Asked and Answered: WTH is Public Relations?

5 min read


How did that company land a story on the local news? Public relations. Why should we respond or not respond to a Facebook comment? Public relations. What’s a brand awareness strategy that doesn’t involve shelling out thousands of dollars in advertising? Public relations.

Public relations can answer many questions a company has about how to get in front of customers in a relatively cost-effective way. That’s because public relations is more than press releases and media interviews. It’s a strategic, non-pay-to-play communications tool that creates relationships with key audiences through several tactics including media and community relations, editorial and crisis communication planning, social media outreach, and internal messaging.

Shaking hands and kissing babies.

Being a PR professional is kind of like running for office every day—we want to make sure key audiences understand messages, we’re courteous to journalists, and we’re not too aggressive in pitching our platforms.

One of the main goals of PR—and perhaps the most well known—is to build relationships with journalists on behalf of our clients. This ensures a positive, two-way communication channel between your company and the media. Giving the green light to a PR pro means we’ll introduce ourselves and pitch story ideas to a targeted list of journalists. This approach means journalists are more likely to recognize your company’s name and announcement out of the hundreds of emails they receive each day. That could lead to published stories that reach your customers, stakeholders, etc.

Another important set of relationships a PR pro should cultivate on behalf of your company is with community partners. For example, when we worked on Marion County Election Board’s “Indy Votes” campaign, it was important to reach out to city departments, engaged community leaders, local influencers, and others to make sure they understood the key messages to share with their audiences.

Not only do these relationships create a great source for community engagement stories, they also create a network of public endorsers for your organization who can speak to the great work you’re doing.

Plan, don’t panic.

If my love of 90s action movies has taught me one thing, it’s that you need a good plan before you start blowing things up. To avoid making a mess and know what direction you’re going, it’s important to plan out your public relations strategy for the year.

Laying out your messages will guide speaking points, media statements, and crisis communication—more on that in a minute. Creating an editorial plan based on established public relations goals (i.e., get three national placements, increase coverage by 10%) helps you decide when to pitch a story to a journalist, submit an op-ed, or contribute an authored piece.

This approach will foster trusting relationships with journalists and create that two-way channel previously stated with media outlets. Those contacts will know your public relations representative is a reliable source and articles about your organization will establish the credibility and thought leadership.

After all, a crisis is not the first time you want to hear from the media or vice versa. A good portion of creating a crisis communication strategy is planning ahead—identifying your core team, categorizing scenarios based on response level, and creating external and internal protocols and messaging for each of those scenarios.

Did you see that tweet?

In the past few years, PR work has continued to stretch beyond press releases and speaking points into the world of social media—sometimes even side-by-side with a public relations strategy. For example, I oversee public relations and social media efforts for our agency.

It’s unwritten that PR professionals have to think through all scenarios—good and bad—a piece of news will have on the perception of the organization. This exercise allows us to carefully craft messaging, plan a response strategy, and monitor results and sentiment.

That’s why a public relations background is invaluable when creating content for social media channels. Your public relations team should either be creating social media messages (content, responding to comments/reviews, etc.) or at least be consulted on how to craft a message.

What’s going on inside?

Much like the way PR pros create external messages to engage, persuade, and inform the public, that same set of skills can be used for internal messaging.

It’s safe to say, satisfied employees don’t run to the media to complain about their bosses. Because PR pros have experience planning ahead for how a message will be received, public relations tactics can help shape and soften how leadership teams share information with employees. For example, they can create messages for recruiting employee ambassadors, share news about company changes, or introduce an internal program.

Having a PR pro help with internal communications is also a great way to teach employees what a public relations team does, both internally and externally. That could help generate story ideas for that all-important editorial calendar.

Because of the wide breadth of tactics, PR pros should have an extensive set of skills under their belts. Your team should be able to:

  • Understand big picture and granular impacts of company decisions
  • Write well for all types of communication channels
  • Continuously cultivate strong media and community relationships
  • Plan editorial content that directly relates to overall business/marketing goals and strategy
  • Have a working knowledge of AP style
  • Analyze data and interpret the relevancy of results for your organization

So if you’ve got questions about public relations, our team is always happy to answer them. Please reach out at