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What’s public relations? – Small Enterprise Tendencies

Public relations is the art of composing and delivering messages that inform and convince the public and make people change their minds or take action.

Public relations (PR for short) is often used to advertise and promote a company. A typical PR campaign could focus on promoting a business on television or radio, or in newspapers, websites, magazines, or blogs.

Today, the lines between the traditional definition of public relations and other forms of marketing are blurring.

"In practice, public relations work is a multi-strategic, multi-tactical means of reaching various external and internal target groups, which practitioners refer to as the" public ". Public relations can be used to deliver messages that inform and clarify your goals, and change opinions, attitudes, and actions that affect your goals, ”wrote Roman Hiebing and Scott Cooper in their book The Successful Marketing Plan (3rd edition, McGraw Hill )).

But maybe you think that sounds so broad. Can you clarify the definition of public relations? And how exactly does public relations differ from all marketing and different marketing techniques?

Communication is the key

Public relations are essentially about communication. PR is about the messages the company communicates – and the ability to convince others to voluntarily accept or pass on these messages.

In large companies, for example, the executive responsible for public relations could have a title like Vice President for Communication.

Some people try to reduce PR by calling it spin or buzz. But shooting something or making it interesting enough to generate enthusiasm is not a bad thing. They are valuable techniques in the tool bag of a PR professional.

Then there are those who define PR as corporate propaganda. This is wrong, however, because the word propaganda indicates an intention to mislead. Effective public relations is ethically and factually correct. The goal is not to lie, because that could backfire spectacularly when the truth comes out (and eventually it will).

The aim of effective PR is rather to present truthful messages – only framed positively for your brand.

A perfect example is the rhetorical question: Is the glass half full or half empty? Both are correct. But only one way presents the message positively. Words matter.

The best communications are relevant and current. Are you sending the right message at the right time?

Therefore, a technique like newsjacking can be an effective PR. Newsjacking is about using a current event in the news to get attention. If you think about it, newsjacking is a very good way to address the press and captivate your end customers. After all, people are more interested in current events than in a pure vanilla business message. Newsjacking can convert a message from "meh" to "WOW".

What Public Relations Is Not

No piece that defines what public relations work is would be complete if it is not addressed what PR is not.

In the following sections we will examine how the definition of public relations differs from marketing and other advertising activities. There are clear differences.

  • One difference is the form of the message transmission.
  • Another difference is whether you go directly to your target market or work through the media or influencers.

We will explore these and other differences in the rest of this article.

Let's start with a picture that says a thousand words. The following image is loosely based on a famous image that defines common forms of marketing. This is our entertaining, updated view of Public Relations vs. Marketing in general and certain types of marketing.

Public Relations vs. Marketing

Let us first consider the relationship between marketing and public relations.

According to the American Marketing Association, "Marketing is the activity, the assembly of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offers that are of value to customers, customers, partners and society as a whole."

Notice how BIG this definition is. Marketing is much more comprehensive than public relations. Marketing involves communication, but it is more comprehensive.

For a better understanding, we take a step back and look at marketing in a different way, through the lens of the five Ps. The 5 Ps of Marketing are abbreviations for a framework that thinks about everything that includes marketing can be. It started in the 1960s as the 4 Ps when marketing professor E. Jerome McCarthy coined the term. Later someone added a fifth P.

Today the 5 Ps of marketing refer to:

  • product (differentiation, appearance, packaging)
  • Price (price, discounts, credit terms)
  • Promotion (advertising, PR, sponsoring)
  • Location (sales channels, markets)
  • People (customer service, employee skills)

Everything you do in marketing falls under one of these Ps. Public relations traditionally belong to the P for "advertising".

Do you see in the five Ps how much comprehensive marketing is as public relations?

In other words, it's not about public relations or marketing. Think of it as if you are integrating public relations into marketing. Your marketing plan should include public relations. But PR shouldn't be your overall marketing plan.

Public Relations vs. Advertising

“The main difference between public relations and advertising is that advertising is a paid form of media. PR results are a deserved form of media, ”said Saru Saadeh, co-founder and CEO of AdRobin in an exclusive interview.

You may have heard the term "possession, earned, and paid media". This is a way of thinking about your content and messages:

  • Own media are content and brand elements like pictures you have created.
  • Earned when others voluntarily share your messages. Saving a story in the Wall Street Journal after sending out a PR pitch is an example of well-deserved public relations media.
  • Paid media are advertising. You pay to place or amplify your messages.

Advertising can include traditional advertising in printed publications. Or digital ads can appear on Google, on websites and on social media.

When it comes to public relations vs. Advertising goes, PR has some strong advantages:


PR is more neutral, Saadeh emphasizes. A third party like a newspaper or website journalist shares your message and is usually classified as trustworthy.


You don't have to pay for PR news. Remember, this is "deserved" media.

More longevity

Your messages last longer than an advertising campaign. Articles that mention your brand can persist through search engines for a long time.

PR also has three disadvantages compared to advertising:

Less control

PR is a communication aimed at intermediaries such as journalists, influencers and analysts. You have no control over what these mediators say or how they interpret your messages. On the other hand, advertising gives you full control over your message, including design and transcript.

Less focus

With advertising you can target who sees your message. “Although some argue that PR can help you achieve a targeted placement, the degree of placement is certainly higher in digital advertising. For example, you can show ads to people who search Google for a specific keyword. On Facebook, you can also use the Facebook Ads Manager to select specific locations, interests and behaviors that characterize your target group, ”adds Saadeh.

Less Persecution

The third disadvantage of public relations is the lack of specificity in tracking and reporting. PR efforts are trackable, but not to the level of paid advertising that enables the use of custom links, conversion funnels, and budget optimization.

Because of the advantages and disadvantages, he argues for both – advertising together with PR. “We found that small businesses can not only run an advertising campaign alongside PR efforts to get the same message, but can also use advertising costs for the press articles themselves. The multi-channel syndication of PR results, including paid advertisements for this content, enables a broader and stronger brand presence on the Internet. "

Public Relations vs. Social media

The line is extremely blurry in terms of public relations and social media.

Experienced PR professionals and business owners know how to use social media to generate enthusiasm and advertising. They use social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to communicate positive brand messages.

A large part of social media also deals with influencer marketing. This is really about communicating with people who communicate with consumers and whom they trust.

In the illustration above, you can easily see how social media differs from PR and marketing and still has similarities.

Content Marketing vs. Public Relations

Content marketing is about creating and distributing content for marketing purposes. Content can be articles, e-books, videos, blog posts, podcasts and more.

In a way, this definition for content marketing sounds a bit similar to the definition for public relations. Both are about communication.

However, content marketing is more comprehensive than public relations – that is the difference. With PR you create messages with the aim of shaping public perception and attitude. In content marketing, the main goal of the content you create may or may not affect brand perception.

For example, you can do content marketing to:

  • Generating sales leads: Content linked to e-mails, e.g. For example, an eBook, can help you collect sales lead information that you can use.
  • Improving search engine optimization: Content marketing can attract links and create a more reliable website.
  • Increase the reach of social feeds: Content marketing can be done to encourage interaction with your social feeds. For example, if you share funny cat pictures on Facebook, it's not directly about your brand. However, increased engagement can trigger the social feed algorithm and cause Facebook to display your other branded messages organically to more people.

In summary, content marketing often supports PR goals. However, content marketing goes beyond public relations.

Event Marketing vs. PR

Event marketing is often viewed as a form of public relations. Awareness of the brand is increased by holding a webinar, seminar or customer event. It strengthens the positive impression of your company.

Personal networking at third party events is also a form of public relations. When you go to a conference and meet people, it establishes and strengthens your personal brand.

Some companies make it their goal that the founder or another manager build a reputation as a thought leader on behalf of the company. Letting this person speak at industry events is an important way to build brand awareness and credibility.

Event marketing is about generating an unforgettable experience and thus creating a positive feeling. Can you see the relationship with public relations?

Cause-Based Marketing vs. Public relations

Here is another question: What is the difference between cause marketing and public relations? Answer: One supports the other. “Supporting a thing creates a message that gives the PR meaning, a motor to increase the thing's marketing efforts and stimulate an interesting conversation. They work hand in hand, ”says Saadeh.

Those who put weight behind something like a charity or a social problem have the opportunity to get media coverage. It shapes a brand's public perception by connecting with others who believe in the cause.

"Cause marketing and PR strongly overlap," says Saadeh. "As a small business, it is important to tell the world (or the local community) how positive you are."

It may take a while for marketing to show results. However, if you put a PR campaign behind it, you may get faster results.

In the end, however, you have to be authentic. Don't lose sight of the main purpose of supporting a cause, Saadeh claims. "It helps the world. That's the most important. "

Don't think it over

Finally, you shouldn't go in search of the perfect answer to what is public relations.

A PR definition is good only in that it helps you learn how to do PR to achieve business goals.

Develop a basic understanding of PR and the differences between public relations and other forms of marketing. Then you are able to develop a PR approach for your start-up, small business, company or non-profit organization.

Pictures: Original infographic on small business trends; DepositPhotos,

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