Defining PR: Setting a Foundation

Definitions Blog

At The Agency we always seek to help others understand public relations on its own and as a profession. Those in the PR industry most likely agree with us that for people who explain what others do for a living, it sure seems like we have a hard time explaining what we actually do. We’ve rounded up some of the most common (and likely, the least understood) PR terms to explain this profession the best way we can.

  • Public Relations

If we’re going to start anywhere, we may as well start here. What is Public Relations, exactly? I remember my Intro to PR class in university explaining it almost exactly as the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) does: “Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest. (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008)” Admittedly, this seems like a vague explanation, but it is sort of a catch-all for everything our industry does. (Also, what PR is not? Dead. Check out our principal Arleigh’s thoughts on these declarations.)

  • Strategic communications

One of the most important parts of the CPRS definition of PR is the term ‘diverse publics.’ This means that even though a story or message from an organization may stay the same, our approach to each public varies. These publics, depending on the organization, may include customers (both current and potential), employees, investors, the media, or even governments. There is a reason why ‘strategic communications’ comes first in The Agency’s tagline. At The Agency, strategic communications is the root of all of our work. No two publics are the same, and so your plan of approach should reflect that difference. Another important part of strategic communications is identifying whether your story is relevant to only some, but not all, of your publics. For example, an earnings report may be important news to your stakeholders and your employees. But you don’t always need to write a press release or contact major financial media outlets to pitch them the story if it will not be of interest to them. Choose your audience strategically.

  • Media relations

If you understand that media relations is not the be-all, end-all of public relations, congratulations. Many people, both within the industry and not, think that PR means getting ‘your name in lights’ or print. While we do provide media relations as a service to our clients, it’s not the only one that we offer. All of our plans are rooted in strategic communications: media relations is only part of a greater plan to help our clients achieve their goals. Another important part of media relations is identifying the best reporters/outlets to approach, depending on your story. If a client, for example, is launching a B2B product or service, we seek out the niche organizations and publications that will best serve their interests and provide them with access to their most relevant audience. Targeting a campaign towards the specific niche audience can more likely link back to sales, hence making them successful. Our Senior Account Manager Meghan wrote a great series on Media Relations called ‘Pitching 101’.

The above are only a few terms that define public relations but they are the foundations of our profession. Even though the industry is changing at an ever-increasing pace, we need to understand this foundation to better serve clients, customers, stakeholders and their various publics.

What other terms do you think should be part of the definition of PR? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @PRTheAgency.

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