What is PR?

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It seems unbelievable, I know, but I cannot tell you the number of blank stares I often receive, when I state that I am in the Public Relations field. The process is often the same – the blank and/or confused stare, followed by a quiet, almost slightly embarrassed, “what is that exactly?”

It is especially mind boggling to me, this lack of knowledge or understanding of Public Relations, when it is so pervasive in our world. Public Relations is everywhere – it is in the social media content posted by organizations, the massive campaigns used to launch a new product, rebrand an organization, the public media statements used to announce an event, to mend a recent crisis and more.

So then what exactly is Public Relations? The academic standard as defined by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) states:

“Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

This is a more than satisfactory definition, as it establishes many of the key concepts of Public Relations – that is, it is a process, it involves the building of relationships and more importantly, building relationships between an organization and its public(s) that benefits both.

However, this definition led me to thinking about the “how” – that is, how this mutually beneficial relationship between organizations and their public(s) is truly built and answering this eventually led me to establishing what I personally believe Public Relations to be. That is, Public Relations is essentially relaying the story of an organization and we, as public relations practitioners are the storytellers.

And many of the same rules for effective storytelling, are the same elements that makes one a successful public relations practitioner, including:

  1. Understand and Know your Subject – Great storytellers always have a thorough understanding of the subject they write about, either through personal experience or extensive research. It is no different for a public relations practitioner. To be an effective practitioner, one has to truly know and understand the organization he/she works for. What is the organization’s vision, mission, history, policies and procedures, short-term and long-term goals, etc.
  1. Be as Compelling as Possible – The greatest stories of our time capture our imaginations and hold our interests. They are in a word compelling. The same applies in public relations. An effective public relations practitioner has to be able to convey the organization’s story to the public in a way that not only grabs their attention but holds their interest over time.
  1. Find the Best Avenues for Sharing that Story – There is a reason stories are categorized into genres/age groups and more. Essentially, it is to target the right audience. Nothing can be everything to everyone. It is no different with public relations. An effective public relations practitioner has to know and understand who the organization public(s) really is and know and understand the best avenues for reaching them.
  1. Be Consistent with the Narrative – A well written story maintains a certain consistency throughout, whether it is characterization, if it is written in first, second or third person narrative, the setting and more. The same rule applies to public relations. An effective public relations practitioner must remain consistent with an organization’s message throughout including media releases, social media content, campaigns and more.
  1. Evolve When Necessary – Sounds a little contradictory I know but hear me out. It is true that great stories should maintain a certain level of consistency. However, great stories also often tell the tale of some type of character growth. Organizations, like people and characters in a story, inevitably grow and change over time and an effective public relations practitioner has to be able to adapt to and be able to successfully share that evolution and growth with the organization’s public(s).
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