Public relations is more than just media relations, and securing some pieces of vanity coverage for your business. A strategic PR campaign will deliver exposure, sales and a myriad of other benefits to your business. This comprehensive guide will take you from beginner, to expert in how PR can shape your business growth plans.
Public Relations (PR) is often misunderstood by business owners to just mean relations with the press, and public relations firms are often only called upon when there is some big news or story to tell. However, the true meaning of public relations is more aligned with the management of all relationships and communication between an organization and the public.
In the modern world of PR, that includes social media channels, the traditional press, and the ever increasing ways in which the public can be reached by organizations. The latest trend being through live-streaming video services such as Periscope, Meerkat and Facebook Live Video.
Only a comprehensive strategy that incorporates all of those mediums, and ties them to real business objectives, and more importantly, measurable results, can be considered a true public relations success plan.
This public relations guide is aimed at business owners, entrepreneurs and marketers who don’t have a good grasp of what a good PR plan looks like and how it can influence the key areas of business success, from press to search engine rankings, branding, marketing and sales.
We’ve kept PR style jargon to a minimum and offer tips, advice, and even strategies for getting started on a non-existent budget, as well as linking to more advanced public relations resources for those of you looking to become experts.
You can jump to a section that interests you using the chapter links below or just scroll through and enjoy the ride.
The history of Public Relations spans over a century and has changed how organizations manage their relationships with their audiences drastically. Despite all the changes to communication and technology over the years, many public relations core principles and ethics remain the same.
Learn how things started and learn from some of the great PR campaigns of our time that got us to where we are today.
What better way to highlight the new era of public relations with some powerful quotes and tips from leading practitioners, shared via Twitter. You’ll learn a lot from these, and even more if you get following these great thought leaders in PR.
The term public relations has evolved to mean more than just media relations, when old-fashioned metrics like ‘equivalent advertising value’ were used to justify the campaign, to a world where broader business objectives can be monitored and refined. Practitioners have had to move beyond simple media relations to consider the interaction of their activities with the broader digital ecosystem.
This part of the guide will help you understand media relations principles and how to broaden your campaigns to achieve more comprehensive public relations results.
Digital public relations encompasses many traditional elements of PR such as relations with writers, outlets and spreading your brand’s message. However it also brings a new opportunity to engage directly with your audience, drive traffic through SEO (yes, a great public relations effort is a powerful addition to any SEO campaign!), and respond to journalists instantly when they ask for help on social media.
Even before the invention of the written word, humans have used public relations to advance their name and their deeds. It is thought that the first piece of recorded PR was a stone tablet from Iraq which extolled the benefits of a new form of agricultural practice.
Leaders, great and tragic, have used public relations to advance their claims and ideology. They hoped to be remembered well. Certainly, the pyramids had this effect, as did the hieroglyphs found on many temple walls which not only promoted the Pharaoh’s triumphs to the people but also explained many of the rituals and religious practices undertaken by them.
In Ancient Greece, some of the foremost philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle used public relations in the form of the written word to promote their philosophical ideas. These philosophers also created some of the first written philosophies of rhetoric in PR.
Two great historical examples of Public Relations gurus were Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. The former exploited stories of Persia’s crimes against the Greeks to build large armies, invade Persia and gain revenge. He skilfully manipulated these stories to go further than any rational army would. En-route, he stopped off wherever possible to build his story and public image; be it with feats of daring on the battlefield, or gaining the support of local temples who would name him a living God. By creating cities in his own name, he allowed his legacy to live on for over 2,000 years.
Caesar used public relations to build his image and electability at home in Rome. These included written accounts of his wars in Gaul and defeat in Britain. His accounts gained enough public support against his long-term rival, Pompeii. No one exploited Caesar’s PR machine more than his adopted son Octavian (later Augustus), who went a step further, using public works and literature to solidify his position as the first Emperor of Imperial Rome.
The Public Relations machine continued to be used throughout the Middle Ages, whether it was the production of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to justify Wessex’s domination of England or the Bayeux tapestry to do the same for the Normans. It was in the 15th century that public relations really took off, when the printing press replaced hand-written books. This allowed pamphlets to be spread far and wide and for public relations to reach the masses more readily. The most immediate casualty of this new form of PR was the Catholic Church, which became fragmented after the rise of protestant churches; most notably the Church of England, and the Lutheran and Calvinist religions.
The rise of democracy and a wide range of civil wars, revolutions and rebellions came off the back of skilful public relations practises. Some of the best examples include the French Revolution and also the Declaration of Independence, backed up by some of the foremost examples of good PR, which led to the creation of the United States of America.
With the further development of printing to include pictures, Public Relations entered a world far beyond politics and socio-religious movements. It led to marketing where businesses (instead of relying on monopolies or word of mouth) could now build brands, advertise their wares and use articles/posters and more to induce people to buy their products.
In the 20th century, public relations gained new media in radio, cinemas, and later television. Each technological creation diversified the ways in which people could find out about a person, an event or a product. It also made it easier for skilful individuals, organizations and companies to get noticed whether it was through advertising, good news or indeed, shocking events, including terrorism.
At the end of the 20th century came the greatest public relations revolution of them all; the Internet. This took people’s access to information from being bound to physical publications or appliances in the home, and spread them to computers, pocket devices, phones and even wristwatches.
Today, the role of PR is stronger than it ever has been. The role has changed from controlled broadcasts and stories, to user generated content, real-time commenting, and interactions between people and products. Managing all of this has become more difficult – some might say more interesting, skilled and definitely more fluid. Good public relations can have an instant hit or a slow build, but by the same token, bad public relations can hit a brand badly, almost destroying it overnight and can remain easy to find for far longer than in the past. The 21st century is set to redefine PR beyond anything we have seen before.
With public relations now being such a big part of mainstream media, politics, and business, it makes sense that it has made its mark on popular culture. There are a number of movies where PR takes front and center of stage such as ‘Wag the Dog’ which embodies Plato’s thoughts on how the public can be distracted from disastrous domestic policies by an external war. Only in this movie, the war is totally fake. Sports fans will name Jerry Maguire as an influential PR film while perhaps the public relations classic of the genre is The Sweet Smell of Success.
In modern documentaries, public relations can be damned by association when it’s perceived to work in favor of big businesses; particularly the villain of the piece. Yet, crucially, it’s the lack of fairness in PR funding and not the people who work in public relations themselves who are criticised. On the small screen, PR was often criticized by the cast of Mad Men, only for them to attack the project from a publicity perspective, showing that even in the 60’s, the world of public relations was becoming broader. The show was a great insight into agency work, with many of the negatives exposed. In most shows, novels and books, public relations is an art form, not always for good, but something akin to magic in most people’s eyes.
Dear PR flacks, Don't send me something that's embargoed until I've, you know, agreed to an embargo. Love, all journalists— Tim Fernholz (@TimFernholz) January 15, 2016
PR agencies are most often called on by clients to perform traditional media relations as the primary objective of their campaigns. This encompasses helping the organization to achieve additional coverage in mainstream media from newspaper features to tv and radio exposure.
While not a complete media relations campaign by today’s definition, achieving this exposure is often the bedrock of brand building and developing public relations awareness for a new project. This section will cover all the basic steps involved in a traditional media relations campaign, with some suggested reading at each stage for those of you looking to ‘dig deeper’.
The press release is one of the most misunderstood (by business owners at least) pieces of the public relations and media relations puzzle. Many believe that actions such as buying a distributed release on a major newswire, and seeing their press appear in dozens of the ‘press releases’ sections of the sites they syndicate to will achieve either more real journalists picking up the story or lots of people reading the article.
A press release is a document prepared for journalists, usually following a standard format to make it easy for them to extract information, which furnishes them with all they need to know about a story to determine whether they are interested in covering it. It should not be advertorial, but rather present the facts and interesting features of the story as if it was written for direct publication in a quality news outlet.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Your release titled “Seattle Lawnmower Manufacturer Makes Revolutionary New Engine” is neither interesting nor likely to be read by a real journalist, or by many people in the public. The truth is that there are simply way too many of these releases and most of them aren’t very good, so journalists are turning more and more to social sites like Reddit and Twitter to uncover stories. They also now rely on well written, highly personalized releases sent directly to them, by skilled public relations professionals rather than scanning through a never-ending list of junk releases.
Targeting the right journalists and understanding their beat (what they write about, and what their audience is interested in) is therefore crucially important for good PR purposes. You can do this by searching on Google News for journalists who write about topics highly related to yours and then by crafting an angle to your story that is tailored to that writer, and his or her audience.
Reaching journalists across a multitude of different channels is becoming increasingly important if you want to succeed with a PR program. Indeed some brands have reported success switching from using e-mail as their primary story pitching strategy, to using Twitter and LinkedIn advertising to show their story to journalists. Picking up the phone is, of course, still extremely valuable in cases where the journalist in question is open to that approach.
Hubspot, a leading inbound marketing platform, have prepared this great guide to writing a successful press release. It includes tips and tricks as well as example formats so you can make sure your releases are clear, concise, interesting and formatted in the way that journalists expect.
Who better than to point you in the right direction with your press outreach strategy than the poor journalists who are bombarded with failed efforts to get their attention. From data and tech writers receiving food stories, to misleading titles that cause them to delete your message without even reading, thanks to Raven Tools you’ll quickly learn the missteps to avoid.
Major outlets often have a set way of working, for example following an editorial calendar. Journalists often have preferred ways to find out information, be reached, and discuss their stories, for example on Twitter.
More importantly, technology has made it easier than ever to understand and analyze an individual journalist, their interests and their beat, as well as understand what angle the outlet they write for prefers to take editorially.
Can you imagine ordering dozens of print magazines, papers and recordings of TV shows to pour through manually to work that stuff out?
The beauty of technology is that you can not only monitor your brand an how it’s covered all over the media, but your competitors too. You can keep up to date on target journalists and when they might be covering your theme, and quickly pour through thousands of headlines across hundreds of outlets to find the perfect one for your story. All from the comfort of your computer chair.
Garrett French’s link prospector is one of the most powerful tools for researching past press stories. You can filter using a virtually limitless combination of requirements from easy-to-contact journalists to those who often link to sources. Naturally it also allows you to tailor you campaigns to specific stories, keywords or types of content. With thousands of results returned for most campaigns you’ll be in a strong position to find and reach out to the perfect journalist to cover your brand.
Mention.com is a powerful tool that allows you to track who is talking about your brand, your industry, your competitors, and notable individuals in your industry. Knowing this immediately can help you head off any media relations disasters (a journalist slating your brand), as well as keep an eye on the latest developments your competitors are pushing out there. It’s a powerful tool in your media relations belt. Honorable mentions go to Moz and Ahrefs which both include mention monitoring as part of their broader tool sets.
Open link profiler is a powerful, free tool, that allows you to view many of the links a competing business has pointed to their site. If they have an active PR campaign, that will include many of their press stories. In addition to using some of the other tools in this section, this can be a powerful way to find out which journalists are writing about your nearest competitors, and to reverse-engineer your rivals’ successes. Honorable mentions in this category go to the paid tools Moz, which also offers mention tracking, Ahrefs, and Majestic, all three of which are worth checking out.
Spin Sucks has a great guide for what to do once you have all this great data. Don’t waste your opportunities by just bombarding thousands of journalists with the same pitch. Learn how to treat your media relations campaigns like dating and build some real relationships and stay on the radar of the outlets that you want to cover you.
Many of the public relations and media strategies we’ve already discussed use modern technology to simplify older processes, such as automatically filtering and finding suitable journalists. However, the basic approach discussed was similar to in the past. We’ve been talking about a one-way conversation between the brand and the public, filtered by journalists.
In the digital age, an organization can take advantage of numerous additional channels where conversations can be started or are already taking place, such as social media, and where customers can discover the brand through search (whether that’s traditional search on an engine such as Google, or social search on sites such as Facebook and Pinterest). Your public relations strategies will need to encompass these modern techniques, as these new outlets are often where your public devotes most of their attention.
How can SEO affect public relations? Brands are becoming increasingly important to search engines, such as Google, as they strive to deliver the best results to their customers (your public!). Due to manipulation and other low-quality SEO tactics used by practitioners in the past, many low-quality sites getting little attention elsewhere were able to move themselves up in the Google search rankings. Google executive chair, Eric Schmidt had this to say:
Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.
Not only does good PR allow you to be visible as a brand through many ‘brand signals’ such as higher user engagement and a better click through on search results, but it often results in very powerful, high authority links which will help your brand perform better on measures of inbound search traffic.
The combination of better rankings due to traditional signals such as links and content, with better user engagement due to recognition of your brand from other channels (media, social etc) combine to deliver powerful SEO benefits. If you aren’t integrating SEO goals into your public relations campaigns, you’re likely missing out on one of the core benefits of a solid PR press outreach strategy.
Gini Dietrich, over at leading PR blog Spin Sucks, has been talking for a long time about why it’s important to not just do media relations when launching a PR campaign. In this clear but concise webinar, Gini covers some of the essentials you’ll need to understand if you want to take advantage of media relations as part of your SEO strategy.
A free site test tool brought to you courtesy of Palladous, a digital marketing agency and regular contributor here at Tech Function magazine. It provides a free, instant automated analysis of common SEO problems which might be holding you back from ranking, even if you have all the amazing links and press coverage in place. It’s well worth a few minutes of your time to check it out and see what you can fix quickly for some fast results.
Press coverage is an essential part of the modern SEO mix. Google has been engaged for the last few years in a relentless push towards rewarding brands in search and returning their results near the top. Alongside all the other things you do to represent your business as a brand (events, supporting charities and recruitment), obtaining quality press mentions and coverage is another important cog. Real brands get real press coverage, it’s as simple as that. Real brands don’t just obtain easy to pick up links and mentions on DA30+ blogs. Disclosure: I wrote this guide, but you’ll get the chance to grab your copy of my free PR for SEOs and Marketers book if you check it out!
One of the leading tool providers, Moz, host this interesting discussion about the integration of SEO with PR and how campaigns can be effectively managed and monitored to achieve the dual objectives of publicity, rankings and most importantly a return based on your KPIs.
Too many brands treat social media as a one-way street , blasting out their messages much in the way they always have using traditional media ads on television, radio and newspapers. However, social media provides a unique opportunity for savvy business owners and marketers to use public relations to really connect with their audience, engage in conversation, and provide valuable content that enhances their view of the brand.
Crisis management has also become more time-sensitive due to social media where a negative story can now quickly balloon out of control making monitoring social media discussions, even on networks where the brand is not highly active, absolutely essential for the modern public relations professional, and business marketing team.
Everything PR has compiled a great list of 100 tools which can be used by PR professionals to monitor social media conversations and stay on top of trends for the brands they represent.
With so many platforms and ways for consumers to take part, it would be nearly impossible to keep up with the pace of conversation out there. These tools will help you manage your brand or client’s reputation by interacting with the most important content as soon as it hits the web.
There are always new social media platforms coming up. Some will be big winners like Facebook and Pinterest, others will fade into obscurity after promising initial interest. It’s important for your brand to stay current on the latest trends and your agency to be comfortable with advising you on the latest social platforms as they come to prominence.
Gary Vaynerchuk has announced that 2016 will be the year of Snapchat, with attention on the platform matching the early days of Twitter. Brands who wait until the platform is mature risk competing in a marketplace that resembles Twitter now where individual tweets can be buried by the sheer volume of content on the platform. Adventurous PR professionals will steal an early lead for their brands by embracing the new platforms just as they reach viable scale. You can watch Gary demonstrate Snapchat in Vegas and talk to several businesses about the exciting opportunities it presents.
Steve Brownlie, from Palladous shows how businesses can use conversations happening about them, their competitors, and their industry, from all over the web, including some old-fashioned forms of ‘social media’ such as forums, to find sales opportunities when others slip up or thank customers when they are sharing good news about your brand.
Being proactive in this way can help public relations campaigns be more about helping your message spread, taking advantage of mis-steps by competitors, and driving immediate sales, not just putting your story out there in a prescriptive format, as was most common in traditional public relations campaigns.
Social Media doesn’t just enable a direct communication channel with your brand’s customers, it also allows you to engage directly with journalists who might be interested in your stories and messages.
It’s not always appropriate to directly reach out to or harass journalists on social who haven’t replied to your e-mail or calls yet though… they may just not want to hear from you right now.
There are times, however, when journalists are actively looking for tips and information on social media or where you can add constructive or useful comment on their stories. Sprout Social has prepared this short list of do’s and don’ts for those of you looking to step into social outreach.
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