What is PR?

August 2, 2021

If you look up ‘what is PR’ in the dictionary, you’re likely to find a definition like:

Public relations (noun): the activity of keeping good relationships between an organization and the general public.

But what on earth does that actually mean?!

Let me tell you a secret. When I started an internship in a big PR agency many years ago, I had no idea what PR was. Sure, I’d heard it explained by various people. So, if you asked me 'what is PR?', I probably parrot what they'd said. But it wasn’t until I’d been on the job for a while that I really grasped what PR is. Over a decade later, I’m still a PR consultant and have worked with brands around the world.  

What is PR?

So, what is PR? PR (short for public relations) is a strategic communication process that helps an organisation develop a positive reputation with the public. It usually does this through various unpaid communications. A PR professional works to craft and distribute stories that portray an organisation’s reputation, idea, product, position, or accomplishment in a positive light.

Really, I see PR professionals as storytellers. We help organisations find and tell their most engaging stories in a way that reaches their target audience. That might mean ensuring an announcement or launch has the right elements to intrigue journalists. It also means making sure the information is distributed to the right people. It can also include finding and contacting relevant journalists to discuss feature opportunities. Or it could be generating stories. There are various tactics, such as using surveys, finding case studies or developing creative campaigns that give the media a reason to write about the company.

What’s the difference between PR and advertising?

Unlike advertisers, who tell stories through paid methods, PR professionals tell their stories through unpaid, or “earned” media. This includes traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, online etc), social media, speaking engagements etc. These channels can be particularly effective in reaching the general public. This doesn’t mean PR is free (there are costs involved in PR campaigns – e.g. props, suppliers etc. – and consultancy fees). However, it does usually tend to be cheaper than advertising or buying media space.

How can PR help my business?

While PR can sometimes feel intangible (you won’t always see a spike in sales, donations or web visits as a direct result of a piece of press coverage), it’s an important part of communications. Good PR plays a key role in raising awareness of your organisation. It can also make people feel more positive about your business. Being featured regularly in the press helps build trust and credibility and can even lead to sales. Ever picked up a magazine in a waiting room and seen the perfect gift idea for an upcoming birthday? Or seen a charity spokesperson interviewed on TV then gone online to find out more about how you can support their campaign? These are just a couple of examples of PR at work. When it’s done right, PR can help build brand awareness, manage reputation, support sales and even improve SEO.

Over my career, I’ve seen the PR generating amazing results for various organisations. One company saw their biggest ever spike in sales thanks to having their product featured in a national newspaper’s product roundup. 100 Hoxton sold out minutes after the press announcement of its new dining concept: a halloumi-themed restaurant. Cancer Research UK raised millions through the #nomakeupselfie campaign. Both JustGiving and GoFundMe have also raised millions thanks to fundraisers’ stories being featured in the media.

This might explain why I’ve worked in PR for so long. It can be hard work. But it’s so inspiring to help mission-driven organisations secure hard-hitting, positive news coverage that boosts awareness of their work or product.

Ready to learn more?

Check out my guide on ‘How to get press coverage’ which is based on my 12+ years’ experience working in PR and communications.

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