Public Relations (PR) is defined as a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. While this definition still rings true, the way in which PR practitioners build those relationships has changed. As marketing and technology evolve, PR also continues to evolve.
Today, PR professionals are responsible for designing and implementing integrated strategies across a variety of platforms to create awareness and build brand credibility. There are far more vehicles for relaying information to consumers than ever before. While this sounds like a good thing—having more ways to reach consumers—it also means companies must find more unique ways to tell their story. More mediums mean more chatter, which in turn, means we must find more ways for our clients to stand out.
It is the end of PR as we know it
When I started doing PR, let’s just say a long time ago, it was basically writing a press release, faxing it out—yes, I said fax—and making follow up calls to media outlets to secure stories. There is a lot of argument about the usefulness of a press release today, but I believe that the press release still has its place.
The Evolution of the Press Release
Press releases were originally used to get information to the media, sent via mail, fax, wire service, and more recently, via email. The media use it to craft a story. This worked well for a long time. But now, with the influx of information reporters get daily, press releases are no longer compelling enough to convince them to write or produce a story. Instead, it’s about the ‘pitch.’ However, press releases are necessary and useful to provide reporters with the complete story and information they can use and source for their stories.
PR professionals are essentially salespeople, we sell stories. It’s our job to sell a media outlet or reporter on the idea of why it’s important to tell our client’s story, whether it is a new product or service, community event, industry advice or upcoming trend. We do this through a thoughtful, yet brief pitch note to a reporter. The ‘pitch’ as we call it, essentially offers up a unique angle or story idea that sparks interest in a reporter to pursue a story to share with their audience. Since reporters wear multiple hats these days and get hundreds of pitches per day, our pitches must be short and sweet. They don’t have time anymore to spend too long on one story idea. So much so that often they won’t reach past the subject line if it doesn’t catch their attention right away. So, we literally must catch their attention in only a few words.
Storytelling is at the very core of our culture. Humans have told stories since the beginning of time (myths, legends, tales). Stories evoke emotion. Emotion evokes attention and attention evokes interest. Stories draw in your audience and create interest in your product or service. Telling a story rather than just trying to sell your product or service makes your news more relatable to the consumer which has a better chance of influencing behavior. Furthermore, stories make content more interesting, understandable, and memorable and helps our audience feel more connected to the brand.
Relationships have always been at the root of our job as PR professionals. While I wouldn’t call this an innovation in PR, the means by which we build those relationships has changed. Reporters no longer have time for coffee or deskside briefings. Now, building relationship with news media is contingent on providing a well thought out story idea (with why it would benefit their audience) and executing it quickly, with all the resources in place and well-coordinated.
Relationship are key for several reasons. Like most of us, as we watch emails pile up in our inbox by the minute, emails from people we know get read first. If we’ve established trust and confidence with a reporter, it’s more likely our pitch will be read. Additionally, if we’ve provided great stories to reporters in the past, they have confidence we’ll provide and execute a great story for them again which relieves some pressure on the reporter. If we can make their jobs easier, we are more apt to get coverage.
How to Build Relationships with Media:
- Don’t just reach out when you have a story—relationships are built over time.
- Offer up resources for a story they are working on—it saves them time trying to find some.
- Know their beat or interests—it shows you’ve done your due diligence.
- Try to help them in a pinch—they’ll always remember that and will think of you when they are in a pinch again or need a resource for a story.
- Answer them immediately—often, time is of the essence.
- Be friendly, be genuine, and be human (not a robot just doing a job).
- Thank them for stories—they’ll appreciate you taking the time to do so.
- Be transparent about what you want from them and what you can provide – don’t lead them to expect something and not be able to deliver.
Social Media and PR
Public relations used to be an interview on TV or on the radio, or an article in print and more recently online. But now, with the popularity of social media, we have a HUGE digital platform to create engagement with stories and manage a brand’s reputation. Brands now can release information on social media platforms in real time thus creating engagement and in turn the hope of converting consumers.
However, this can also mean there are more ways to damage a brand’s reputation as well. Customers turn to social media channels to voice their opinion, mostly when they are unhappy about something. This gives visibility to the negative commentary, an opportunity for others to chime in, and if you do not respond in a timely manner, you can do even more damage.
Social media is a great way to amplify earned media by sharing coverage on owned and paid channels. This creates additional awareness and builds brand recognition to a wider audience which is ultimately the goal of PR.
Influencer Marketing is all the Hype
Influencer marketing focuses on targeting key industry leaders to drive brand message and awareness to a specific target market. This is a totally new concept that has fallen onto the shoulders of PR professionals over last few years. According to Influencer Marketing Hub, influencer marketing has grown from a $3 billion industry in 2017, $4.6 billion in 2018 and an expected $6.5 billion in 2019.
PR has always been about building credibility and brand awareness. Influencer marketing plays a key role in building that credibility and increasing awareness through social media channels.
But who are influencers? Influencers are people that have established themselves online as a reliable and trustworthy source of information. They’ve built trust among their followers and therefore can influencer said followers to make purchases through their endorsements of a product or service.
There are Four Main Types of Influencers:
Celebrities: Celebrities have large audiences (millions) but charge a significant fee per post. Since the audience is so broad it’s more difficult to target a specific audience. They are better for creating broader awareness.
Social media stars: These are individuals that have made themselves celebrities essentially by building a community online. They generally have hundreds of thousands or even millions of loyal followers.
Macro influencers: These are influencers who are known in a specific industry or community. For example, fitness influencers are very common as are food influencers. They generally have a fan base of several hundred thousand or more.
Micro influencers: These are probably the most valuable influencers in my opinion. These influencers are similar to macro influencers, catering to a specific fan base, but have a smaller number of followers ranging from a few thousand to a hundred thousand. Why would a smaller fan base be beneficial? Micro influencer followers are typically very engaged, and you can more accurately target a particular audience.
As marketing tactics become more digital it’s very important for brands to measure the success of their strategy and adjust accordingly. Real-time data can help clients understand how the messages are received and by whom.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are now a required part of a PR campaign and help measure value of the earned media. However, success can be different for each client. Before embarking on an earned media campaign, we must first outline the client’s goals so we can align measurement with those goals. Each client may be different, so it is important to know what the client wants to achieve with each campaign.
Measurable KPIs may include social media engagement, link clinks or website visits, downloads (whitepapers), message accuracy (key messages should mirror your pitch) and sentiment, mentions and growth of your audience (social media followers, blog/email subscribers, website visitors), and more.
Public relations has been transitioning to digital just like every other marketing discipline. While the basic principles of PR are the same, and traditional PR is still alive and well, there are many more ways we can reach our goal of brand awareness. But, because it is largely digital now, results are more measurable which means PR practitioners are being held more accountable to move the needle among consumers. Relationships are still key, and we rely on others (influencers) to create conversation online.
What separates a good PR person from an incredible one? Be nimble, be honest, be a resource to reporters, be transparent, provide data, stay grounded in your core mission, and be willing to evolve.