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What Is Public Relations…and Why Do I Need It?

news reporters 3Public relations has been defined as “the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public.”  In a very general sense, this is true.

More accurate, however, is the most recent definition offered by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA):  “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

In short, PR is any activity designed to keep a brand or company top-of-mind within a particular industry and among targeted consumers. Nothing screams “credibility” like having others talk about your business in a positive way.

Public Relations Is Not Advertising - It's Earned

Public Relations is not the same as advertising. While advertising is “purchased media exposure,” PR is “earned media exposure.” Public Relations specialists are “image shapers.” They generate positive publicity for their clients and enhance their reputations. They handle consumer relations.

PR requires a third party (a newspaper, trade publication, blog) to endorse or talk about a brand or company.

Successful PR people are excellent communicators – in print, in person and on the phone. They cultivate and maintain contacts with media staff, arrange speaking engagements, write speeches and annual reports, respond to inquiries and speak directly to the press on behalf of their clients. They must maintain open lines of communication between the many factions affected by their client’s products and policies, including consumers, shareholders, employees, and company management.

Public relations is an important part of an overall company strategy. It provides potential channels to drive traffic, acquire customers, and ultimately increase awareness of your business in the marketplace. Effective PR helps to build a positive reputation for your company, while simultaneously conveying your message to your targeted customers.

The Tools of the Trade

News ConferenceThe types of key tools available to carry out the public relations function include:

Press Releases

Information that is communicated via mainstream media (newspapers, magazines, regular TV and/or radio programming) achieves a much bigger impact than traditional advertising. This is due to the fact that most people consider such information more trustworthy and meaningful than paid ads. As a result, the press release is one of the oldest and most effective PR tools available. (As PR people know, many story ideas for newspapers, magazines and television news often start with a suggestion from a PR representative.)

In garnering media coverage, PR professionals work with the media to place stories about products, companies and company spokespeople. This is done by developing interesting and relevant story angles that are pitched to the media.

Press releases may include audio or video news releases. These are prerecorded features distributed to news media, to be included within regular media programming. For instance, a local news report about amusement parks may include portions of a video news release from a national amusement park company.


PR professionals who have captured names and addresses of customers and potential customers can use a newsletter for regular contact with their targeted audience. Newsletters can be distributed either by regular mail or electronic means (i.e., e-newsletters delivered via email or RSS feed).

The intention of the newsletter is to provide content of interest to customers, as well as information on products and promotions. For instance, a manufacturer may include information on safety, compliance, labor, training, and continuous improvement. Effective newsletters are sought out by and well received by interested audiences.

Blogging and Social Media

PR specialists use the digital forms of press releases and newsletters to reach their online audience, but they also use blogging and social media. These tools allow them to create and maintain a relationship with the target audience while establishing a two-way direct communication with the public, consumers, investors and other targeted groups. 


Businesses often use sponsorships to help build goodwill and brand recognition by associating with a particular event or group. The PR person is responsible for investigating sponsorship opportunities to find those that reach the company’s target audience. Local, regional, national and international sponsorship opportunities range from a local golf tournament or concert to the Olympics.

Most organizations seeking company sponsors provide data on event audience and media exposure opportunities (such as signage, T-shirts and public announcements). Public relations staff then use this information to help match sponsorship opportunities with their company’s objectives.

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