What is PR?

My dad died a little over a year ago, and to this day he really didn't know exactly what I did for a living.

It's not that my dad wasn't smart, in fact as a small businessman he was one of the best marketers I ever met.  It's just that it is very difficult to explain exactly what public relations is, especially to people who aren't marketers.

Bottom line, is I'd love to have a dime for every person who after I explained to them what I did, they said something like "so y'all make ads right?

No, we don't.

But we as the public relations industry do a very poor job of explaining what we do do, because we as an industry can't really agree on what that is ourselves.

This was underscored in a great blog post by my Twitter pal Shonali Burke in which she outlines "The Problem with PR." In it Shonali calls out the PR industry for poorly defining and promoting what it does for a living.

Are we a press release mill?  Do with just deal with the media all the time?  Are we writers?  Do we update Facebook and Tweet?

As public relations has evolved over the 20 or so years I've been in the business, it has become much more about the "relations" part of the equation.

The first question we at THP ask our clients is "what do you want to accomplish, or what is your end goal?"  And while they might think the way to reach that goal is to get a segment on The Today Show or Oprah, the truth is in many cases the best way is for us to introduce them to three people who can help them get their product or service to market.

As an industry we are too quick to write a release, promise the client two big media hits, or tell them the solution to all of their ills a Foursquare check-in strategy.  We are not good enough listeners or question askers to get clients and companies to drill down to what will really make them successful.

Read this post from Beth Harte in which she outlines about one hundred questions to ask when trying to solve someone's business problem.

At the end of the day this is what it is all about.  Yes, some clients come to us because they have big egos and just want to be interviewed by Matt Lauer to scratch that itch.  I hate those clients.

The best clients are the ones that come to us to solve their marketing or business issues.  They come to us because we have the tools and relationships to help them achieve their business goals.

Sometimes that means getting them the big story, sometimes that means introducing them to the right people, sometimes that means writing a great piece of internal communications that they can share with their employees, sometimes it means engaging the "Twitterazzi" and asking them to help create the buzz for product, movement or event.

A great example of this is the recent Cookies for Kid's Cancer event led by many folks including local PR diva Jennifer Pounders. Jennifer tapped into all of her relationships, friends, employers, clients, associates, media, social media, etc. to help raise more than $30,000 in a mobile marketing efforts that was as perfect a 21st Century grassroots public relations example as I can think of.  Hats off to her and those who participated.  It was accomplished on a shoe string with no ad budget, but EVERYONE knew about it and helped.   It was about relationships, it had a end goal and all the communications around it focused on that goal.

PR is uniquely positioned to take all the communications tools available from fax to Foursquare, from typing to Twitter, from LinkedIn to lunch and make those connections.

We are in the "relations" business and that's how I will answer that question from now on.

Dad, now you know.

Jon Newman

In 2002 Jon cofounded The Hodges Partnership and has helped to grow it into one of the country’s largest public relations firms (based on O’Dwyer’s annual rankings). Jon has taught communications as an adjunct professor at VCU, speaks regularly at conferences and meetings and blogs and tweets about public relations and marketing issues.

Read more by Jon

Leave a Reply

Sign up to receive our blog posts by email