Even though I’ve worked in this field for more than 30 years, family members and friends still ask me, “What IS public relations?” And with good reason.
It’s not an easy industry to define. Webster’s says: “public relations is the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution. Also: the degree of understanding and goodwill achieved.”
Well, “yes, and. . .”
Public relations is so much more. The over-arching goal is, yes, to help a brand or institution’s publics better understand its purpose with the goal of engendering customer loyalty. But that takes many forms.
It could be getting a very visible influencer to wear your client’s clothing; or to secure the Mayor of your town to cut the ribbon for your organization’s new facility; or to capture the attention of venture capitalists in Silicon Valley who then will help fund your startup; or to insert your client into a trending news conversation; and yes, sometimes, it’s also to get on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Or maybe it’s all of the above?
In truth, public relations must be tailored to each individual organization or client. You start first with the goal. What is it I want to achieve for this business? Then you clarify the strategy – namely, how do I get there? Then, you identify the target audiences (who are you trying to reach?). And then you think about how those target audiences obtain information and make decisions: is it through influencers, word of mouth, traditional media, social media platforms – or even digital marketing? Then you figure out the tactics that support such a campaign.
So, public relations for Old Navy (a former client) might include hosting a Betsy Ross look-alike contest to help sell American flag T-shirts around Flag Day; or it might mean “crowning” newborns at a San Francisco hospital (another client) on the day that Prince Archie was born; or it might mean a video of a coyote and a badger making friends and going viral on the Internet, in support of the work that (client) Peninsula Open Space Trust continues to do.
In truth, public relations is all the ways that you work to create a positive public reputation for your business.