The Ultimate Guide to Public Relations in 2020
Written by Allie Decker
Discover how to use public relations to increase the visibility of your brand and drive views to your campaigns.
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Are you looking to expand your business’s reach? Would you like to expose your brand to new people who’d likely be interested in your product or service?
Welcome to the world of public relations.
Public relations defines how a company communicates with people — customers, partners, journalists, philanthropists, politicians, and the general public. All businesses need public relations, regardless of their size or industry.
Why? Because, nowadays, customers want to trust the brands they do business with — and nothing builds and fosters trust like public relations.
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What is public relations?
Public relations (PR) is the practice of leveraging media channels to promote your organization and cultivate a positive public perception. PR is also the process of managing your organization’s brand and communications — especially in times of crisis.
PR is how brands manage the spread of their information, so it’s similar to branding. The main difference is that PR is focused on communication and reputation, whereas branding relies on visual elements like logos, websites, and marketing materials.
Brands manage their PR — or communication and reputation — through various media channels.
Media: Owned vs. Paid vs. Earned
The types of public relations, which we’ll review shortly, can be organized into three main categories: owned, paid, and earned media. Each type works towards the same goal of building a positive brand reputation, but they use different strategies to get there.
Your PR strategies should include all three, as they all provide different ways of reaching, engaging, and building trust with your audience.
Owned media is defined as any content that your business controls. It’s often the go-to strategy for businesses looking to build a PR campaign.
Rightly so, as it’s arguably the most important type of PR-related media that you should be focusing on. This is because you have total control — unlike the other two media tactics.
Owned media includes:
- Social media posts
- Blog content
- Website copy
- Email newsletters
Owned media acts as a “home base” for your PR activity. When people write about your brand or products, they’ll likely reference (i.e. link to) your owned media in their coverage.
It’s not uncommon to pay to promote your content in the marketing world … and it’s no different when it comes to PR.
Paid media refers to paying to make your content visible. It’s standard practice to promote owned media.
Paid media includes:
- Social media advertising
- Influencer marketing
- Pay-per-click (PPC)
Putting some funds toward boosting PR content is becoming increasingly popular. Since the majority of social platforms are reducing organic reach for business accounts, paid media is a fantastic way to make sure your content gets in front of the people you want to see it.
Earned media is the tactic used to boost conversation around your brand. It’s essentially word-of-mouth and is arguably the best PR tactic to build your reputation.
Earned media is the hardest type of PR media to obtain. It takes a lot of effort, consistency, and hard work to establish it — hence why it’s “earned”.
Earned media includes:
- Mentions in industry news and reviews
- Praise from customers on social media
- High rankings on search engines
All of these media avenues provide ways to use PR to build brand awareness, generate leads, and convert those leads into paying customers — similar to your marketing. Now, let’s discuss the difference.
Public Relations vs. Marketing
Public relations and marketing are similar in their actions and tactics, but their goals are quite different. The main goal of PR is to boost the reputation of your brand. On the other hand, the main goal of marketing is to drive sales.
Unlike marketing, PR doesn’t always have an impact on sales. It typically indirectly promotes your products or services through activities like press release distribution and speaking at industry events. Alternatively, instead of improving the perception of your business, marketing campaigns focus on driving revenue and boosting profits.
People don’t buy products, they buy brands. For this reason, using PR and marketing in tandem drives the best results: typically, someone connects with your brand as a result of your PR efforts and converts into a customer as a result of your marketing tactics.
Studies show that brand consistency can result in a revenue boost of over 20%. You could be seeing similar results by combining your PR and marketing strategies.
Now, let’s discuss the types of PR you may leverage as you promote your organization and build and manage your reputation.
PR Strategies and Tactics
- Business events
- Community relations
- Corporate and social responsibility
- Crisis management
- Employee relations
- Media relations
- Social media
Business events are opportunities to market your products or services and gain exposure for your brand. Whether hosted or attended by your company, events are also important sales opportunities. Events give you a chance to meet prospective customers and delight current ones face-to-face.
Speaking engagements at events are also helpful for boosting brand awareness and sharing unique thought leadership or data-driven information that can help elevate your brand.
Community relations refers to building positive relationships with the local community around your business. This could include charity work, donations, special discounts, or anything that builds a strong relationship with the community and strengthens customer loyalty.
Corporate and Social Responsibility
Corporate and social responsibility is similar to community relations, but it places a greater emphasis on ethical business practices, environmental responsibility, and philanthropy — locally, regionally, and globally. This is a critical area of PR as it directly affects public perception of your brand.
Crisis management is the practice of acknowledging, managing, and working to reverse negative communication and perception surrounding a business crisis. Anything that could jeopardize or ruin your brand’s reputation should be handled through PR.
Manage, plan for, and communicate during your corporate crises with this free crisis management communication kit.
Crisis management is an important function of PR and should be handled quickly, consistently, and strategically. With certain PR tools, crises can be averted through monitoring online chatter and quality-checking any marketing or promotional material that may be misunderstood or misconstrued.
Employee relations, also known as internal PR, is the practice of communicating with and cultivating a positive employee perception of your company. This process may include dedicated employee newsletters or communications, employee perks and benefits, free training and skill-boosting opportunities, employee appreciation events, and working with unions or employee groups.
Employee relations not only keeps your employees motivated, hard-working, and loyal, but it also encourages them to advocate for your business — which can bring in both customers and more high-quality employees.
Media relations refers to building positive relationships with journalists, publications, and other news outlets. This process typically includes writing press releases, organizing press releases, and scheduling interviews. Not only does this gain exposure for your business and products but it also encourages the media to market your brand for free.
Download our free Inbound Press Release Kit to access step-by-step templates to build press releases and a promotion plan.
Social media is considered both an earned and paid PR tactic. For most companies, social media can be a helpful PR (and marketing) tool —it’s an effective way to amass followers, convert customers, share your content, and resolve crises.
Whether you’re sharing a post with your audience or interacting with a single customer, your social media activity is open to the public. That’s why it’s critical to have a social media strategy that keeps your communications consistent, positive, and accurate.
Now, let’s talk about the who’s responsible for these different types of PR: your PR manager.
What does a PR manager do?
PR managers are responsible for building, executing, and monitoring your PR strategies and tactics. They typically handle crisis communications, write press releases, and lead a team of other PR professionals who manage your brand’s public presence.
Let’s discuss the skills and tasks your PR manager(s) will master.
PR Manager Skills
Successful PR managers have a particular set of skills — below, I will cover a few important ones.
One primary focus of public relations is building your business’s reputation. To do this, PR managers spend a lot of their time speaking about your company at public functions, press conferences, and other events. For this reason, excellent communication is a key skill for PR managers.
PR managers should also be able to communicate well in written form.
Since PR managers are responsible for writing press releases and company-related news, strong writing skills will help convey the appropriate message to promote your company. This is especially useful for online PR where you’ll need to create blog posts, website content, and press releases to gain coverage.
Similar to marketing, creativity goes a long way in the public relations world. Great PR managers are creative and know how to create a strategy that stands out from the crowd, which is important because a unique story or perspective will drive PR coverage.
Strong research skills
Public relations is a social industry, and people might be talking about your brand without directly mentioning it. Good research skills will help PR managers find and leverage these opportunities.
PR managers will also need to do lots of research when planning your PR strategy. Because they might need additional information, statistics, and data points to boost the power of their owned media, strong research skills are essential.
PR Manager Tasks
The day-to-day tasks of your PR manager can vary depending on your industry, active PR campaigns, PR team size, and other factors. However, here’s what they often include:
- Writing press releases to announce company-related news
- Creating fact sheets and media kits about the company to send to media teams for brand-building
- Giving media training to both in-house and external teams
- Attending and speaking at industry events and representing the brand at trade shows, recruiting events, etc.
- Finding and analyzing media coverage and promoting that content through owned and paid media channels
Public relations managers are also responsible for tracking and measuring their PR efforts. The following key performance indicators (KPIs) can help your public relations manager(s) analyze and improve your PR strategies.
PR Measurement: 8 Public Relations KPIs to Track
- Brand mentions
- Domain authority
- Site traffic
- Social media engagement
- Social shares
Measuring your PR performance and impact can be tough. These KPIs will help you track your PR efforts and determine the effectiveness of your PR strategy.
Backlinks help you find where and in what context your brand has been mentioned. With backlinks, sites who’ve mentioned your brand have linked to your website, making it easy for readers to click-through and visit your website (and easy for you to track).
But, it’s not just new traffic you’ll benefit from when collecting backlinks — you could see a rise in your SEO rankings, too.
2. Brand Mentions
Brand mentions occur when someone mentions your brand. This metric is important because it helps you measure awareness of your brand.
You might see brand mentions in traditional news coverage, on other business or personal blogs, in reviews, or on social media. Some mentions may be tagged or hyperlinked, and some may not link back to your brand or website — which means you have to go looking for them. Check out the PR tools section for some helpful software tools.
Note: It’s important to read brand mentions for context. Remember, you want people to be saying good things about your brand, and it’s not always easy to understand the value of coverage until you read the entire piece. (I talk about measuring sentiment below.)
While the volume of new customers coming directly from your PR activity isn’t the easiest to measure, it is definitely worth investigating.
You can discover where your customers came from by either surveying customers after they purchase and asking how they heard of you or by using a tool like Google Analytics to learn about your customers’ conversion paths (a.k.a. their route to purchase).
Note: While this is an exciting metric to track, don’t feel disheartened if you don’t see an influx of conversion-ready site traffic. Remember, the goal of PR is to raise brand awareness, spread the ideas of your internal thought leaders, and communicate the ideas of your brand — those new site visitors could always return and make a purchase in the future (now that they know about your brand because of your PR).
4. Domain Authority
Domain authority refers to your website’s SEO ranking and how it performs in search results.
It’s ranked from 1 to 100 (with 100 being the highest) and is a valuable measure of how your website compares to your competitors’. The higher your domain authority is, the better your website will rank in search results.
Domain authority is made up of three main factors: links to your site (backlinks), links from your site to other, well-ranked websites, and the age of your site. While you can’t magically make your website older, you can leverage PR to attract backlinks and place links in your content.
Moz offers a free tool to check your domain authority, page rank, and other important website measures.
Sentiment, which is a synonym “viewpoint,” “opinion,” or “attitude,” measures how your brand is mentioned. While brand mentions and backlinks typically improve your brand awareness and SEO, sentiment is what sets apart the positive mentions from the negative one.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” While I can’t agree or disagree, I’d say that it’s at least good practice to be aware of negative press. Tracking sentiment can help you understand what your audience is saying about your brand and whether or not you need to address any problems or concerns. Check out the PR tools section for some helpful tools.
6. Site Traffic
Site traffic is a sign of successful PR efforts. If people are hearing about your brand through earned media and heading to your site, your PR efforts are reaching your audience.
As you run PR campaigns, track your site traffic once press releases and other efforts go live. Use your site analytics to check your visitors’ referral sources (how they made their way to your website) and aim to replicate this in the future.
7. Social Media Engagement
Social media engagement encompasses a few types of activity: views, impressions, likes, shares, and comments.
This information shows the level of brand awareness and engagement among your audience members. It also tells you when your audience is most active, i.e. when should be posting and interacting with your followers.
8. Social Shares
Social shares are different than social media engagement. Social shares refer to when your audience shares something from your website or blog on their social media.
This is a critical metric because it tells you that your audience enjoys your content enough to vouch for it on their social channels. It’s a very clear measure of your brand reputation among your audience.
When looking at social shares, pay attention to which type of content is frequently being shared. This will give you an idea of what your audience enjoys the most and what kind of content to create more of.
Now, let’s review a handful of PR SaaS tools that can help you implement your PR strategies and track the PR KPIs I’ve mentioned above.
Public Relations Tools
We’ve rounded up a handful of helpful PR tools to help you execute your PR campaigns and measure your impact and performance.
Brand24 helps you monitor online mentions about your brand, product, or service, and measure the results of your PR campaigns. Slack integrations and a notifications system will help you react in time to prevent a PR crisis.
Agility PR Solutions
Agility PR Solutions is a paid tool that provides powerful yet easy-to-use solutions for your media database, monitoring, and analytics. These solutions help identify and connect with influencers, capture coverage, and measure impact.
ANewsTip is a media search, monitoring, and relationship management tool. You can use it to search media mentions by keyword or handle, reach out to journalists and influencers all over the world, and create a media database of important PR campaign contacts. It offers both paid and free plan options.
CoverageBook is a paid tool that helps you find and collect any coverage of your PR content. It’s a great tool for PR agencies who are building coverage reports for their clients.
Flaunter is a paid tool that gives you media access to brand content and PR samples. As a business, it’s a place to publish high-quality brand and product imagery so journalists, influencers, and bloggers can share it.
Google Alerts is an easy-to-use, free tool that allows you to set up email alerts for certain keyword mentions. When a name, keyword, or link is mentioned online, Google sends you a digest email alerting you of the mention.
Mention helps you track who’s mentioned your brand in media and on social media. You can also use this tool to publish on your social media and manage crisis communications. It offers both free and paid plan options.
Monitor Backlinks is a free tool that helps you track who’s mentioned your brand in coverage and included a backlink to your site. It’s also valuable for monitoring and disavowing bad backlinks and keeping your website’s SEO and domain authority at its peak.
Muck Rack is a paid tool that allows you to discover and contact members of the media who might be interested in covering your PR story.
PR Fire is a paid tool helps you distribute your press release to journalists and receive a report of their performance and reach. It’s ideal for in-house teams who’re doing their own PR.
SharedCount shows you engagement data for any social media, blog, or website URL. Once you input a URL, the tool will tally its likes, shares, comments, and other engagement measures. It offers both free and paid plan options.
TweetDeck is a free tool (created by Twitter) that monitors Twitter activity. You can set up Twitter streams that track certain keywords, accounts, trends, or other filters.
Start Building Your Public Relations Strategy
With all these tactics, tools, and strategy-building tips, are you ready to start turning the wheels on your new PR strategy? I hope so! I can’t wait to read about your brand in the news.
However, there’s one thing you should keep in mind: PR is an ongoing, iterative strategy — not a one-off task. (In fact, the best PR involves multiple tasks, tactics, and strategies.) Just like marketing, it can take a while to see results.
But with a solid strategy and a commitment to spreading the word about your company, you’ll soon see more mentions, backlinks, and general buzz. And that’s a great way to build a memorable brand.