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Sunday, June 15, 2014

What is Public Relations?

Although the formal practice of public relations is said to have emerged around the early 20th century, most historians point to the creation of the Publicity Bureau in 1900 as the founding of the public relations (PR) profession. Today, the Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “A strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Your “publics” could be anyone—governments, stakeholders, non-profits, individuals or your customers—and can include the many groups that possess a stake in the organization’s future.

While seemingly simple and straightforward, even this definition of PR may not be enough to clarify what is often perceived as an ambiguous field that traverses numerous specialties. Still, most marketers can agree that the No. 1 job of PR specialists is to generate positive public awareness around a brand. These specialists accomplish this by using earned media rather than paid media to inform the public about the organization’s purpose, products and services.

PR: Why Is It Important?
Despite the ongoing debate about PR’s role and its relevancy within the marketing mix, for many organizations, PR remains an integral component of a marketing plan. As stated by Brandchannel’s Dannielle Blumenthal, “One implication is that PR grows the reputation to protect the brand.” In other words, PR is essential to protecting a brand’s reputation and increasing brand awareness.

Time and time again, bad crisis management has damaged powerful brands beyond repair. For example, BP’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon incident is ranked as one of the worst public relations disasters in corporate history. The company’s failure to establish prompt crisis management measures, which included the botched cleanup of an oil spill estimated to have released over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, has attached a negative stigma, perhaps permanently, to the company’s public image.

Additionally, PR is just as important for small organizations as it is for multinational corporations. PR creates a sense of transparency around your brand, communicating to your customers, investors and even your employees that your business is trustworthy and dependable. The theory is that, as you continue to be transparent and build your organization’s trustworthiness, you also help to insulate it from future crises and public scandals.

For new entrepreneurs and startups looking to build a name in their industry and attract future customers, brand reputation will be a significant part of the success of those new companies. Ultimately, consumers and other businesses avoid purchasing from companies that are unethical or that fail to deliver on their brand promises. PR’s job is to communicate your company’s values and actions objectively, so as to build trust with your target audience and credibility around your brand.

Elements of PR
Public relations is considered part of promotion, one of the four pillars of the marketing mix. It can either be done in-house with PR specialists, managers and directors, or it can be outsourced to an agency. Hiring an outside consultant can give you access to resources and media connections that you lack inside your own organization. On the other hand, doing PR in-house gives you more control over the PR budget and process from start to finish.

Regardless of which route you take, some industry proponents advise doing PR before you even launch your business. Luckily, there are a myriad of tools you can use to carry out an effective PR campaign and increase your visibility in the media.

Here are a few examples of what you’ll need to get your PR activities off the ground and start building relationships with reporters, bloggers, analysts and other media outlets that will have an impact on your stakeholders:

Writing press releases is an inexpensive yet effective way to get media attention. Companies typically write press releases for the editor of a newspaper, magazine, trade journal or other publication that focuses on your target audience.

For instance, if you’re planning to launch a catering service, you’ll want to send press releases to food magazines, blogs and other media in the food sector. The press release will include your contact information, headline and, most importantly, the main angle of your story (e.g. new product release, leadership announcement, acquisition, etc.).

While sending a press release via email is always an option, PR specialists commonly use PR Newswire, Marketwired, SBWire and other popular wire services for disseminating press releases to subscribing news organizations. Mashable also has a list of 20 free press release distribution sites for more affordable newswire options.

Although a press release can serve as the basis for a news story, blogs and informational articles can also serve as endorsements of your brand. Entrepreneurs and executives of big brands often guest-blog on major blogs that have a wide following of readers.

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