So What Is PR, Anyway?


Sex in the City ruined it for us all. It introduced Samantha, a glamorous PR executive that convinced hoards of teenagers that being in PR meant fancy parties, celebrity events, and red carpets. In reality, this is very far from the truth (for most of us, anyway) and as a result, created even more confusion surrounding what PR is. I have to admit, straight out of college even I thought PR would be much fancier than it actually is. This immediately ended when I found myself working for a PR agency in NYC chasing a celebrity who disappeared from an event and carrying pounds of bags of ice down the New York City streets in the rain.

Last week on this blog I tried to dispel some common myths of PR but then it dawned on me that I never actually explained what I believe PR is and how it can help. After working in this industry for multiple years and going to grad school for marketing, I often wrongfully assume that a majority know what it means. On the flip side, I often hear people claim things to be PR that aren’t, or completely miss the mark about what it is. The important thing to remember here is that good PR is very different from just doing PR at all. It’s also important to note that if good PR is happening, often times, you as a consumer won’t even realize it. For example, did you know that Kale (yes, the cult superfood) hired a PR agency?

PR stands for public relations after all, so at a very, very basic level and in a highly simplified way, it’s how a brand interacts and engages with “its public.” This sounds super contrived, but really, “public” can mean anything from consumers in real life (events, conferences etc.) or in the digital space. It’s also working to get messages out to the right people, at the right time, in the right way (yes, there are a lot of things that have to go right.) Above all though, it’s helping people reach their long-term goals and creating a strong authentic brand strategy to do just that.

Just like the rest of the world, PR has evolved very quickly and has changed rapidly, especially in the past few years. There’s no way to explain an entire complicated ecosystem of an industry in one blog post, but I will do my best to summarize my thoughts on it.

In further explaining what I believe PR is, it might be helpful to first start with what it is not.

Good PR is not:

  • Casting a wide net and targeting anyone and everyone with a working email address
  • Just sending emails, period
  • Focusing on and talking about product features and benefits
  • Short-term oriented
  • Done in isolation
  • Lying or deceptive
  • The answer to a shoddy product
  • Just taking things as they are without exploring at a deeper level
  • One-size-fits all

Good PR is:

  • Strategic: PR starts way before media receives an email (or at least it should.) A good PR person will begin by talking to you about both your PR and business goals. They will begin from the top and funnel inward and won’t just take your word for it. They will do some digging and ask you some deeper level questions that will make you think about things differently. They will then take this information to understand who you are, what your values are, and how they can best help you reach your goals.
  • Storytelling: This word is overused, but there’s truly no better way to say it. The media and the world, really) is inundated with new ideas and products daily, sometimes multiple times a day. People care about things they can connect with on a deeper level beyond the surface. Often your most valuable asset is you. Yes, you created a cool product, idea, app, or game, but what motivated you, who are you, and why is the world better because you created it?
  • Objective: When you have been spending months or even years working on something, it’s hard for you to remain objective or even tell what the most important or newsworthy part of what you are doing is. A good PR person will be honest with you and tell you what is important, what isn’t, and what will resonate best.
  • Authentic: This goes back to one of the most common misconceptions people have of PR. Can it be deceptive? Sure. But good PR is honest and tells who you really are.
  • Powerful: Recently I have had several people ask me for a guaranteed number of media placements. Yes, I am results-oriented, very much so. But I’m going to be honest here, if you want a guaranteed number, you should be utilizing advertising, not PR. There’s no surefire way to know exactly how many media folks are going to grasp on to a particular story or know if a big company will make a huge unexpected announcement that day that steals your thunder. However, unlike advertising, I believe PR is much more powerful. It’s someone else saying why they think what you are doing is cool which is always better than you saying it yourself. Also, how often do you remember an ad you saw or even watch them or notice them at all anymore? PR is much more memorable and also does a much better job of authentically communicating who you are and what sets you apart.
  • Long-Term Goal Oriented: Most people who are passionate about what they are doing want to have the time, ability, and finances to do more of it. By utilizing PR to garner momentum and excitement about what you are doing, you will be able to build loyalty and engagement over time. Just thinking about your strategy in terms of this one thing you are working on at this particular moment won’t help you reach your long term goals because next time you have a “thing” you’ll likely have to start from scratch. Planning your long-term goals and using a PR roadmap to get there will likely prove much more effective.
  • Good Relationship Building: It’s a PR person’s job to cultivate and foster good relationships. This often happens over a period of years building relationships and a rapport with media, other industry folks and online communities. These relationships are very precious to us and are something that always needs to be handled with care. This is one of the reasons a good PR person will only take on projects they believe in. A good PR person won’t send their contacts something they don’t think is worthy.
  • Customizable: Good PR isn’t using the same tactics and strategies and recycling them over and over. It’s finding out the goals of a particular person or company, and then creating a customizable plan for how to best reach them. Are press releases always the best option? No. Are they a good strategy sometimes? Yes. Your goals, your budget, and who you are should determine the strategies and tactics utilized, not some “industry standard.”

I stand by what I said last week, that PR desperately needs a little PR and a lot more understanding. The most important takeaway, is that not all PR is the same, just like not all people, products, or ideas are the same. But I do strongly believe that it can be a highly effective tool to help you accomplish your long-term goals.

I hope this post begins to clarify a bit of what I believe PR is and isn’t. I’ll definitely be delving more specifically into some of these things and other common issues and questions, too. Thanks for hanging out and reading!

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