What the #@%! is PR Anyway?

By Joshua Kail, - In Marketing

Picture of a frustrated man trying to understand what PR is?

Photo Credit: barkbud

Public Relations is one of those things which companies “know” they need it but are unsure of what “it”  actually is. Fear not, because, in the words of Barbara Streisand, “It’s not your fault;” it’s the PR industry’s.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) currently defines PR as:

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

This is a conceptually accurate and yet functionally terrible definition. It is the epitome of industry speak; it offers no clarification in directing those who would engage PR to an actual solution.

This definition suggests that PR is basically any instance where you communicate with purpose.  For example, if you order a bottle of wine you like for the table because you think your friends will enjoy it, BAM! PR. The problem is that if PR can mean anything then, as an employable business tool, it is essentially means nothing. Without a specific differentiation of purpose and technique, PR as a term unto itself, is valueless.

The truth is, there is no such thing as the “practice of PR” anymore. This is the secret which the PRSA definition dances around. The definition was created by crowdsourcing PRSA’s members for input. If Public Relations was a singularly defined practice, you wouldn’t need to crowd source you would just know, like you know what a car salesman or house painter does. So why crowd source? Because the following titles have all been called “PR” at some point:

  • Media Relations
  • Analyst Relations
  • Community Relations
  • Event Planning
  • Social Media Management
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Website development
  • People who hand out flyers on street corners
  • Image consultants

With the current definition, saying you “need someone to do PR” is like going to your insurance provider and saying you “need a doctor.” The next question inevitably asked is “what kind?” PR is not an approach, it’s an umbrella category of approaches. As PRSA illustrates, defining an umbrella is not very helpful. The only part of PR you actually need to worry about defining is the P, Public. Once that is done, everything else will fall into place.  You will be able to identify your “doctor.”

You probably already know your business’s “Ps,” they are your customers and clients, current and potential.  Once your Ps are identified, ask, where are you reaching them with your message, where are your competitors, where are you lacking and where are you excelling?

People you want to reach + Places you want to reach them = Type of PR you need.

You don’t need to be refined in how you think about it. If you are not in the gift guides (consumer) or trade publications (B2B) you want to be in, then you need Media Relations. If your Facebook page is lacking then Social Media Manager is what you need.  Once you get that basic idea in your mind of who and what you need, finding the correct service label is a matter of using a thesaurus.

That knowledge is the real power. Knowledge enables you to lead the conversation with any firm or individual you are looking to hire. PR in any of its forms is a service industry. The more you know about what it actually is and what it can do for you, the better you will be prepared to reach your goals with realistic expectations of how those services can help. The goal of my involvement here is to help spread that clarity to enable you to make those informed decisions.

So, how do you define your “PR” needs?

photo credit: bark via photopin cc


Josh Kail is co-Founder of Glass Lantern PR