What is Public Relations?
By Kathie Taylor, APR
As defined by the Public Relations Society of America, public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their public. Where marketing is typically transactional – I serve you an ad and you buy my product or service, public relations is all about building relationships.
Publics could be interpreted as audiences or target audiences, but more broadly means “any group of people tied together by some common factor or interest.”
What does that mean?
How do public relations practitioners serve their public? People think all we do is media relations and all we do is write press releases. But here is what we REALLY do….
- Government Relations
- Donor and Investor Relations
- Consumer Relations
- Crisis Communications
- Internal Communications
- Community Relations
- Media Relations
- Stakeholder Relations
- Blogger Relations
- Investor Relations
- Influencer Relations
And so much more!
Public Relations Strategies and Methods
This model of public relations methods, the PESO model, was introduced by Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks, one of the gurus of modern public relations. It showcases the various types of strategies public relations practitioners employ.
Examples of public relations tactics:
While media relations might be a strategy (Engage media outlets in telling our client’s story to raise awareness for….) the following are some of the tactics we employ.
- Media Relations
- Interviews, story pitches
- Submitted articles, OpEds
- Press releases
- Media tours
- Media kits
- Corporate Social Responsibility
- Social Media
- Influencer Engagement
- White papers
- Case studies
- Customer reviews
- Podcasts Emails
- Sponsored posts
- Lead gen
- Fan acquisition
- Advertorial (sponsored content vs. editorial content like a press release)
And they all overlap!
Partnerships are both shared and owned media. Charity tie-ins, connecting a client with a nonprofit, and publicizing their shared goals and successes are an example.
Influencer engagement is a cross between earned and shared.
Affiliate marketing and brand ambassadors are a hybrid of paid and owned media.
Public relations is really the over-arching umbrella of all things marketing and relationship building. So with all of this stuff happening, you gotta have a plan!
PR provides the structure for any campaign through a series of processes, but the main one we go by is RPIE, which stands for Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation.
All marketing and PR are based on a hypothesis of what we think will be successful. What research, the R in RPIE, does is provide us the insight into the situation, the audience, and how they receive information so that when we propose a solution, we have a high probability of success, and we will identify the why behind what we want to do, as well as identify key performance metrics that will measure that success.
The planning phase helps us to build our roadmap, or our strategies, and which tactics we will deploy to meet our objectives.
It also helps us get ready for implementation, which is always messy, right? During planning, we have to ask ourselves, “and then what happens?” at every step in the process so we can move from “we’re doing this because it’s cool” to “we are doing this because it moves the needle for our client.”
When we hit the implementation phase then, we have a clear understanding of budget, human resources, timelines, deliverables, and accountability. And we can ROCK our execution of the campaign!
Evaluation is the measuring of all the things, and at a high level, we should be measuring outcomes vs. outputs. Outputs might include how many social posts or press releases we issue. Outcomes, on the other hand, include things like how many people engaged with our post – left comments, liked or shared the post, etc., or how many media publications picked up our press release and whether we had additional interview requests, and so on.
With evaluation, whatever is working, we build on. Whatever isn’t meeting our anticipated outcomes, we’ll re-evaluate, and tweak as needed. At the end of every campaign, that evaluation piece – what worked, what didn’t, what were the unintended benefits and possible consequences of what we did, and what could we have done differently are huge lessons to take with us as we move forward.
Evaluation also serves as research, so the RPIE cycle begins again if our campaigns are ongoing or we head in new directions.
Public Relations as a Career Path
I always say that anyone in marketing who follows the RPIE process is a public relations practitioner. We didn’t always follow this path though. In 2017 I earned my accreditation in public relations through the Public Relations Society of America, which really taught me how to put structure around our work.
We have applied the steps and processes learned through the accreditation process to the actual running of our business. If we’re looking at new software, for example, we follow RPIE – research, planning, implementation, and evaluation to make sure it’s the right product, we plan for our seamless implementation and we evaluate the savings in productivity, increases in creativity, and outcomes for our team and our clients.
Public relations is an incredibly rewarding field and helps to put process and structure into an industry that is constantly changing.
I highly encourage marketers and public relations professionals to get involved with PRSA. It offers lots of educational and professional development opportunities through local chapter meetings and workshops, as well as webinars, certificate programs, and accreditation at the national level.
Visit our local chapter, PRSA Sierra Nevada, for more information on regional activities, and to learn more about accreditation in PR, visit the national PRSA website.