writing and distributing media releases, creating blogs and speeches, designing and executing special events, developing media and crisis strategies, and day-to-day communication tasks like newsletters and updates for staff and customers along with long term strategic planning and projects.

What’s the difference between PR and Propaganda?

There’s a common misconception that PR is ‘spin doctoring’ with similarities to propaganda because (and I quote) “they both lie.” While it’s true that both can shape perception and public opinion towards a desired outcome, there’s not a lot else in common. The main difference is honesty. Propaganda is based on half-truths and manipulation. PR professionals are ethically bound to be honest and PR claims must be verifiable. The other big difference is motivation. The underlying philosophy of propaganda is ‘us against them’ and it relies on one-way, top-down communication. Good PR works to build trust through relationships with target audiences for mutual benefits. If the information is based on truth, it’s ethical PR. If not, it’s propaganda.

What makes PR different from Marketing?

There’s an old saying “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” Advertising (and other marketing activities) is paid media while positive public relations is earned. In media, that means your story has relevance and is appealing to reporters and editors. A good public relations professional can spot a great story, craft it to highlight the things you want to say about your organisation and connect with the right people in the industry. The benefit of the organisation is that earned media has greater respect and credibility than advertising or other paid marketing.

CP Comms highlights this difference well stating, “marketing activities try to achieve direct revenue, while PR aims to drive a positive reputation through effective PR strategies.” These strategies often include media management and effective storytelling.

Why do I need a PR Strategy?

If you own, promote or manage a business and communicate with an audience you need a PR strategy. It’s a waste of time promoting messages without first considering your audience and what messages they wish to hear. A PR strategy will help you find the right audience to ensure your message will create a positive impact. It will also address underlying points you want your audience to understand throughout your activities. Here are 3 other reasons why you need a PR strategy…

  • Once your target audience and key messages have been determined it’s important to think about what publications you want your work to feature in. What publication will generate the most success for you? A PR strategy will help you do this.
  • A PR strategy also helps you determine goals, keep you accountable and measure campaign success. When this is implemented communication becomes easier and more effective. 
  • Your PR strategy will, of course, focus on the positive news for your businesses reputation but will also consider a comprehensive plan and response should an issue arise. The strategy will detail an approach to help mitigate any damage that may occur during a crisis.