According to Monster.com, one of the fastest growing and most competitive fields is Public Relations (PR). That, coupled with significant projected growth in the next 3-5 years*, means many more PR professionals will be in demand and at the ready to jump into new positions.
If you’re reading this, you may be looking for a refresher in all things PR or perhaps you’re starting a new career track in PR. PR has evolved so much in the past decade thanks to technology and with the pandemic, that many strategies have changed—so there is a lot to catch up on.
Let’s start with the basics, shall we?
What is Public Relations?
When it comes to PR, its definition has evolved significantly over the years, especially as its role with the public and technology has changed (more on that later). According to PRSA, “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” This is pretty straightforward: PR’s goal is to strengthen the partnership between a company and those that are valuable to the success of the company.
Despite the changes PR has undergone, its objectives of building relationships with stakeholders (such as media, customers, investors, and partners, etc.) to influence, protect and manage a company’s reputation, and engagement has remained constant.
Is PR like Marketing?
In short, no, but they are in the same family. PR is a function within Marketing that uses strategic messaging and non-paid media channels (we’ll get more into that below) to create, maintain, or improve a company’s reputation, relationships, and brand image with the “public.” The “public” can be defined as parties that you do not do business with, but are important for your company. Think: community, media, employees, investors, etc.
PR can also sometimes be confused with strictly “Media Relations”, which is a tactic of PR. This is because a major role of PR is to engage with journalists and editors to reactively respond to media outlets and proactively place stories that help enhance credibility or authority, crisis management, improve the public’s perception of the business, sell products, or accomplish the company’s goals.
In conclusion, PR is not to be confused with Marketing. The delineation between the two can be confusing, so here is a great way to think of its differences:
“When you see a company on a billboard, that’s Marketing. When you read about a company in a newspaper, magazine, or online blog (and it’s not sponsored!) – that’s Public Relations.”
Can you clearly see the difference? Marketing is paid for, or called “owned” because the company “owns” the messaging. PR is earned because the company “earns” the coverage. (More on the differences between PR and Marketing in this blog post).
Sounds simple, right? Let’s dig a little deeper.
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What are a PR pro’s responsibilities?
PR has accumulated a list of responsibilities over the years all geared at strengthening a company’s reputation and communicating with its key stakeholders. Contrary to popular belief, it is a lot more than writing press releases. The various functions within PR all serve different needs. Some of the functions within PR are:
- Analyzing and interpreting public opinion to understand its impact on the business and the business’s reputation
- Communicating critical information to key parties during a time of crisis
- Researching and maximizing ways to influence public policies that impact a business and its stakeholders
- Depending upon the goal, working with the community, employee, government, and other entities to strengthen the company’s perception and reputation
- Creating meaningful content to help generate leads and drive customer engagement
Where should a PR pro start?
Now that we know what PR is responsible for, it’s important to understand how to apply the art of PR to achieve those goals. In referencing the bulleted list above, you may notice a trend in certain words—reputation, communication, impact, influence, perception, and engagement. All of these words have one thing in common: they are all byproducts of strong messaging.
The foundation of PR (and its ability to impact the audience) is compelling messaging. Key messaging about your company, product or service, and leadership is not a tagline, a slogan, or jargon. It’s a carefully curated set of messages that you want to communicate to your audience to influence how they perceive your brand and company. Sound confusing? Think of messaging as your value proposition.
When considering key messaging, many companies have a few core messages they want to convey about their company, plus some supporting statements to back-up the core statements, and maybe some proof-points (case studies, research, stats) to further assert their claims. They are truthful, impactful, memorable, and accurate. There is no room for fluff or exaggeration in this messaging.
It can be difficult to differentiate yourself in the market, but distinct messaging is imperative to understanding what to communicate to your audience to ultimately achieve the goals of PR.
How does a PR pro know which audience is right for its message?
Now that you’ve identified the right messages, one of the most important functions of a PR professional is to be sure the right message is falling into the hands, eyes, and ears of the right people. Read: take the news and make sure that it gets in front of the right audience (wherever they are consuming their information). Why is this important? Because the audience is the buyer—and ultimately, one goal of PR is to help impact the bottom line.
A PR strategy will always differ and depend upon the audience you want to reach. PR strategies are not one-size-fits-all. For instance, if you are selling a tech product, your audience may be tech reporters. If you are working with a government agency, you will have a strong focus on government relations. You also might focus on investors, the community, and of course, the media.
PR is designed to influence an audience’s perception and opinion (read: reputation). With your audience in mind, PR professionals then determine how they want to reach these different audiences. If you think of your audience and break it down in an incredibly simplistic way, think of how your channel (the mode in which you communicate) would vary from trying to reach a teen versus an elder. If you wanted to reach a teenager, would you pitch your news to AARP? Furthermore, if you have a new wine label you’re launching, would you pitch it to Bloomberg? Probably not. That’s not where your audience is. When it comes to PR, you go where your audience is that you want to reach.
Now that you have the message, how will you deliver it?
Channels of Communication
The channels in how you reach your audience can vary greatly depending on how they consume their information and the goals in which you must meet—like brand awareness and improving public opinion. Unlike marketing which includes paid channels (think: advertising, sponsored content, Facebook ads), PR channels are unpaid.
A highlight of some of these channels may include:
- Press releases
- Social media
- Media coverage
- Media alerts
- Speaking engagements at in-person or virtual events or trade shows, podcasts
- Thought leadership pieces, including contributed articles in business press or trade publications
- Placements of testimonials or customer/case stories
Based on the list above, which isn’t exhaustive, the channels can vary greatly, which means measuring their impact will also look different.
How can I measure the effectiveness of my PR activity?
PR is typically looked at as a strategy for pipeline influence (versus marketing’s responsibility of pipeline generation), which makes measuring it a little more nuanced. Pipeline influence is a metric that measures how PR influences the contacts’ behavior of a sales opportunity. With marketing, pipeline generation is a metric that measures how effectively marketing has generated sales from the contacts within an opportunity. The difference is that PR influences an opportunity, but doesn’t necessarily produce a revenue-generating sale.
While PR doesn’t typically impact the bottom line in the short-term (although it can!), it can lead to more brand awareness, which impacts the bottom line in the long term. However, consider instances where a celebrity promoted a product. Do you think that product’s sales spiked? Highly likely. That’s a great example of PR’s immediate impact.
As PR has morphed from traditional platforms, like newspapers and trade publications, to digital channels like social media, measurement has also evolved. Metrics like sentiment score (how favorably your brand is talked about online), engagement (how many likes, shares, or comments a social post has), and mentions have all come to be important factors in determining PR’s success. Website domain authority is another metric of measurement that a lot of companies are now considering.
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Now that you know the facets of PR, what type of PR role is best suited for your talents and what titles should you look for when trying to get a job in PR?
When it comes to PR, there is certainly no one-size-fits-all career trajectory. So many factors can determine the type of role you land, including:
- Company size: is it a small business, startup, or enterprise?
- Type of environment: will you go the corporate route (in-house) or work at an agency?
- Specialization: will you be a generalist or focus on one particular area like government or technology media relations?
- Level of role: Will you be an individual contributor or serve at the executive level?
A variety of titles fall among the categories. If you’re in a large corporation, your title might be very specific, whereas if you’re working at a non-profit or smaller organization, your title may be more broad in nature and cover a variety of responsibilities. Here are some of the most frequently used titles based on the type of role and organization:
Different roles that fall within a PR agency are everything from junior coordinator roles, like searching for media opportunities and researching media outlets, for instance, to executive roles that may include business development, like pitching new business and providing strategic counsel to clients.
Agency roles typically have the word account in them, signaling that you manage a specific client’s PR. The titles could be: account coordinator, account executive, account manager, account director, vice president, and usually includes someone on the executive team as the senior vice president for the client. Depending upon the type of agency, client roster, and role, you could be managing one or multiple different clients for different needs.
In small to medium businesses (SMB), there may be a designated PR role, or it may fall under the larger marketing umbrella. Example titles include: PR specialist, PR manager, and PR director are common titles for SMB in-house roles, or this role may even fall under a general communications or marketing head. If the latter, sometimes this person will manage a PR agency to help assist with PR efforts.
Bigger companies often get more specific with titles that are based on the needs of the company, like media relations, public affairs, or social media. There are SO many titles this could be, but some of the most common range from the level of specialist to vice president in these different areas:
- Media relations
- Social media
- Public affairs
One of the great things about a role in PR is that the skills learned in one role, say media relations, can be applied to another role, like social media. PR skills are extremely portable, flexible, and evolutionary and truly beneficial in a multitude of professional areas.