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  • Writer's pictureErin Ratliff

Demystifying Public Relations (PR): A Beginner's Guide to Building Your Brand's Image




Public relations (PR) is a cornerstone of any successful business strategy, yet its intricacies often elude entrepreneurs and small business owners. Understanding the fundamentals of PR is more critical than ever for shaping public perception, fostering positive relationships, and ultimately, driving growth in today's digital landscape. This post aims to demystify PR, providing actionable insights and practical tips to help you navigate the world of media, communication, and brand reputation management.


"Publicity is absolutely critical. A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad."

Richard Branson


What is PR?

At its core, PR is the art and science of managing communication between an organization and its audience, with the goal of building trust, credibility, and goodwill.


PR is different from marketing or sales, which are also important to a companies growth and are also unique skillsets that require their own strategy and ownership.


Unlike marketing, which focuses on promoting products or services to drive sales, PR encompasses a broader spectrum of activities aimed at shaping public perception, influencing opinions, and managing crises.


Effective PR can be a game-changer for businesses of all sizes, helping to establish brand identity, enhance visibility, and differentiate from competitors. From securing media coverage to managing social media presence and engaging with stakeholders, PR plays a multifaceted role in shaping and amplifying your brand's narrative.


The 3 Ps of Public Relations and Comms


1) PROTECT: Brand/ org / employer reputation, license to operate, competitive positioning, policy, crisis planning and management, community relations. 


2) PROMOTE: Products, services, employment value prop., thought leadership, earned, owned, and paid media, investor relations, events. 


3) PERSUADE: Prospective/current clients and customers, colleagues, media, elected officials, regulators, investors, employees, leaders, investors, conference organizers, business partners, philanthropic and civic groups, general public. 


4) PERCEIVE: Connecting the dots, social listening, processing and unpacking of media coverage, digging into trust and sentiment, trendspotting early, integrating stakeholder feedback, making predictions, turning data into actionable insights that align with strategy.



"Media relations is a delicate dance. It’s about timing, relationships, and establishing trust."

Amy Jo Martin


Key Components of PR Strategy

When choosing PR tactics, it's essential to consider the availability and interest of organizational leaders and experts, as well as the resources available to support each tactic. By prioritizing tactics that align with leadership preferences and resource availability, organizations can maximize PR success and effectively support their goals.

The end result: increased backlinks, enhanced SEO rankings and search volume.



Media, Press or Influencer Relations: Building relationships with local media outlets, journalists, bloggers, and community influencers to secure positive media coverage and endorsements.

  • Proactive media pitching - pitching stories to increase awareness of the organization's mission and impact

  • Reactive media pitching - responding to existing stories with relevant insights or commentary from organizational executives or experts.


Shareable Content: Developing compelling stories, creating angles and hooks, leveraging user-generated content, and crafting a compelling brand narrative to share valuable and engaging content, news, updates, achievements and announcements, showcase social proof, communicate key messages, resonate and engage target audiences and foster community engagement. This content can be distributed in the following forms, channels and platforms

  • social media

  • press releases

  • website blogs


Thought Leadership: Positioning Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), executives, organizational leaders or spokespeople as industry influencers or subject matter experts to share expertise, perspectives, opinions and insights on specific topics with specific audiences, through their channels and platforms of choice:

  • social media

  • speaking engagements

  • guest articles /byline articles

  • media/podcast interviews

  • breakthrough research studies


Reputation Management: Monitoring and measuring digital tools and platforms to see changes in brand reputation and public perception over time, including positive or negative sentiment, and addressing customer feedback promptly and transparently to build credibility and improve publicity opportunities

  • customer testimonials

  • online reviews

  • online conversations

  • third-party application-based awards

  • crisis communications


Event Marketing: Organizing, sponsoring or attending events to generate buzz and attract media attention and raise visibility and credibility.

  • product launches

  • promotional activities

  • press conferences

  • workshops or educational events

  • industry conferences

  • trade shows or exhibitions.


For small businesses with limited resources, adopting a strategic approach to PR is essential. By focusing on targeted outreach, storytelling, and relationship-building, even the smallest enterprises can amplify their brand message and establish credibility within their industry.


"PR means telling the truth and working ethically – even when all the media want is headlines and all the public wants is scapegoats."

Stuart Elliot



Best Practices in PR

You can't expect success from copy/pasting a press release into an email, sending it to an untargeted list of hundreds of media contacts.


To ensure PR works for you you must:


  • Develop a Clear Strategy. Set goals and understand how you’re going to track results. This is the foundation of it all. What do you hope to accomplish by undertaking PR? WHY do you want your name out there, WHY is awareness and visibility important to you?

  • Provide Value. Before sending your pitch to journalists, consider if your news is genuinely newsworthy. Develop your story. Figure out exactly what your story is, why it matters, and why others would care. Connect your content to larger trends and add value to the conversation.

  • Tell a Strong Story. Make sure you dig deep and have a unique and clear message. Storytelling is what connects and unites us after all- it's exciting to learn something new or to feel like you're getting a sneak peek. Highlight the brand's unique selling points or newsworthy aspects, identifying unique and compelling story angles.

  • Reach the Right People. Create a targeted media list. Build a prospect lists by researching and identifying relevant contacts (producers, editors, reporters, journalists) and media outlets who regularly cover topics related to your brand or industry, conduct outreach through cold email, or through open-source journalist query platforms. Avoid the cringe-worthy “spray and pray” approach.

  • Keep It Simple & Concise. Aim for a press release of 500 words or less, using bold fonts and bullets to streamline your message. Make sure to ensure accuracy, avoiding errors, especially in names and facts, and enlist a second set of eyes or tools like Grammarly for proofreading. Triple-check all details before sending

  • Be Consistent & Persistent. Pitch often. Don’t give up after a few no’s or no responses. If a pitch doesn’t land, try a new angle. Have patience, and persistence. It takes time and effort to develop and build your momentum.

  • Be Available: Be prepared to rearrange your schedule last minute if the opportunity for an interview comes up last minute. You don't want to miss this rare chance!


PR isn’t a one-and-done,check-the-box-off strategy. PR is a marathon, not a sprint.

What to Avoid:

  • Asking the reporter to put a link in the story after it's been published.

  • Asking to see the reporter's story in advance.

  • Asking reporters to change the headline (unless it's factually incorrect).

  • Expecting the article to be solely about you - it's perfectly normal if other companies are included in the story, unless it's a paid advertorial


To get measurable ROI off your PR efforts then it's important to make sure you

  • Have a clear purpose for why you are pitching.

  • Have your brand, messaging, or audience figured out, to a 'T'

  • Have a team with the patience or stamina to see it through, committing to putting the work in and doing it for the long haul.

"Public relations is the art of telling your story in such a way that people will understand it, remember it, and act upon it."

Arthur W. Page



Relationships Matter

Some PR folks are of the mindset, “It’s the story that wins, not the people you know.”


This is true sometimes, not always. While you should never send a reporter a lifeless, dead-end pitch, sometimes (err.. MANY times) having the right connections or knowing the right people can get you in the door.


When you cultivate those critical longstanding relationships with the press and media, you....

  • already have established trust and comraderie

  • get real-time feedback, helping you rethink or reshape a story or pitch

  • can get easier connections or redirections to others on the editorial team


Having direct relationships with press can make a big difference in your coverage rate.

The brand will benefit tenfold.



The Reality of PR Outreach

There's a common misconception that cultivating strong media connections or aggressively pitching automatically leads to more coverage. However, while cultivating relationships with the media is valuable for gaining insights and feedback, it doesn't ensure coverage unless the story is guaranteed to resonate with the reporter and their audience.


The harsh truth of PR: Earned media coverage is NEVER a guarantee.


Hundreds of interesting, compelling, relevant newsworthy, relevant, timely, deeply researched, and tightly pitched stories don’t get published. Just because you do an interview or submit commentary to a reporter doesn’t mean it will end up in the story.


Why? Because it's competitive. For every reporter, there’s 25+ PR folks pitching at any one time. Newsrooms and media publications are notoriously understaffed and overworked. Plus, these days many reporters who need story sources will issue an open call for responses, which means you are competing against other experts in your industry for a coveted spot in their story.


Even if a journalist has a relationship with a PR person they may prefer to get multiple submissions so that they can choose the best responses to use. This approach gives them options and protects them in case a promised story source flakes out at the last minute or simply doesn’t give them what they need.


There’s a ton of reasons editors, publishers or producers might not ultimately run with a source, and they don’t automatically mean your contribution was lacking. We might want to chop the length of a story or they may not like how a particular source flows with a story or a campaign, or the direction of the piece might change after the first draft. The list goes on


So what is the best approach for brands and businesses?


  • Diversify! Never rely on traditional media relations as your primary distribution and brand building avenue. Spread out your strategy across bylined articles/advertorial, public speaking/events, guest appearances, influencer marketing and more.

  • Invest! Go all in on your own content distribution channels including social, newsletters, podcasts, blogs, email list, events, employee ambassadors, etc.

  • Stay Positive! Avoid getting defensive, hurt or offended when busy/stressed reporters miss your email or pass. Polite persistence and feedback are fine, badgering is not. Be a good sport and they’ll be more likely to engage with your pitch next time. 

  • Think Realistically! Be wary if a firm, agency or freelancer makes a guarantee for coverage. In that case they're not selling earned media, they're selling ads.


At the end of the day, there are two secrets to this industry:

  1. Strong storytelling instincts and deep research on media targets can help achieve successful PR results.

  2. PR is a numbers game. You can expect to spend a lot of time on a submission/response, and then it doesn’t get used or published. In the famous words of Wayne Gretzky "you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take." So take some shots.


How to do this effectively?


Choose Wisely. You don’t have to respond to everything. Focus on the most relevant opportunities that really showcase your expertise, then do your best to deliver quality commentary with an insightful and unique POV. Remember, reporters are being deluged with bland, Chat GPT-enabled responses, so just making an extra effort will give you an edge.


Act Quickly. Reporters tend to prioritize whatever comes in first, so your chances of inclusion increase if you deliver your insights in a timely fashion. This also builds trust and makes reporters more likely to reach out to you directly for future opportunities.


Share Widely. Got included in a story or article? Great! Share it on social media, tag the writer and/or send a thank you note. Stay in touch and share other story ideas. Do the things that leave a good impression and give them a reason to come to you directly next time they are planning a story.


Work Smarter, Not Harder. Always save your unused/unaccepted submission for repurposing. This will save you tons of time down the line if future opportunities come along, but these pieces can also be used for other purposes like social posts, blog posts, etc.


"Good public relations is the heart of a company. It breathes life into a company's beliefs and tells its story to the world."

Ronn Torossian


Measuring Success

While the impact of PR efforts may not always be immediately quantifiable, there are several key metrics and indicators that can help gauge effectiveness and ROI. By tracking and analyzing these metrics over time, businesses can refine their PR strategy and optimize resource allocation for maximum impact.


Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) associated with PR can vary depending on the specific goals and objectives of the PR campaign, but some common KPIs include:

  • Media Mentions: Tracking the number and quality of media mentions, including articles, interviews, features, and press releases, across various platforms and publications.

  • Earned Media Value (EMV): Calculating the monetary value of media coverage obtained through PR efforts, based on advertising rates for equivalent space or airtime.

  • Impressions and Reach: Measuring the total audience exposure generated by media coverage, including the number of views, readership, listenership, or social media followers reached.

  • Share of Voice (SOV): Assessing the proportion of media coverage and online conversations related to your brand compared to competitors within the industry or market segment.

  • Website Traffic: Monitoring the volume of website visitors referred from media coverage, press releases, or other PR activities, as well as the quality of traffic and conversion rates.

  • Social Media Engagement: Analyzing the level of audience engagement, including likes, shares, comments, and mentions on social media platforms, in response to PR content or campaigns.

  • Brand Sentiment: Evaluating the overall sentiment and perception of your brand among target audiences, based on media coverage, online reviews, and customer feedback.

  • Lead Generation: Tracking the number of leads or inquiries generated as a result of PR activities, such as press releases, events, or thought leadership content.

  • Backlinks: Tracking the number of external websites that link to a particular website or content piece can help measure success of PR efforts in gaining online visibility and credibility.

By regularly monitoring and analyzing these KPIs, PR professionals can measure the impact of their efforts, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate the value of PR to stakeholders and decision-makers within the organization.


"PR is a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering - it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape."

Laura Ries



Wrapping It Up

Trust me, media relations is NOT a dying industry, despite popular beliefs. It's still valuable, just more challenging in years past.


PR is an indispensable tool for building and maintaining a positive brand image, driving growth, reputation and visibility for businesses of all sizes. With a clear strategy, coupled with time, focus, consistency, patience and persistence, it can help you stand out in a crowded marketplace.


PR can come with a lot of responsibility and pressure. It's a lot, and just more validation that a trained professional need to always be in the room.


But remember, PR has to be a collaborative partnership in order to work. It's not something you can just hand it off and forget. It takes a team, bolstered with trust and consistency over time.


Need help implementing a strategic approach to PR, one that is tailored to your unique goals and resources? I look forward to working with you.



 


Erin Ratliff is a holistic business coach and organic growth & visibility marketer serving energy-sensitive, earth-loving, heart-led soul-preneurs, self-starters, and founders with the mission of personal and planetary healing.


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