The Basics of Public Relations (PR): Meaning & Examples

A giant checklist with two items checked off the list. A PR manager has a number of tasks to do in their day, so having a clearly defined checklist is critical to executing on a public relations strategy.
A giant checklist with two items checked off the list. A PR manager has a number of tasks to do in their day, so having a clearly defined checklist is critical to executing on a public relations strategy.

It happens all the time: you see competitors in your field getting mentioned by the press or brands racking up shares and likes on social media. You feel envious they’re getting all the attention. What you might not realize is that their activities aren’t any more special than what you’re doing. The biggest difference is those companies and brands know how to leverage public relations.

Public relations and media relations can add impact to any marketing strategy. It’s an opportunity for brands to grow their reach beyond traditional sales messages. PR helps to shape the image you want people to have of your brand.

We’ll let you in on a secret: most PR doesn’t happen organically. It’s something that brands must proactively and intentionally pursue with lots of outreach, lots of patience, and a long-term vision.

So, what is PR and how do you use it? This guide shows you everything you need to know to build a strong public relations foundation.

Table of Contents:

Public Relations Definition

Conversation bubbles.

What is PR? Let’s start with the very basics: a public relations definition.

Public relations is defined as the practice of increasing awareness around a company or brand. It relies on media relations to earn press coverage, as well as content and KPIs to measure your PR performance.

Another PR meaning can be this: The planning of activities designed to shape the public’s view of your brand or company.

However you define PR, it’s important to think of the reason behind your PR activities. With intention leading the way, you can start shaping your audience’s opinions for your desired outcomes.

What Does PR Stand For?

What does PR stand for, and what is the meaning of PR, you ask? Spelled out, it’s public relations. Or in some cases, it can stand for press release.

Both of these are used in the world of PR. You can usually figure out which is which by looking at the context in which they’re used.

PR Activities: What Does PR Do?

Handshake.

PR is an indirect type of promotion. You’re not trying to capitalize on sales with public relations. Instead, your goal is to build brand awareness and sentiments around your company.

In some cases, sales will become a natural byproduct. That’s because PR helps to drum up interest and put you in the spotlight. As more people start talking about you and checking you out, some people may give you their business.

Another benefit of PR is that it steals the spotlight away from your competitors. You write a press release or go viral on social media – and BAM! Suddenly, people forget your competitors exist because they’re too busy looking at you.  

Use Cases for PR

Brands use PR for various reasons. The three most common use cases include:

Of course, there is also always a different approach to both B2C and B2B PR.

Crisis Management

Brands sometimes have to do damage control to avoid erosion of trust with their customers. PR activities and communications can put you back in the spotlight for the right reasons.

Brand Management

Startups or brands that want to grow their customer base can use PR to reach a wider audience. It helps the public get to know your company beyond your marketing messages and products.

Internal Relations

PR strategies can also cater to your internal audiences (think employees, shareholders, etc.). This is especially important for companies with multiple locations or remote employees.

How is PR Different from Marketing?

Public relations and marketing (and advertising) share a lot of overlap — but PR and Marketing are different. The most important thing to remember is that PR is considered part of marketing communications.
There are fields that are important for both PR and marketing divisions - social media or example has changed PR.

Unlike marketing, public relations activities focus solely on brand image. By comparison, marketers are more concerned about the total package: sentiments, reach, conversions, acquisition costs, etc.
That is also why the skills needed to be successful in a PR career path differ from the marketing skillset.

For example, as PR increases awareness, marketing and advertising leverage that awareness to drive revenue. PR builds recognition through press relations and speaking events, and marketing capitalizes on those leads to create paying customers.

It’s a common belief that people don’t buy products — they buy brands. Some people are even willing to pay more for a brand they like. When you build up the brand, marketing goals are easier to achieve.

Marketers wear a lot of hats, and public relations is just one of them. That’s why many teams prefer to hire a PR specialist or outsource to an agency with dedicated resources.

What Formats Does PR Take?

Public relations is heavy on content — specifically written communications like press releases. However you build your PR strategy, your content usually falls into one of three buckets:

Read this blog to learn more about the PESO concept.

Earned Media

Earned media is the holy grail of public relations because it’s essentially free publicity. Rather than pitching reporters and news outlets, your audience is promoting you on your behalf. Word of mouth marketing is powerful because consumers trust it more than traditional marketing messages.

That said, earned media is also the hardest to come by. You can encourage your customers to leave reviews and share on social media, for example. But ultimately, it’s up to them how and when they choose to promote you.

Paid media is one of the easiest types of media for PR agencies and specialists to control. Once you create a press release or other content, you can promote it just as you would your other marketing. Channels might include PPC ads, social media ads, or influencer marketing, for example.

Naturally, paid can also be the most expensive. In addition to paying for content creation, you’re also paying to publish it.

Owned Media

Your owned media is any content that your company controls. Blog posts, case studies, social media copy, original images, website copy, and email newsletters are all examples of owned media.

Your owned media serves as the foundation of your PR campaigns. You can control when, how, and where it’s published, make changes to the content, and track its performance.

For help creating a press release, read our blog post: 10 Examples of Effective Press Releases + Template.

Why Should Companies Care about Public Relations?

Wooden human figurines.

It’s true that you don’t necessarily need PR to shape your audience’s perceptions. But companies invest in PR because it allows them to have a say in those perceptions.

Maintaining a strong public relations strategy can help you find opportunities to build and grow your brand. It allows you to create a relationship with media outlets, influencers, and other key people that can advocate for your company. Consistency in your public relations campaigns can help to reduce the cost, time, and effort of your marketing team without sacrificing sales and revenue.

Plus, it gives you a chance to establish emotional connections with your target audience. Emotional connections can be powerful in terms of building brand loyalty. As mentioned previously, people buy from brands they like, even if those brands cost more!

Of course, we also have numbers for you to underline the importance of public relations for a company. Check out our blog about the 20 most important PR statistics for 2022.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Public Relations

Are there advantages and disadvantages of public relations? You bet!

It’s not a perfect science, nor does it guarantee great results. But knowing the advantages and disadvantages of public relations can help you decide the best approach for your brand. Let’s look at some pros and cons.

Advantages of PR

What are the advantages of public relations?

1. Brand Exposure

PR practitioners aim to build brand awareness and promote their company in a different way than traditional marketing. Your audience can get to know your company beyond its products and services and gain an impression of not just what you do, but also who you are.

2. Low-Cost Marketing

PR can be highly cost-effective because your content can be repurposed in many ways. For example, a press release can also be shared on social media, your company’s website, and your internal newsletter. Plus, if a press release is picked up by multiple outlets, that’s even more exposure from just one piece of content!

3. Trust

PR is informational and inspirational, both of which can build trust with a specific audience. Rather than directly marketing your organization, you’re simply putting it in a positive light.

Disadvantages of PR

What are the disadvantages of public relations?

1. Organic PR

Not all PR is positive. Negative PR can also pop up in the media, and you have very little control over it. When negative PR arises, such as a bad review or a critical news story, companies are pretty much forced to respond – even if it’s not “in the budget.”

2. Lack of ROI Guarantee

Even when you do get media coverage, there’s no guarantee your PR campaign will produce the desired outcome. You might also pour resources into developing a campaign and not get picked up by the media.

3. No Control Over Publication

Press releases that are part of a planned media campaign might get bumped if something newsworthy and timely comes along. This might delay your press release from being published, if it’s published at all.

Public Relations Examples

Would you know what public relations looks like if you saw it? Let’s look at some real public relations examples from real brands.

Tesco: Good PR by Offering Support 

First up, Tesco. This supermarket chain is a pillar in the communities it serves, so it decided to reinforce its image by promoting local pubs during the pandemic. Rather than push its own alcohol sales, the store suggested supporting local pub owners who were likely struggling in the era of social distancing.

Tesco tweet Pop to your local if you can.

Specsavers: Good PR through Patriotism

Another prime example: Specsavers. The company created this billboard as a way to celebrate the English team at the Euros. It fit well with the brand’s focus on eye care without trying to sell a thing.

Specsavers billboard.

Red Cross: Writing a Good Press Release

Last but not least, here’s an example from Red Cross that shows how to write a good press release. The press release reinforces the mission and value of Red Cross in times of need. It also hints that blood donations are in low supply and high demand, subtly encouraging readers to donate.

Want to see more PR examples? Check out our blog post: 10 of the Best PR Campaigns of 2021.

What Goes into a PR Strategy?

Now that you know the role of PR and what it looks like, how can you start using it to your advantage? It starts with developing a PR strategy.

First and foremost, think about the reasons you might need PR. For example, are you playing the long game and planning to use PR as an ongoing strategy? Are you responding to an immediate crisis? Starting with a goal will guide the rest of your strategic decisions.

Once you have an objective, next think about all the ways in which you can share your message. Some channels to consider include:

  • Email
  • Your website
  • News outlets
  • Social media
  • Guest blogs
  • Media platforms, like a press release distribution network
  • Influencers
  • Paid media

The channel(s) you choose should circle back to your objective. You don’t have to speak loud and proud on every channel to get the word out.

For example, if your goal is to build brand awareness as a new organization, you might gain traction faster by using influencers. Ask them for testimonials and have them share with their niche audiences. If you need to overcome negative press on Google, then things like press releases, guest blogs, and good reviews may be the best way to go.

Last but not least, a public relations strategy needs PR KPIs to track your performance. Just like with marketing, key performance indicators show you where you’re moving the needle so you can build on your successes.

--> Read our guide about how to create a PR strategy in 2022 for more information.

PR KPIs: How to Measure the Impact of PR

Charts and graphs.

Speaking of KPIs, what exactly should you measure to track your campaign performance?

We recommend tracking only the most important metrics. Because let’s face it: there’s a lot you can track. But if you track everything, you’ll spend all your time collecting numbers rather than putting those numbers to work!

The must-have PR KPIs include:

  • Audience Sentiments. Use audience analysis tools to track customer sentiments over time. Ideally, you want to see more people that feel positively toward your organization.
  • Share of Voice. Share of voice refers to the amount of media coverage you have compared to your competitors. You can use PR tools to input your top competitors and track coverage automatically.
  • Search Rankings. PR can help you move up in search rankings, especially for branded terms like your company name. Watch as your position changes over time to see if your PR is working for you.
  • Earned Traffic. As you promote your business, track how much your website traffic changes. Look for correlations between your media mentions and your spikes in website traffic. Bonus: more website traffic can also help you rise in the search rankings!
  • The ratio of Active Coverage and Potential Media Coverage. Your potential coverage represents the number of publications in your industry or other outlets you want to be featured in. Active coverage represents the number of publications you’re already featured in. Reducing this ratio over time shows you’re building more press relations, which will give you more options to promote your organization in future campaigns.

These aren’t the only KPIs for PR, but they are a great place to start. For more insight, check out our in-depth blog: The 14 PR KPIs and Why They Matter

How to Build Strong Press Relations

Two PR professionals shaking hands at a networking event.

An early part of your PR strategy should include building good media relations, and then learning how to manage relationships so they don’t turn stale. Many companies will hire a media relations manager or an agency solely for the purpose of fielding media inquiries, building a media list, and managing a media outreach plan.

Conducting media outreach is never a one-and-done activity. You need to stay on their radar so that when a PR opportunity arises, you have a better chance of getting their attention.

Quick tips to help you enhance your media outreach

These quick tips will help you enhance your media outreach and build and manage strong relationships.

1. Personalize your pitch

A generic email pitch is easily overlooked in the inbox, which remains the top tool to connect with media sources. But one that’s personalized will certainly catch the eye. If possible, use the person’s name and publication.

2. Give them a reason to comply

When you’re getting free press advertising, what’s in it for the reporter or editor? Your email pitch should be relevant. Include an incentive or two, such as meeting a tight deadline or a promise to share the content with your own audience. If you are vying for a guest post, let them know you're happy to include links to their content.

3. Pitch your idea to the right person

Digital media outlets often have different people to handle different beats or topics. If you want to get published, make sure you’re sending your pitch to the right editor or reporter. Someone who covers crime isn’t likely to share your story about a fundraiser unless someone is embezzling.

4. Connect with media professionals on social media

Sending one email one time isn’t always enough to land on someone’s radar. Repetition and consistency are key, so try social media outreach to connect with your sources. Connecting in multiple ways can help build familiarity.

5. Make it easy to say yes

Your media contacts are doing you a favor by publishing your content. The least you can do is to make your requests easy on them. Proofread your content and give them good quotes and sound bites so they have less editing to do.

Learn how to create lists of journalists for your outreach!

6. Be accessible

Media reporters are usually working against deadlines. If they need to follow up with a question, make sure you’re ready to respond. Give them ways to reach you directly and let them know you’ll respond quickly to their questions or comments.

For more tips on pitching to the press, check out this blog post: How to Pitch Your Press Release to Journalists.

Best Public Relations Tools to Build Your Image

PR practitioners benefit from a well-stocked tool kit. Here are some of the best PR tools that will make your job easier:

The Meltwater PR Suite

A comprehensive PR strategy calls for comprehensive PR software. Meltwater’s platform combines brand management, social listening, audience sentiments, and a media database into a single tool. Create, track, and manage all of your PR efforts and have the data to support future campaign decisions.

PR dashboard in Meltwater

The Meltwater PR Suite enables you to

  • perform automated tv & broadcast monitoring
  • perform automated print monitoring
  • perform automated social media listening
  • perform media outreach using an integrated media database
  • manage relationships and build strong press relations
  • write press releases and send them out via the integrated press distribution tool
  • measure the performance of press send-outs
  • be able to spot upcoming PR trends before anybody else

Google Alerts

Google alerts page.

Google Alerts is a free tool for PR professionals that monitors for keyword mentions across the internet. Set up an alert for your brand, organization, or industry-related terms. Then, get an alert to your inbox when those terms are published online.

PR Fire

If you’re doubling down on press releases, PR Fire can help you track your efforts. This paid tool distributes press releases to journalists on your behalf. It also monitors opens, reach, and performance so you’ll know when you’re published.

HubSpot CRM

Hubspot webpage.

To manage your outreach, HubSpot CRM is a great way to create a database of contacts. You can also set reminders for follow-up and even automate some or all of your email outreach.

Ready to take your PR strategy and software to the next level? To explore more about Meltwater’s impact on your public relations activities, schedule a demo today!

Loading...