Public Relations: What is PR and How Can It Grow Your Business?
What goals do you have for your business? Which of these goals doesn’t involve growth?
Right – they all involve growth.
Public relations plays an important part in achieving key business goals. This means it’s vital that your team is up to speed regarding PR and creating a solid PR strategy.
But before we delve into PR’s benefits, functions and how to build a plan, let’s look at exactly what public relations is.
What is PR?
Public relations, in a nutshell, is about building your brand’s relationship with your target audience.
It’s about the conversation you’re having, that others are having about your brand and even the conversation you didn’t know you were having.
PR is about your stories, your relationships and the earned media that allows you to influence your audiences and drive positive sentiment about your brand.
Sounds a little bit like marketing, right? Advertising? Sure.
But the difference is that marketing looks to beef up your bottom line, while advertising gets the word out about your brand through paid tactics.
In public relations, influencing reporters, bloggers and editors to write and run a story on your brand is the best way to get positive brand exposure – but not always the easiest. Your news, opinion or breaking story appears within the editorial portion of a magazine or website – instead of appearing in a “paid” advertorial section.
What does this mean? It means you, your story and your brand gains instant credibility because a trusted third party delivered the news.
However, PR is more than just a strategy.
Yes, you use it to help your brand attain specific goals – but, when done right, it helps your brand, your media contacts and your target audiences all at the same time.
So, what does good PR look like?
There are a variety of tactics to employ in PR—such as press releases, social media posts, editorial and journalistic pitches and content creation.
Never written a press release before? Our press release templates illustrate the sections you'll cover and the proper formatting.
From there, good PR strategy extends to winning accolades for product or service excellence to speaking engagements. All these tactics help you to generate positive media coverage—and your well-written, authoritative content can earn backlinks that expose you to different demographics (to which you might otherwise not have had access).
But to really leverage these strategies, you need to explore them in context.
PR has undergone a facelift in recent years, and to properly navigate the industry waters, you must understand why these changes have taken place. And the best way to understand these changes is to dig into the career of a public relations strategist.
What Is It like to Work in Public Relations?
Working in PR can be quite a challenge—but also extremely rewarding.
For instance, you could receive invitations to attend press events and charity balls to represent your brand. This exposure gives you more room to rub elbows with writers, angel investors and CEOs across all different industries.
But that’s not all.
You can learn the ins and outs across industries, such as entertainment, the arts, tech and fashion (just to name a few). This exposure can lead to good relationships and even better press.
You get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how these other industries function, which can help you within your own.
That sounds fantastic—but are there any challenges to working in PR?
As with any aspect of business, there are challenges.
PR is a lightning-speed industry. To be successful, you must always be a step ahead of the current news cycle.
In other words, keeping a watchful eye on breaking stories and trends in the media is vital to capitalizing on them. But to do this, you must think at lightning speed also.
For pitches to journalists related to breaking news, you must send your ideas to a journalist at least within the same day as the story broke— if not within the hour.
Similarly, you can’t control the cycle of news.
For instance, you might have sent in an impeccable pitch to a member of the media. They might slate your story to run within the day—but if any other news breaks before your story airs or sees print, it could get pushed out a few days (or sometimes it might not air or go to print at all).
Worst of all, you could be sending out fantastic pitches but not getting any bites from the media.
Another uncontrollable aspect of PR is the unexpected crisis. In public relations, you’re tasked with influencing audiences to create a positive public image of your brand.
As such, you’re on the front lines when it comes to disaster: be it legal, technical or even natural.
Sure, you can’t control the wind. But learning crisis management strategies can help you tackle anything with grace and finesse with the best interests of your brand at heart.
Content Marketing and Public Relations: How Do These Work Together?
If the above sounds a bit like content marketing, it’s because there are quite a few key themes that go together with great PR skills.
For instance, content marketing focuses on gaining and building trust, providing something of value and avoiding blatant self-promotion.
In recent years, there’s been an uptick in the alignment between public relations and content marketing – mostly due to the fact that these are two of the most essential functions of running a business and maintaining brand perception.
Above, we mentioned that it’s better to make an editorial or organic appearance rather than to appear in advertisements.
While this is true, and content marketing is a type of advertising, you’re not necessarily paying for it monetarily—but rather with blood, sweat, and tears if you attempt to write your own content.
But, there are aspects of your industry that you’re probably an expert in and this is your chance to show off that knowledge in a relatable way and establish yourself as an expert in your field or industry.
This is probably the best organic means of growing your base and reaching your intended audience(s). And creating a content strategies checklist helps to align your communication efforts.
Are Marketing and Public Relations Connected?
According to a 2017 report from the University of Southern California, 47 percent of PR professionals and 61 percent of marketing professionals believe that public relations and marketing are heading towards greater alignment.
But just because these two industries believe closer alignment is on the way, it doesn’t mean these strategies are the same.
While PR and marketing certainly complement each other, they are ultimately very different.
For instance, as you read above, writing well-researched and knowledgeable content on your company blog is a fantastic tool for organic reach. At the same time, you shouldn’t expect one content piece to bolster your brand into the credible resource your audience would trust.
To generate, earn and build this type of relationship with your audience, you must create high-quality content on a consistent basis, maintaining that connection with your audience over a sustained period of time. Once your audience becomes aware that they can come to your brand for helpful insights and valuable content, you’ve earned their trust.
It does take time to earn this trust, but you can accelerate the process with good press. Whenever your brand gets mentioned anywhere in media, such as being tagged in mentions on Twitter, if that mention is well-placed and positive, you’ll build trust much more quickly.
Let’s say a celebrity mentions your brand in a positive manner on social media. You gain instant credibility when they sing your praises because the public already has faith in them.
Again, validation from a reputable third-party entity boosts your reach, expands your audience and benefits your brand.
But, you can’t have public relations without content marketing and vice versa. Understanding the relationship between the two is crucial.
How does that work, though?
Your brand’s content is its foundation. Every piece of content that you can control, such as your:
- Online newsroom
- Social media
- Press releases
…is how you begin establishing your brand. It’s how you illustrate your expertise and become a leader within your industry.
All the above content is extremely valuable. As you build your content foundation, secure various press opportunities, such as:
- Quotes in press releases or articles
- Mentions on social platforms
- Podcast interviews
As you continue building your reputation, you may even win various awards due to your thought leadership, which can lead to highly prized speaking engagements.
All the above can be organically obtained, or you can actively pursue the opportunities. Regardless, it’s all made possible thanks to your brand’s content foundation.
The positive press you continue to obtain allows you to reach outside of your target audience and gain new audiences—who’ll trust what you and your brand have to say.
That sounds lovely on paper. But how exactly do you get from newbie to thought leader? What should you communicate about, and how should you communicate it?
The Story in Public Relations
Two methods of storylines present themselves in public relations:
- Writing a story
- Following current stories (aka “rapid response”)
Writing a Story
This is probably the most common storytelling form in PR. Brands use this form of storytelling to plug something new, such as:
Writing a story is perfect for providing business updates to decision makers. News and stories related to company mergers or awards won are incredible jumping off points.
If you’re a fantastic storyteller or writer, you can:
- Approach independent publications with topics, and ask for a byline
- Write an op-ed on a controversial topic
- Share stories that matter to you or your brand via social media
Sharing photos and videos, either made by you or thought leaders in your industry, is also a method for distinguishing your brand from others.
Some companies even host events or take part in speaking engagements. This is fantastic for solidifying your foothold over a market or niche, but it can take a lot of time and money. Not to mention, there’s no real guarantee that the event or engagement will receive coverage on a major outlet.
Universities have budgets that cover this, but startups and other small businesses aren’t always equipped to cover these expenses. Instead, coming up with short surveys that you can give over the phone or via email can shed light on issues that outlets might find newsworthy – and it takes much less time and resources to implement.
Following Current Stories
When an opportunity knocks, you open the door.
In other words, if you see a story in the news that speaks to you or your brand, respond. There are all types of stories that you can connect to your brand in some way via rapid response, such as:
- Stock market plummets
- Political scandals
- Economic consequences of natural disasters
When journalists are capturing stories and their responses, they often seek out an expert in the field to join them live during the broadcast. This can be via telephone, video, social media or even an instant messenger.
The expert comments and answers questions to the media in real-time.
The faster you respond to these types of stories and reach out to news outlets, the better your chances of landing new connections, followers, and most of all, media coverage.
How Can PR Help Your Small Business?
Whether your small business is new or somewhat established, including PR as part of your growth strategy is vital.
Putting a public relations plan into action lets you authenticate your brand’s identity practically and cost-efficiently.
Public relations allows you to:
Public relations gets your name out there. If people don’t know you exist, they won’t be looking for you.
Including a PR strategy can supplement your advertising and marketing efforts, as well as increase your visibility on the web by raising your search ranking.
Attract New Clients or Customers
When the products or services you sell begin to gain traction in the media, you instantly gain credibility within your audience. When your audience views positive stories about your brand, it influences these potential buyers to look to you rather than a similar company that gets negative coverage— or no coverage at all.
This is especially important if your brand is a startup in need of operating funds.
Perfectly positioned public relations strategies generate coverage in a positive light, which gives you ultimate leverage when beginning negotiations with potential investors.
Not to mention, a perfectly-executed PR plan makes your brand appear more well-established, which can lead to both funding and potential partnerships.
Discover New Talent
Public relations isn’t just about growing your brand externally. Companies are always in search of new talent.
Positions can open due to industry fluctuations, retirement or other reasons. By positioning your brand as a leader, you’ll entice qualified candidates looking for a successful company to work for.
Public relations is a highly beneficial aspect of your overall business growth and must be the foundation of your marketing strategy—and PR software can also help get you there.
How to Create a PR Plan for Today’s Business Climate
Having a PR plan is a necessity for your business – but simply having a plan won’t achieve any benefits if the plan isn’t properly designed and executed.
To build the type of PR plan that rewards your brand, you must:
- Identify your target audience – both media and consumers
- Discover where they interact online and how they receive information
- Create compelling content directed at your audiences
- Craft story pitches and press releases for media
- Distribute pitches and press releases to the media
- Earn media coverage
- Proactively engage and interact with your audiences to keep relationships alive
- Analyze the impact of your communications and refine your strategy
Your first step to reach an audience is to know who the audience is and where they spend time online.
Who do you want to reach? Where do they go to find content they’re interested in? Are there current industry thought leaders that your audience consistently seeks out for trustworthy content?
When you can identify these aspects of your audience, you can begin crafting the type of content they’ll find appealing.
This content can be anything from a fully-fleshed out press release to an outline of a topic. It can even be as little as an idea for a topic or a simple story angle. What matters is that it delivers value and substance. But it also needs to consider the balance between your brand and your audience. Ask yourself if the content you’re preparing:
- Aligns with the goals of your brand
- Offers unique value to your audience
- Meshes with the voice of the thought leader you’re reaching out to
If the answer to any of the above is “no,” simply massage the piece, topic or idea until it’s balanced and valuable to all involved.
Before you can get your content published, however, you must reach out to media contacts, bloggers and thought leaders in your industry.
Understandably, these individuals get bombarded daily by PR pros and other individuals seeking the same thing for their brands or organizations. If these reporters, bloggers, and editors are so busy, how do you reach them?
First, you must create a pitch. And just like music, it must be pitch-perfect.
You need to cut through their email clutter. To do so, your email should be as compelling as possible, to the point and respectful of the receiving individual’s time. Where do you start?
The subject line of your email.
It shouldn’t be generic. Something like, “Pitch Idea for XYZ Company” isn’t going to grab their attention enough to open your email. Once you’ve got the subject line created, ensure the body of the email clearly explains:
- Who you are
- Your pitch
- Why you’re sending the pitch
- Why it matters
Sometimes, your pitch won’t get picked up. But those times when they accept your pitch? When they publish your story? Congrats!
But you’re not finished just yet.
You’ve earned the press you wanted and now you need to alert your marketing team so they can use it.
Does your website have a press page? It should. On a press page, your team can add badges, such as “As Seen in the New Yorker,” or whatever publication picks up your pitch.
Once you’ve got the link to your press, start spreading the news! Send an email to your contacts pointing them towards your article, post it on your social media platforms and consider adding the link in your email signature for a credibility boost the next time you reach out for coverage.
The more visibility your press coverage has, the more potential it has for exponential reach. This is central to the goals of public relations and it bolsters all your brand’s strategies.
Then, you can use a press monitoring service to analyze the impact of your communications and refine your strategy.
The growth of your brand can be positively impacted through a solid PR strategy.
When properly executed, PR plans allow you to influence media, generate valuable press placements, earn credibility and build trust among the target audience that matters most to you.
Knowing exactly what public relations is and how it complements the work advertising and marketing teams do is vital to reaching your brand’s full potential.
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