Even for veteran PR pros, explaining what we do and don’t do can be challenging. For many people, “public relations professional” conjures up fictionalized images like Samantha from Sex & the City, who works with celebrities and spends afternoons at magazine photo shoots. Or maybe the first fictional PR character that comes to mind is Nick Naylor from Thank You for Smoking, a guy who defends products that cause people harm. If that’s your image of PR pros, you probably think we are all ‘spin doctors’ crafting messages to deceive the public.
As with most artistic portrayals, the truth about PR is much different than those fictional portrayals. Public relations is a vital component of the communications toolbox for companies both large and small. If you wound up here because you’re wondering how PR companies work with their clients to help them see a return on investment, you’re in the right place.
PR can help you reach and engage your target audiences. Since PR plays such a vital role in helping businesses grow and achieve their communications objectives, it’s important to understand what exactly it is.
What is Public Relations
The Public Relations Society of America gives this definition:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
To put it simply, public relations helps organizations tell their stories to the audiences they are trying to reach through the communications channels that are most relevant to those audiences.
At its core, public relations helps companies engage in a dialogue with key audiences to build brand awareness, trust and goodwill. This can be achieved through a variety of strategies and tactics (more on those later!) including press releases, media relations, crisis communications, social media, digital communications, content marketing and more.
How does Interviewing Public Relations Companies Work?
Successfully sharing your organization’s work with your clientele and future customers often requires developing a dedicated PR strategy. When you’re in the process of interviewing PR firms, the process will likely be similar for each one.
After submitting an initial request for information, a representative from the firm will reach out to discuss your communications objectives and current needs. Generally, an in-person meeting will follow when the firm can share more about their team, previous work and ideas for helping your business thrive.
Additionally, the firm will want to learn more about your goals, communications challenges and opportunities. The process typically ends with the firm submitting a proposal for you to consider and an agreement to sign.
Working with a PR Agency
Once you’ve signed the agreement, it’s time for your new PR agency to get down to work. Reputable firms will most likely recommend kicking things off with a period of extensive research. During this time, the firm’s goal is to learn as much about your organization as they can so that they are able to effectively help you create a communications plan.
The agency will spend a great deal of time reviewing your website, social media channels, marketing collateral and any past public relations items you may have like press releases, media lists and previous media placements. After reviewing all of these materials, your PR team will get to work launching your PR strategy.
Creating a Messaging Document
The first deliverable to expect may be a messaging platform. Most organizations are trying to reach at least two to three different audiences at any given time. A messaging platform helps to simplify this process by clearly defining each target audience and crafting messages that will appeal to them.
A messaging platform often begins with your company’s overarching key message or mission statement. This message is followed by key messages for each individual audience.
For example, if you’re a company in the healthcare field that makes medical devices to treat glaucoma, your target audiences might be patients with glaucoma and ophthalmologists. Key messages for patients with glaucoma would likely focus on the impacts of the disease and how your device helps treat these symptoms. For ophthalmologists the key messages would be different, focusing on the science behind the device, the ease of implantation and high success rates.
Generally, in a messaging document, these key messages are followed by proof points that serve to back up your claims, providing authority and credibility to your organization.
In the example used above, proof points for patients might include things like how living with glaucoma negatively impacts people’s quality of life or how left untreated glaucoma can lead to other health problems. For physicians, proof points might include concrete statistics about patient outcomes with the device or FDA certifications that indicate the device is safe for use.
Creating a messaging platform that accurately represents your organization’s target audiences and your work is a vital part of every communications plan because all public relations strategies and tactics will draw from this document.
Setting Public Relations Goals
Before your PR agency gets down to business pitching stories and setting up interviews with journalists, they will set goals for their work and individual PR campaigns. Goals will likely be tied back to brand awareness, building trust with your target audience and reaching new audiences.
Goals (sometimes called objectives too) may cover a wide range of public relations activities including social media, media relations and community relations.
Creating PR Strategies and Tactics
Once your public relations goals are set in stone, it’s time for your PR firm to start strategizing how these goals will be achieved through strategies and tactics. Think of strategies like the larger, overarching plan that may include several smaller activities (or tactics.)
For example, if your goal is to earn coverage in five Denver market news stories about innovative healthcare companies by April 2020, a strategy might be identifying ten newsworthy stories within your business that highlight innovative products.
Then, tactics underneath these strategies would include researching statistics that can be used in your media pitch, training spokespeople to give effective interviews, developing a media list and finally, pitching the story to journalists.
Evaluating PR Campaign Success
After working on strategies and tactics, your public relations firm will report back to you with metrics on the campaign’s success. For each campaign, success may look a bit different.
If you’re looking to build brand awareness through your social media channels, success might look like an increase in the number of your posts that are being shared by followers, exposing your brand to new audiences. Or if you’re focused on driving traffic to your website, a PR campaign could be successful if coverage includes links to your website.
No matter what goal you are looking to achieve from working with a PR firm, taking the time to evaluate how campaigns are performing is an important part of the public relations process. It’s also critical to keep in mind that success may not happen overnight.
The process of reviewing your current materials, developing a messaging platform and creating and executing a PR strategy takes time when done correctly. Public relations is a marathon and not a sprint. Often, it can take months of working closely with journalists before a story is published or going through a few different rounds of social media posts before landing on content that your audience is highly responsive to.
It’s important to stay patient and constantly evaluate what strategies and tactics are working and which ones could be performing better to ensure your PR campaign is successful.
Hiring a PR Firm
Choosing to invest in working with a PR company can be a transformative decision for your business. Whether you’re looking to reach new customers, build stronger relationships with your existing client base or repair a damaged reputation, public relations could be the answer.
A PR strategy can result in coverage in top publications, increases in social media followers and even have a positive impact on your bottom line. Taking the time to understand what public relations is and what working with a PR firm is like is essential to having a great experience.