A beginners guide on Public Relations – what is it all about?

I lost count of how many times people asked me what is Public Relations. They also ask me why did I leave law to work with communications, but I see Public Relations everywhere, regardless of what you have chosen as a career. The definition of Public Relations is not confusing and the whole purpose of me creating this website is to explore more of this universe I have fallen in love with.

You probably have done some PR before even knowing that you were doing that. Of course, I am not talking about huge projects here – for that, you would probably need a specialist. What I’m saying is that Public Relations is all about… relationships. Just like politics, relationships are everywhere. If you are into philosophy, you might have heard about a wise man called Aristotle, who once described humankind as social animals, naturally. We, as individuals, are always seeking to socialize with each other, creating a society. Being social is bigger than us, it’s a need for surviving, to develop the “race” (I hate this word). In order to do so, we create relationships, where we bound to meet mutual interests. Although Public Relations embraces this nature… That’s not PR just yet.

How did Public Relations started?

It’s definitely not easy to tell exactly when the first Public Relations statement premiere in the world. Well, for one particular side, when we look at PR as a relationship strategy management, we can ramble deeply into anthropology only to find that it has been always there, like when Julius Cesar (yes, the Imperator) had given major speeches to a crowd regarding his political strategies and achievements, or when the greeks philosophers were talking about politics and democracy… It all came to an outcome that had a tight bond with the public opinion, which leads us to the core of PR.

I don’t want to dive into layers and layers of history here, so I’ll cut the storyboard to a much more recent time, if I may. At the beginning of the XX Century, a man called Ivy Lee has caught people’s attention – and that was exactly what he wanted. Lee is recognized by our fellow publicists as the “father” of PR, as he was a pioneer and founder of the first PR office, located in New York. Competition back then was on fire and people were getting into knowing more about what they had been supporting financially when they purchased services and products. Somewhat like today. In those times, all the companies wanted was to expand their reach toward the public and sell more. Also, like what’s going on today. However, the major change for their plan was that people were starting to chase information beyond the advertising to make their decision whether a product of a certain brand should or should not be purchased. The influence information had on the public was big enough to show some turbulence on the market. I’m guessing that by now you probably realized that PR and advertising are not the same things, right? But I’ll explore more of this in another post.

If you look back in history, you will find that we have developed ourselves as a society in sort of “quick steps” that weren’t that surprising at all. They have presented themselves as trends and that’s what Mr. Ivy Lee spotted. He figured out that it was necessary to work on public opinion regarding the brand or the product/service along with the advertising, which was a whole separated concept. Working the public opinion towards the company was a strategic plan to build a relationship between the brand and the public. However, there was a right way to do that.

I don’t blame you if a thought like “this is manipulation” has crossed your mind. It does sound like it, but it’s actually not because, in order to work with public opinion and building a relationship, you oughta work with transparency. The information shared with the public should be clear and precise, which means: no advertising guidelines. This modus operandi created a dialog between the public and the brands that were crucial to be handled with ethics. In a simple analogy, it’s like bounding with someone – you want to know who they are and what they are all about before straightening your ties, right?

How can Public Relations be defined?

So, what does a publicist do? You already know that we manage relationships, but let’s go a little farther.

You don’t put yourself or your company out there for the public to see (and judge) without the main goal. It would be too risky and the outcome could ruin your reputation, finances, image… everything you have ever build. Public opinion can be cruel if you do not prepare yourself properly. A publicist will acknowledge who you are, or what, if we are referring to a company. They will gather all the information available and they will come up with a plan for you to achieve your goal in the best way possible. Don’t worry, we will keep your confidential info as confidential as it is supposed to be – but here is a piece of popup advice: don’t ever hide information from your lawyer, your doctor, and your PR, okay? The consequences of that can be fatal. Right, you might be thinking, but what does it have to do with the relationship-building you were talking about?

We will get there in a minute, depending on how fast are your reading skills. We do not live in a static world, everything is happening at the same time and the strategy that leads you on yesterday might not work anymore tomorrow. A PR will lead you throughout the trends and the environment you are in while taking care of your assets and the people out there that keep you on the spot. They know how will those facts might influence yourself or your company and they will plan ahead how to deal with it and diminish the damages you might find on your journey. They manage your relationship, create an open dialog, share relevant and honest information, and much more. Here are some of the things a PR do in order to keep you on the game – and winning:

  • Reputation Management
  • Crisis Communication
  • Social Media
  • Press Releases
  • Media Training
  • Institutional Communication
  • Public Statements
  • Events

The list goes on and on and I can absolutely talk more about each and every bullet-point, and the others I did not mention. If you would like to learn more about it, leave a comment below to let me know 🙂

How can Public Relations have an impact on an organization… or even society?

In case you are wondering how can Public Relations help you out there, I will try my best to be brief. PR is under the science of Communication. Learning how to communicate your assets and even your mistakes to the public will lead you to one of two paths: success or failure.

There is an appropriate way to manage the communication that will be spread not only over your public statements, but also your image, reputation, or silence. A PR acknowledges the social responsibility you have, regardless if you are an individual or a company, and will lead a strategy that fits your reality, resources, and context to your best interest without playing the public.

This is how PR works. There is no self-promoting, just the honest truth spread in a way that will reduce damage and convert positive reactions towards you and your company. Manipulation is off the table here, once there is transparency ruling every move. Of course, let’s not be naive: transparency does not mean that the PR person for a company will openly share information without any concern.

Transparency and isonomy have very similar concepts. While isonomy means to treat differently the ones that require different treatment, transparency is attached to the need for providing clear, factual, and precise information with the public, but not overshare it. Think of it as if we were in a crisis: if you are being unfairly accused of a crime like money-laundering, you must share your financial balances to prove you are innocent; however, you don’t need to share more than you actually are requested to prove your innocence. Also, you wouldn’t have to share this info with the public who are not particularly interested in technical information (like your stockholders do). Of course, anyone will have access to this info if they want to because you have shared it, but there is a strategy planned under the publicity you have given to these documents without distorting the truth.

The impact lays in how trustworthy you or your company are. People don’t like to be fooled, they like to bound with brands that have a familiarity with their own values. This will raise up your sales, put you in the center of the market, and build a strong foundation that will be precious for you when you have to face your next public crisis. It’s better to restore the confidence for a brand that has stumbled than to begin from scratch, all over again.

Are Public Relations important?

This is a hard answer to give, once it is extremely subjective. How important is your image? How important is your reputation? Do you consider the relationships you have built throughout those years as crucial for you to keep climbing towards success?

The truth is that sometimes, you don’t need an expert in public relations to run your goals, because they don’t always request a high and complex level of planning and structured action. The best person that knows what your goal is always going to be you, but some projects would work better and faster with a structured PR plan and action.

I like to think of PR as a powerful tool that works alongside with Advertising, Marketing, and Sales team. As much as you know about your business, there is always a way to improve your outcome when you have the right strategy.

Published by flaviastamato

Publicist and writer, a citizen of the world trying to free herself from writing cliches (but it's so tempting....)

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