What is public relations?

What is public relations?

I’ve decided to start a new series – I’m calling it #learningfromteaching. I’m teaching an Introduction to Public Relations subject at CQUniversity this year. This is an exciting challenge but also one that’s making me go ‘back to basics’. I was trying to brainstorm a blog topic and then I realised – I’ve got at least 12 weeks worth of content right in front of me!
So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Week 1. Kick your feet up (only because you’re not in my classroom), take a sip of coffee, and let’s get stuck in!
This week we’re learning how PR is different from journalism, marketing and advertising.

What is public relations?

According to the PRIA, public relations is “the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organisation (or individual) and its (or their) publics”.
The thing that makes public relations different from any other discipline is relationships.
A good PR practitioner helps their client to build relationships, which helps them maintain their reputation, build trusted networks, sell products or establish themselves in their field. These relationships could be with:
  • the media,
  • potential sponsors,
  • government,
  • current clients,
  • potential employees.

Now for the difference

Marketing and PR are quite often lumped together, but they’re separate skills. Marketers focus on the ‘marketing mix’ of price, product, place and promotion, with the aim of selling products or services.
Journalism and public relations often go hand-in-hand, but the motivation of a journalist is different to a PR practitioner. Journalists should operate with fairness and balance, producing content in the ‘public interest’. A PR practitioner will usually have a vested interest in helping a business to succeed (and that’s a good thing if you’re my client!).
Advertising often has the largest budget, but is essentially a ‘paid announcement’ promoted through different media.
The key is that public relations is a strategic effort to build relationships that matter long-term for your business.

In practice

An example that’s familiar to most people is McDonalds. Given the dramas of the last week over in England, I’m going to use KFC as my example today.

Marketing: responsible for the packaging of your burger or even grouping it together with a chicken leg, chips and softdrink to make an ‘Ultimate Box’, and even promoting it on social media.
Journalism: making the front page when KFC in the UK ‘runs out of chicken’.
Advertising: taking out a full-page ad in the newspaper to say sorry
Public Relations: creating the strategies to deal with the crisis, getting the key messages out on Twitter, and keeping the brand’s reputation intact.
The mark of an excellent PR practitioner is their ability to work well with the other disciplines – a business of any size will need most of them to thrive in the marketplace.

I say, give me PR any day!

Sneak peek: next week’s #learningfromteaching blog will look at an issue in public relations that has fascinated me for a while. Why are there so many women in public relations?