Public Relations Basics: Q&A with Jon Pushkin

Mar 08, 2015


Public Relations has been around since the early 20th century and continues to evolve and expand with technology and business practices. It now involves a variety of activities and comprises many areas of specialization. It can feel overwhelming, especially for smaller organizations and nonprofits with fewer resources.

Veteran PR strategist and founder of Pushkin Public Relations, Jon Pushkin, shares some insight from over 20 years working in the field of public relations.

It seems like there are a lot of definitions of Public Relations, and it covers such a broad range of activities. How do you sum it up for your clients?

JP: It’s true that a lot of people have a hard time explaining public relations in simple terms. As a profession, we don’t always do a great job of defining the essence of the PR brand, so imagine how confusing it is for people who are not professional communicators.

I generally tell our clients that when you boil it down, PR is about three simple questions: 

  • What’s your story?
  • To whom do you want to tell it?
  • What’s the best way to deliver that information?


When you answer those questions, it should give you some important insight into how to develop an effective strategic communications plan.    

Why is Public Relations an important part of an organization's overall business strategy?

JP: Every organization needs to understand how to communicate its brand clearly and consistently. It needs to understand how to tell its story to the audiences it wants to reach, and it needs to know whether that story resonates with those audiences. An organization’s business strategy should guide its communication strategy. A brand can’t just be an empty promise. It must be credible, or you will lose the trust of your stakeholders.  

What are the top PR mistakes you see organizations making? What should they be doing differently?

JP: One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is to think tactically instead of strategically. They think one press release or media story will solve their problems. They set up a Facebook page without any clear objectives of what they want that page to accomplish. Then they get discouraged when they don’t see the results they wanted. Tactics should support your strategy, not the other way around. If you start by defining your objectives, then developing strategies to achieve them, your communications program will be much more effective.

How do you customize your approach to account for a client's size, industry, goals, etc.? 

JP: We always customize a team for a client depending on what that client needs, its budget, internal team and other factors. We work together with each client to develop a plan that suits its needs and personality. It’s a collaborative process and every client is different. One size does not fit all.

For organizations just beginning to think about Public Relations, what is most important to consider? Where should they start? 

JP: A good place for an organization to start is to understand its brand and how it is currently communicating. You can’t develop a plan without doing your homework first. We usually start with a communications review and key message development. Once we know where we want to go, we will recommend a combination of strategies, such as media outreach, online communications, community relations, maybe even paid media. 

What are your PR questions? Leave it in the comments, and we'll answer your question in our next Q&A.

Category: Public Relations

Maribeth Neelis


As a digital marketing strategist, Maribeth loves learning and writing about content marketing, social media, SEO, paid advertising, PR and mobile. She is obsessed with data-driven marketing and believes all online channels should be given a strategy, so engagement can be personalized and well targeted. In her free time, she likes watching science documentaries, hiking, skiing and traveling to far-flung places.

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