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Public Relations 101. The Fundamentals of PR.

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

What is Public Relations?

Recently a company contacted me to ask if I could help them with their advertising. When I mentioned that my company specializes in public relations not advertising, there was a long silence on the other end of the phone. Then finally the response came: “But isn’t public relations the same as advertising?”

This is not an uncommon assumption. I’ve been practicing public relations for more than 25 years and I often encounter people who think PR and advertising are the same thing. The differences couldn’t be starker.

The official definition of public relations is “the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public.”


Allow me to clarify in more simple terms.

Advertising = Pay tons of money to create a subjective advertisement.

Public Relations = Create a compelling story that offers a solution to a problem or issue.

The fact is most people are much more likely to trust information coming from a person writing from an objective point of view (a journalist) rather than from the subjective point of view of the company paying an advertisement.

To offer two real-view examples; I’m much more likely to buy a new cell phone based on a tech writers product review rather than a pretty picture of the same phone I see on the internet.

Or, if I’m going to book a room in an expensive hotel, I’m not going to rely on just a magazine ad to make my decision. I’m going to find out what travel writers and bloggers are writing about the hotel first before I commit my money.

Advertising does hold a valuable place in any effective marketing mix. But before you run out and spend an exorbitant amount of your budget creating and placing an old-fashioned ad, think about how far your dollar will stretch if you can offer the same information to journalists, bloggers and influencers who will write about the same thing for free.

PR Versus Advertising

When it comes to comparing public relations to advertising, it all boils down to one simple word: TRUST.

Richard Branson, the business magnate who founded Virgin Airlines, is quoted as saying: “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.”

If anyone knows a thing or two about public relations, it’s Richard Branson. He’s one of the most successful and FAMOUS businessmen in the world. And most of his fame and success came from ingenious publicity campaigns that made him practically a household name.

So, the question is why PR worked for Branson and others like him. Why does public relations often work better for branding and marketing than traditional advertising?

The answer is simple. People are more skeptical about trusting an ad that someone paid than a review or story they read by an independent journalist.

Many people simply don’t trust advertising anymore. How many times a day are you bombarded with a barrage of print ads, web ads, phone ads, email ads, billboard ads, and on and on? After a while the human mind just starts to shut itself off from the constant sales pitch from a hundred different products and companies.

This isn’t to suggest that advertising doesn’t have a place in your marketing mix. It certainly does, especially if you have a large budget to work with.

But most people are sophisticated enough to know that an advertisement is not in the least bit objective or impartial. But a story written by a journalist is much more likely to be trusted and believed by the customers you want to reach.

Submitting a well-crafted press release or story pitch to targeted media or social media influencers is one of the most effective ways of creating buzz and nurturing trust about your product, brand, service, or event. People simply put more trust into reading interesting stories (or reviews) by people who are objective about the subject they’re writing about.

So instead of throwing a bunch of money at a traditional advertising campaign, first think about how much more effective a public relations campaign can be for your business. Your customers need and want to trust you. A well placed, well written story might be the key to your success. Just ask Richard Branson.

Simple Public Relations Strategies That Work

I've worked with many companies on a variety of public relations and marketing campaigns over the years. Many of the companies I've helped didn't have a marketing team in place. I'm always a little surprised by how unprepared and uninformed many business owners are when it comes to basic PR strategies.

I'm a big believer in keeping things simple. An effective publicity campaign does not necessarily require large sums of money. In fact, if done correctly and with diligence, it shouldn't cost much at all. Mostly it means creating a goal-oriented plan with a few easy-to-follow steps that are carried out in a predetermined time frame (6 months is a usually a good start).

Here are a few simple steps to consider when creating your publicity campaign:

1. You won’t know where you are going or how to get there until you determine where you want to go. Before you start your campaign, decide what your vision is and what your goals are for the project, write them down, and stay focused on them.

2. Once your vision and goals have been set in cement, spend some time figuring out how to achieve them. Determine who will benefit from your service or product. Then determine the best methods and means to communicate with them.

3. Create a press kit, sales collateral, and all the other tools you'll need in your publicity arsenal. Make sure all your materials are interesting and well written. If you use graphics and photos in your campaign, make them as professional looking and eye-catching as possible.

4. Build a comprehensive list of contacts in your industry, in the media, and in your personal life. These are the many people who (hopefully) will be interested in receiving information about you and your business, product, or service.

5. Share you press kit with everyone in your contact list.

6. Follow up with everyone. This part can be time-consuming but it’s a highly important step. You have to follow-up with people who receive your information and get their feedback and response. Can the media build a story around the information you provided? Are your potential clients satisfied with all the information you sent? Can you secure a meeting? Are people encouraged by what you are offering?

7. Lather-rinse-repeat. Keep going with the campaign, update the information you send out, always be looking for new contacts, follow up with your contact list. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Look for Trends

I lived in Southern California for 20 years and in all that time, I’m sorry to say, I never learned how to surf. For 20 years I neglected to ride the waves that were in front of me.

Market trends are like ocean waves; you can either surf them or sit on the beach and passively watch as others enjoy the ride.

If you’re thinking about starting a public relations campaign to promote your business, start by looing around you. What are the market trends in your industry? What current developments are affecting you and your business? What innovations or inventions are going to have an impact on your industry? Are political or global events going to have an influence? Can you identify emerging social fads?

It’s important to fashion your publicity campaign around current or emerging trends in the market whenever possible. Keep your eyes open, anticipate changes and developments in your industry. Become a news junky (if you have the stomach for it).

Learn how to identify important trends and ride the wave!

This is a very simple overview on the fundamentals of public relations. If you have questions or need help getting your PR campaign started, please contact us today for your free consultation.

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