For many people, public relations remains a bit of a mystery. If pushed for an answer, most will say something about press releases and crisis management. While PR does involve both of these things, this barely touches the sides!
Do you want to increase your company’s credibility, grow awareness, and build its reputation? These are the vital foundations that all businesses are based on, and this is what an effective public relations strategy delivers.
In this guide to PR I provide a step-by-step walkthrough on the most important aspects of public relations, including:
So first off, what exactly is PR? This question stumps a lot of people and often takes up whole chapters of overly technical explanations in PR for Beginners books.
I’ll start with the textbook definition of PR, from the Public Relations Society of America:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Not very helpful, right? Well that’s the textbook definition, but here’s a much better explanation of what PR actually is:
“If a young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is – that’s advertising. If the young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is – that’s PR.” S. H. Simmons
So let’s unpack this a little. Public relations is the art of building all the positive attributes of a company into a narrative that supports the company’s goals. The media is then used to broadcast that narrative to their audiences. In PR talk, getting your business mentioned in the media, such as in an article, is termed as winning earned media.
The point in winning earned media is to create the factors required to help a company achieve its goals. A goal could be to increase sales or win new clients. A PR strategy can deliver this both directly and indirectly. Winning earned media can directly drive more traffic to a website, such as via click throughs on backlinks. While more importantly, building credibility and increasing awareness through earned media will indirectly drive more business and improve conversion.
As the above shows, the media is the conduit through which a company delivers their public relations strategy. Therefore, building relationships with journalists, bloggers and other media influencers is vital. How you build relationships, earn media and deliver a public relations strategy is explained in this guide to public relations.
Public Relations is as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Winning earned media and getting a company name in print is sometimes viewed as the sole objective of PR. But this is just the means through which the broader aims of a PR strategy can be delivered. So what are these aims?
Well, these depend on the individual goals of each business. Some common examples for startups and other businesses are to secure funding, increase sales, or win new clients. The goals of a PR strategy would then be to help create the factors required to achieve these aims. These often include the following:
As discussed above, PR’s primary objective is to help create the underlying factors required for a company to succeed. On the other hand, marketing’s primary objective is to increase revenue by directly driving more business to a company.
The methods of public relations and marketing are very similar, as both rely on the media to get their message out to their target audience. The key difference here is that with PR activity, you win earned media in editorially produced content at no direct cost. For example, TechCrunch writes a review about your product. But with marketing, you directly pay for advertisements in media channels, which is termed as paid media. For example, newspaper ads, sponsored Tweets and Google Ads.
People sometimes ask “why not just put all your resources into marketing, as it has a direct and immediate impact?”
The answer is that a good PR strategy supports a company’s marketing efforts. Consumers need to have sufficient trust in a brand, before they’re willing to part with their cash. And earned media is the most effective way of building this trust. In which case, spending money on marketing before this trust has been built will limit a business’s ROI.
The PR landscape in 2019 looks very different compared to just a few years ago. As such, many PR guides are already out of date. Traditional media such as newspapers and magazines have continued their trend of ever-shrinking circulation numbers. Meanwhile, the troubles faced by this industry stand in stark contrast to online media outlets and influencers, who now possess more power than ever. Add to this mix the one hundred million startups that recent estimates calculate are founded each year, all fighting to be heard.
In response to this, the PR industry, much like the marketing industry, has evolved rapidly over the last decade or so. Many within the industry now split PR activities between “traditional” and “digital”:
While traditional PR is still important to many companies, digital PR has arguably supplanted traditional PR in importance for many others. For example, many startups leverage the techniques of digital PR to efficiently build their digital footprint. Whereas traditional PR activities like crisis management and brand maintenance are less important services.
Digital PR also provides secondary benefits, including natural link building via backlinks in earned media, which provides a direct SEO benefit. Quality referral traffic is also generated via click-throughs. And of course, as with anything digital, progress such as online mentions, social shares, site visits and organic positions can be tracked and measured, on a click by click basis.
You can view Inbound PR as an extension of digital PR. It combines the content creation and media outreach of public relations, with the metrics and measurement of inbound marketing.
This approach to PR allows businesses to better quantify their ROI and optimize their strategy more effectively as they go. For example, if you’re not getting the share of voice you set out to achieve, you can analyze weak spots with your data and tweak your strategy.
So as the above explains, the main point of PR is to help companies and brands build factors such as trust, legitimacy and reputation. These are the foundations that all companies need, in order to grow and achieve their goals. And you build these factors by getting your narrative into earned media.
What is earned media exactly?
When we refer to earned media for PR, we mean any channel or medium of influence, that has some form of editorial control. You win earned media by offering something that’s considered to be editorially relevant to that media’s target audience. Some common examples of earned media include getting mentioned in a newspaper article or receiving a professional review.
It’s also important to place earned media in context. A combined PR, marketing and coms strategy has four broadly defined media channels that can be leveraged. Earned media is one of these.
The best way of visualising this is by using the PESO model, which was created by Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks
As the model shows, businesses have four media channels through which to reach their target audience:
Paid media is the domain of marketing, so doesn’t form part of a public relations strategy. But shared and owned media both play an important role in supporting a company’s public relations efforts.
Content produced on owned media, as part of a content strategy, can be picked up by media outlets and become an earned media win. At the same time, owned media content also plays an important part in supporting the narrative you’re trying to build through earned media.
Shared media, meanwhile, can be used to amplify any earned media wins, such as retweeting and sharing any links to earned media. Shared media is also an important tool for building relationships with media influencers, the gatekeepers to earned media.
Many people believe this to mean only social media influencers, or influencer marketing (which is not PR at all). When it comes to public relations, this simply means anyone who’s an opinion former or trendsetter, or who can amplify your message to an audience.
To be an opinion former or trendsetter, you need a following and a platform, as well as respectability and authoritativeness. This was a pretty self contained list in the pre-digital media era, such as journalists, columnists, industry experts, and tv and radio producers. But in today’s fragmented media landscape, there are many different types of influencers.
Influencers are the gatekeepers to earned media. To snag an interview on a top business podcast, get a marketing guru to mention your company, or have your product featured in TechCrunch all relies on winning over influencers. Firstly you need to identify influencers relevant to you, your industry and your brand, then work hard over the longterm to build relationships with them.
How to Find Relevant Influencers
Targeting the correct influencers is a vital part of a PR plan. Work through these steps to identify the influencers that are the most relevant to you and your PR strategy goals:
What are you trying to achieve with your PR Strategy?
Who do you need to reach to achieve those goals?
What media do they consume?
Who are the influencers operating within this media that are the most relevant to your brand and your message?
In the old days, large companies could pretty much just send out a press release as and when they had something to announce. Journalists would then willingly write these up into articles, and hey presto, they would win earned media.
I’m afraid to say this approach to PR no longer cuts the mustard in 2019. While press releases do still play an important role in a well balanced PR strategy, companies need to be far more imaginative. After all, the average startup only has a limited number of genuinely newsworthy announcements to turn into press releases each year.
How then do you win earned media on a regular basis when you don’t have any big company announcements up your sleeve?
You need to develop a PR plan where you’re regularly approaching journalists and other media influencers with interesting ideas and pitches. These need to help further your narrative, tie in with your product and have wider relevance to your industry or something topical in the newscycle. Effective media monitoring can really help to inform your pitches. The below infographic explains the thought process a little more clearly.
Once you’ve come up with a killer idea to win earned media, you then need to pitch it. Who your target audience is will dictate which journalists, reporters and other media influencers you pitch to.
Read our post on how to find journalists’ contact details and the best tools to use to do this.
When you have your list of journalists to contact, you then need to write the pitch. Here are some of the main types of PR pitches:
The impact of PR, just like any other business function, needs to be measured and tracked. A common misconception is that the effects of PR are intangible and can’t be quantified.
It’s true that in the pre-digital era measuring the impact of PR could be difficult. But in the digital age, that’s all changed. And while you can’t necessarily put a number on credibility, there are many other things you definitely can and should measure.
These are measurements of your earned media wins. As winning earned media is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, these measure the outputs of this. This enables you to see if you’re on the right track with your media wins.
Key output metrics include:
- Mentions – how many mentions did you get in different pieces of earned media
- Share of Voice – the number of mentions you received versus competitors
- Backlinks – how many backlinks you won through earned media
- Sentiments – qualitative assessment of what is being said about your brand in earned media wins
- End audience reach – qualitative assessment of whether the media outlets containing your earned media wins are consumed by your target audience
Key performance indicators (KPIs) measure the impact of your PR activity against your PR goals. As your PR goals are dependent on your business goals, KPIs can vary from company-to-company.
Common KPIs include:
- Website referral traffic – how much traffic is landing on your site from earned media referrals
- Lead volume – how many leads are you capturing and where are they coming from
- Conversion – how is lead closure rate tracking relative to key output metrics
- Organic traffic – what’s your share and volume of organic traffic, relative to positional gains
- Social engagements – how many people are engaging with your content and social channels
Regular media monitoring is essential in order to gather the data for this. Read our post on the best tools to use for media monitoring in 2019.
So these are the broad strokes of public relations. You know now what PR is and what it’s used for, how earned media is the channel through which a PR strategy is delivered, and how to win earned media and measure results.
And a final point to end on, which is also a very important one.
PR, like most business functions, is something that requires continual effort. Sending out a press release as and when you have something to announce is no longer an effective strategy in 2019.
You need to build relationships with the media and continually offer them interesting and original content. Over time, as your media wins start to increase and your brand becomes more established, you’ll start reaping the rewards that this brings.
Now you’ve read our guide to PR, download our PR for Growth Playbook 2019. This is a PR for beginners playbook, providing a step-by-step guide on all aspects of PR.