Wednesday, May 18, 2011

P.R...What does that even mean?

What is "public relations"? Colloquially, it has become a discipline with an ambiguous job description that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. "If you ask ten random people what PR is, there will be 10 very different answers" (see here). Contrary to colloquialism, however, it is a very definite area of marketing. 

While—especially in this age of ever-changing forms of communication—PR is a somewhat open ended area of marketing, a basic definition of public relations is to "shape and maintain the image of a company, organization or individual in the eyes of the client's various 'public.' What is a 'public' exactly? A public, in PR terms, is anyone who ever has, or ever will, form an opinion about the client (more). Essentially: a public relations agency is there to present their client in the best light to their audience.

As a publicist, being tasked with making someone look good (despite a positive or negative situation) is no easy assignment—especially because PR is not pay-for-play advertising... a publicist instead focuses on gaining FREE publicity for their client. How? By drafting professional press releases and relevant pitches, a publicist is creating a compelling story for potential newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations. It is imperative for a publicist to not only communicate why their clients’ goods, services, and/or personal history is important—but, most importantly, to understand the mind of an editor. Thus, some of the best publicists are those who have served time as editors. 

A professional publicist or PR agency will also create media and press kits, along with look-books—crucial packages that must be written and designed with knowledge of what the press wants (and needs) to know. In sum, these kits "contains everything the journalist needs to understand who the client is and what the client does.” (more). 

Defining “public relations” is no easy task, but even harder for companies is determining what makes a great publicist. Think about it. You are entrusting your company, your welfare and business' image to another person or agency. A publicist must believe in what they are doing, who they are promoting and what is being asked of them from a client… but being a great publicist runs even deeper than that. A great publicist can "create opportunities for publicity from thin air...invent a story that the news media will eat up" (more). How do they do this? By keeping a pitch light, positive and relevant. 

Finally, when considering a PR agency or publicist, make sure they follow these 10 PR commandments:
  • All press is not good press: the easiest way to avoid bad press is to separate private and public life.   
  • Perception is reality: the first images the public sees are extremely powerful.   
  • Create a brand: What are your brands attributes? Who is your target audience? How loyal are they?   
  • The truth seeks its own level: there are no secrets, the truth is out there, don’t hide from it.   
  • Energize a base: define an audience and communicate effectively with it.  
  • The media will not wait for you: play offense not defense; do not wait for the media to come to you—pitch away! 
  • There is no wall between public and private: attend events because of the press line. Say good-bye to intimate parties. 
  • The medium is still the message: remember who you’re talking to and who their audience is.   
  • You can go home again: comebacks exist; the public loves someone who keeps on trying so don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work out the first time.   
  • They are only building you up to knock you down: Live your life like someone’s watching, because they are.
Remember: PR is a dynamic and ever-changing industry. With the constant creation of new and improved social media sites and broadcasting platforms, it is both easier and harder than ever to promote a company or deliver a story. Choosing the right medium is important and delivering the right angle on a story is necessary. 
When you hire a publicist, ask questions; among them:
Do they have contacts and credibility?
Have they generated successful campaigns in the past? 
Will they treat you as a person, not as just a giant enterprise? 

Is their approach custom to what you crave or do they follow the same approach for all of their clients? 
While P.T. Barnum said, "all publicity is good publicity" we must disagree...all publicity is good publicity only if you have a good publicist.

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