While public relations firms and advertising firms have the same goal of promoting clients to the public, the manner in which they do so is intrinsically different. While companies pay ad agencies for ad space, pr agencies, on the other hand, rely on editorial coverage to get free publicity for the company. This is where it makes all the difference.
The goal of public relations, according to Gina Rubel, is “to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions.”
PR agencies often rely on “earned” or “free” media to get their client’s brand message across. These are stories that appear on websites, newspapers, TV and radio, and are mostly unpaid spots. They utilise a third-party outlet like the media to influence public opinion on their brand. This gives the company more credibility with the consumers and puts the message into perspective rather than shoving it down the public’s throats with paid spots.
The PRSA defines the functions of a PR agency as:
- “Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion that might impact the operations and plans of the organization.
- Counseling management with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication,
- Researching, conducting and evaluating programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims.
- Planning and implementing the organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy.”
Given these functions, PR agencies resort to different strategies to get the company’s message across. These include press releases, speeches, public awareness campaigns, event sponsorship, social media management and crisis response.
Good PR firms are able to determine the positive points of a company’s brand and message and translate those into stories that can constructively influence public opinion. They are able to spot trends and In the same way, good agencies will be able to handle bad news and turn it around (spin) to minimise damages.
In 2012, the Public Relations Society of America developed a crowd-sourced definition of public relations: “A strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
So PR is not just a one-way street that will only benefit the company, but something that can help bring awareness on a particular issue, educate audiences, and possibly even spur and inspire people to start a movement.