If someone asks my dad what I do for a living, he'll say "social media" without an ounce of confidence as to whether or not it's actually correct. If you ask me, I say "I help small businesses with their marketing and public relations efforts." Most people know what marketing is, but only have a slight idea as to what public relations entails.
So, being a professional communicator, I'm here to clear up the confusion on what public relations is and explain why it's important for your business, no matter the size or industry.
What is public relations?
Merriam-Webster defines public relations as "the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution." Basically, PR is the behind-the-scenes work to introduce society to a brand, product, organization, or company in a positive light. Public relations generally relies on earned media (unpaid) in outlets such as newspapers, magazines, television programs, and the like.
In some cases, public relations works to reverse a brand's current reputation. If a company has a crisis, like Volkswagen did with its 2015 emissions scandal, PR teams have to be quick to create and execute a crisis communications strategy to protect (or salvage) a brand's reputation.
Public relations tends to focus around media outreach, or reaching out to the media (reporters, editors, producers, etc.) and pitching them to cover your brand, products, services, events, or announcements in a story or offering yourself (or another staff member) as an interview source for topics related to your business.
How do you start a PR campaign?
The first step in any media outreach campaign is to create a detailed and accurate media list. There are different tools to help you find media contacts, such as Cision, Meltwater, and Muckrack, but they tend to be expensive. Some good ole fashioned research takes more time, but it can help you build an accurate list. When reading or watching the news, take notes on who's covering what, and check online to find their contact information (I've found that Twitter can be really helpful for this).
After you know who you need to reach, you then need convince them that your story is more important than all of the other stories being thrown their way. Your pitch needs to quickly explain why your story is important and why it matters to the outlet's audience. At its heart, media outreach is a sales position.
Once the media is interested in covering the stories, interviews are then set up, sources are shared, and coverage is tracked.
Why not just focus on marketing?
Marketing is an effective channel to reach new audiences, remind past customers about your brand, and drive sales. However, consumers trust earned media more than any form of paid advertising because of its third-party credibility, a 2015 Nielsen study showed.
Public relations shouldn't be the only communications channel your brand pursues. To be most effective, it should complement your other online and offline efforts. And, use your other marketing channels, such as social media, your website, and email marketing, to share the media coverage you achieved.
Want to get noticed by the media, but don't know where to start? Leg Up offers public relations strategies, outreach campaigns, and media trainings for small businesses and start-ups. Learn more about our services, and drop us a line if you'd like to learn more.