The public relations industry has been around for decades. But for a profession that’s all about managing reputation, it hasn’t always done the best job of managing its own. The main problem is that too many people think that PR and media relations are one and the same thing. They think that PR professionals simply work with journalists to promote a company in any way possible and that we spend the majority of our time writing press releases. Well let’s get one thing straight up front – it’s not! True public relations is so much more than that.
In 1922, Edward Bernays – often referred to as “the father of public relations” – explained that the object of public relations counsel is to interpret the organisation to the public and the public to the organisation. The British Institute of Public Relations defines public relations as “the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain a mutual understanding between an organisation and its public”. Notably, both definitions convey the importance of two-way communication and neither of them specify what form that communication takes. Media relations – when conducted intelligently, strategically and impactfully – occupies a powerful position in the PR toolkit. However, to limit PR’s scope, capability and potential to a single communications channel does it a real disservice and greatly limits the value that it can deliver for an organisation.
Confusing PR with media relations is a commonly held misconception. But why has it become so widespread? As a profession, we have to accept some of the blame. One challenge – particularly in specialist sectors such as shipping – is that many former journalists decide to embark upon a career in ‘PR’ with a rather blinkered view of what PR professionals actually do. To be fair, for a journalist whose only contact with PR people has been in a media relations context, you may perhaps be forgiven for having a rather blinkered vision of what PR is. And if those working in PR are also saying that it’s all about media relations, what hope is there for anyone else?!
So confusion reigns. But, in very simple terms, the starting point for effective communications should be understanding your business strategy, the challenges you face, what you want to achieve, what you stand for, and how you want to be positioned in your market. Communications objectives should then be aligned to this. From here, you can then explore who you want to talk to, what you want to say… and then define the best ‘way’ to say it. If you know who you want to communicate with, then you can identify the most effective way to engage with those people and how best to deliver your messages. It is the basis for all effective communications, in business, politics or everyday life.
What are the issues and causes that are important to them? Which events do they attend? Are they members of trade bodies? Which online or print publications do they read? Are they active on social media platforms? Do they listen to the opinions of certain commentators or influencers in the market? It is this analysis that will enable you to design an impactful PR and communications strategy, which may or may not include media relations. It’s about influencing the right people, with the right words, on the right issue, in the right way, and at the right time.
Despite prevailing stereotypes, PR does not stand for “press release”, it has nothing to do with celebrities, and it is not only adopted by blue chip companies. PR is about building, managing and safeguarding an organisation’s reputation. If people know you and like you, they are more likely to buy from you, work with you and for you, invest in you, as well as write and talk favourably about you; if they don’t know or like you, then they won’t. In today’s hugely competitive marketplace, the value of a strong and positive reputation should not be underestimated. And neither should the power of true PR.