To understand the answer to the question, "How does PR work?" let’s first answer the question, "What is public relations?"
According to the Public Relations Society of America or PRSA, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
At its core, PR is about relationships — with the general public, potential customers/clients, investors, employees, government regulators and/or the media — with any and all of a company's publics.
"A public, in PR terms, is anyone who ever has or ever will form an opinion about the client."
Not all publics are created equal, so advice on which publics are most important is one of the many services PR consultants and firms usually provide to their clients.
How does PR work?
How PR works lies in the many ways a public relations practitioner goes about building those relationships.
Media relations is the one aspect of PR that most people are familiar with and many confuse "publicity" with public relations. The popular misconception that "any publicity is good publicity" exacerbates this confusion. While this may be marginally true in the short-term for fading celebrities eager to return to the spotlight, it's hard to imagine anyone gaining from a relationship with their public that is based on distrust or distaste.
Public relations professionals work to garner positive media coverage for clients that will build or enhance their relationships with their target audiences. Because people are far more likely to believe a news story than advertising , this "earned" media coverage is both more effective and offers a greater ROI than paid media coverage (advertisements).
The public's relationship with a company is often formed around its relationship with its leaders, its spokesperson or both. Training those people to master the skills needed to interact with the media is another aspect of public relations. When a company experiences difficulties, a polished spokesperson that stays on message can mean the difference between effective crisis management and corporate meltdown.
A business'relationship with its target audiences can be greatly enhanced if those audiences recognize the company's owners or executives as experts in their fields. Public relations firms can help that happen by positioning company leaders as go-to experts and thought-leaders that the media turn to when faced with questions related to their industry. They can also help by scheduling Speaking Engagements for company leaders.
Another way to enhance relationships with publics is for a company to be seen as a leader, and earning awards can bestow the mantle of leadership, whether those awards are related directly to the company's business (Best American-Made Widgets), its desirability as a workplace (Best Places to Work) or its civic/community involvement (Companies Who Care). The same is true of a company's leaders (Top Widget CEOs Under 40). Public relations includes helping businesses find, enter and win awards.
Social Media Management
A relatively new addition to the public relations field, social media is rapidly becoming one of the most important ways for companies and brands to build relationships with their publics. Because those publics can now respond in real time and in very public venues, knowing what to say, when to say it and what social media channels to use is an aspect of PR that many companies are beginning to value above all others.
Similarly, when the public wants to share what it thinks about a company, its products or services, it can now do so in very public ways. Google reviews, Angie’s List, Yelp and hundreds of other websites allow people to share their experiences about the companies they do business with. Worse, sites that specialize in negative reviews (Ripoff Reports, etc.) tend to appear high in search engine returns and it only takes a few negative reviews to affect a company's relationship with its publics and to seriously damage its business online. Managing those relationships through online reputation management is another aspect of public relations that leading PR firms have begun to embrace.
How PR works:
PR works by using multiple channels and techniques to help companies develop, maintain and enhance their relationships with their many publics, whomever they are. Without those relationships, no company can succeed. Poorly managed, those relationships can force a company out of business. When it’s done well, public relations is both invisible and the secret to some of the world’s most successful companies.
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