11 December 2023

Public Relations: Understanding Its Meaning

By Ronald Smith

Let me tell you about public relations, a term that might sound puzzling at first. Have you ever wondered how companies and organizations communicate with the people? Well, that’s where public relations comes in. It’s a way of building and maintaining a mutual understanding between them and the public.

Picture this: you see a famous celebrity holding a can of soda during a commercial. They’re not just randomly chosen to do that. The company behind the soda wants people to associate their drink with the celebrity’s popularity. That’s a clever move from their public relations team to create a positive image for their product.

Public relations is all about managing how an organization or an individual relates to the public. It’s about shaping public perception and making sure that the public has a favorable opinion of a company, product, or person. A successful public relations strategy can paint a beautiful picture in people’s minds, making them feel connected and supportive of what the company or person stands for.

Imagine you’re a company and you want to launch a new product. You can’t just throw it out there without any explanation, right? That’s where public relations comes to the rescue. They will create a plan to announce your new product to the world, highlighting its features and benefits. Through press releases, social media, and other communication channels, they will build anticipation and excitement among the public. Clever, isn’t it?

In addition to managing external communications, public relations also handles internal communications within an organization. They make sure that employees are informed and inspired, keeping them updated about company news and goals. This creates a sense of unity and helps everyone work together towards a common purpose.

To sum it up, public relations is like the bridge between an organization or individual and the public. It helps to create a positive image, build trust, and maintain good relationships. So next time you see a company successfully capturing your attention or making you feel connected, remember that it’s probably the work of their skilled public relations team.

Public Relations: Understanding Its Meaning

I’m here to talk to you about public relations, or PR for short. It’s all about crafting and delivering messages that inform and persuade the public. The goal is to get people to change their opinions or take action.

PR is a way to generate publicity and promote a business. It involves running campaigns to get a business featured on TV or radio shows, as well as in newspapers, websites, magazines, and blogs.

But things are changing in the world of public relations. The traditional definition is starting to mix with other forms of marketing. The lines between them are becoming less clear.

When it comes to connecting with people, public relations is like a Swiss Army knife – it has many different tools and strategies to reach different groups of people, also known as ‘publics’ in the PR world. Through public relations, I can share messages that inform, educate, and influence opinions, attitudes, and actions that are important to achieving my goals, explain Roman Hiebing and Scott Cooper in their book, The Successful Marketing Plan (3rd Edition, McGraw Hill).

But you may be wondering, what exactly does public relations mean? And how is it different from marketing in general and other marketing techniques?

It’s All About Communication

Let me tell you something interesting – public relations is all about communication. It’s about how a company sends out messages and convinces others to believe in those messages.

Imagine a big company with an important person in charge of public relations. They might have a fancy title like Vice President of Communications.

Now, some people like to say that PR is just about spinning or creating a buzz. But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with putting a positive twist on things or making them interesting enough to get people talking. These techniques are actually very useful for someone who works in PR.

Some people think PR is just corporate propaganda. But that’s not accurate because propaganda means intentionally misleading. Good PR is ethical and factual. I don’t want to lie because that can come back to bite me when the truth comes out (and it will eventually).

Instead, the aim of effective PR is to share truthful messages – just in a positive way for your brand.

Think about the question: is the glass half full or half empty? Both answers are correct. But only one way presents the message positively. The choice of words is important.

The best communications are relevant and timely. Are you saying the right thing at the right time?

That’s why I think newsjacking is such a powerful PR technique. Newsjacking is all about taking advantage of a current event in the news to grab attention. When you really stop and think about it, newsjacking is a super effective way to catch the eye of the media and captivate your audience. I mean, let’s be real. People are way more interested in what’s happening right now than they are in some boring business message. Newsjacking has the power to turn a so-so message into something truly amazing.

Public Relations: Understanding Its Meaning

What Public Relations Isn’t

When we talk about what public relations is, it’s important to also address what it isn’t.

  • One thing that sets public relations apart is how we communicate our message.
  • Another thing that distinguishes PR is whether we go directly to our target audience or work through the media and influencers.

In the following sections, we’ll delve into these and other differences.

But first, let me show you a picture. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at the image below. It’s our own creative representation of the different types of marketing, including public relations.

Public Relations: Understanding Its Meaning

The Difference Between Public Relations and Marketing

First, let’s talk about the relationship between marketing and public relations.

Marketing, according to the American Marketing Association, is all about creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging things that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society as a whole. It’s a pretty big deal. In fact, it’s even bigger than public relations. Marketing involves communication, but it goes beyond that.

So, let’s take a step back and think about marketing in a different way. Imagine looking at it through a special lens called the five Ps. This lens helps us understand all the different aspects of marketing. It was first introduced as the four Ps by a marketing professor named E. Jerome McCarthy in the 1960s, and later someone added a fifth P.

  • Product (how it’s different from others, how it looks, and its packaging)
  • Price (the cost, any discounts, and payment terms)
  • Promotion (how it’s advertised, any public relations, and sponsorships)
  • Place (where it’s sold, how it’s distributed, and the target market)
  • People (the customer service and the skills of the employees)

Everything I do in marketing falls into one of these categories. Traditionally, public relations fits under the category of promotion.

If you look at these five categories, can you see how much wider marketing is compared to just public relations?

In other words, it’s not a competition between public relations and marketing. Instead, think of it as how public relations fits into marketing. Your marketing plan should include public relations. However, PR shouldn’t be your whole marketing plan.

Public Relations: Understanding Its Meaning

Public Relations vs. Advertising

The big difference between public relations and advertising is that advertising is when you pay for your message to be shown, while public relations is when your message gets shared on its own, said Saru Saadeh, who is the Co-founder CEO of AdRobin, in an interview just for me.

You might have heard people talk about owned, earned, and paid media. It’s a way of thinking about the things you say and how they get out there:

  • Owned media is the stuff you create, like pictures and logos.
  • Earned media is when other people choose to spread your messages. For example, say you send a cool idea to the Wall Street Journal, and they think it’s so cool that they write a whole article about it – that’s earned media from public relations!
  • Paid media is when you pay people to show your messages. You’re literally saying, Hey, put this out there for me.

When it comes to public relations versus advertising, PR has some powerful advantages:

More Neutral

PR is more neutral, you know? A third party like a journalist from a newspaper or website shares your message and people see it as trustworthy. Pretty cool, huh?

More Budget Friendly

You don’t have to spend any money on PR messages. It’s all about earned media. So, you save some cash, my friend!

More Longevity

Your messages stick around for a longer time than an ad campaign. Articles with your brand’s name can stay on the internet for a real long time thanks to search engines. How cool is that?

However, PR also has three disadvantages compared to advertising:

Less Control

PR is a way to communicate with people like journalists, influencers, and analysts. They are the ones who spread the word about your message, but you can’t control what they say or how they understand it. On the other hand, advertising gives you complete control over your message, including how it looks and what it says.

Less Focusing

When you advertise, you can choose who sees your message. Some people may say that you can also target specific people with PR, but digital advertising provides a higher level of targeting. For example, if you want to show ads to people searching for a specific word on Google, you can do that. Or on Facebook, you can choose to show ads to people in certain places, with certain interests, and who have certain behaviors that match your target audience. You can do all of this with Facebook Ads Manager, adds Saadeh.

Less Watching

One of the downsides of public relations is that it can be challenging to track and report its effectiveness. Unlike paid advertising, which offers various tools like custom links, conversion funnels, and budget optimization, PR efforts have less specific tracking capabilities.

Considering the pros and cons, I believe it’s best to utilize a combination of advertising and PR. By running an advertising campaign alongside PR efforts that focus on the same message, we can achieve better results. We’ve observed that small businesses find success by investing their advertising budget into promoting press articles. This entails multi-channel syndication of the PR results, including paid ads on the content, which helps increase the brand’s online presence significantly.

The Difference between Public Relations and Social Media

When comparing public relations and social media, it becomes challenging to draw a clear line between them. The distinction is rather blurry.

I know a secret, and I’ll let you in on it. Ready? Savvy PR folks and business owners are masters at using social media to create excitement and get people talking about their brands. They’re wizards at using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to spread positive messages about themselves.


But here’s the interesting part – social media isn’t just about promoting yourself. It’s also about connecting with others who have an influence over what consumers think. These are the people who consumers trust and listen to. So, it’s all about building relationships with these influencers.


If you take a look at the funny picture above, you’ll see how social media is different from traditional PR and marketing. But don’t be fooled, they also have some things in common. It’s a crazy world out there, isn’t it?


Public Relations: Understanding Its Meaning

Content Marketing or Public Relations: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to marketing, there are different strategies to choose from. One popular option is content marketing, which involves creating and sharing various types of content like articles, videos, and podcasts to promote a brand or product. On the other hand, there is public relations (PR), which focuses on shaping public perception and attitudes through crafted messages.

Although content marketing and public relations share similarities in terms of communication, they have distinct differences. While PR aims to shape the way people view a brand or product, content marketing has a broader scope and may or may not have the same goal.

Here are some key differences between content marketing and public relations:

  • Generating sales leads: With content marketing, you can offer valuable resources like ebooks that require users to provide their contact information, allowing you to follow up with potential customers.
  • Reach more people on social media:

One way to increase interaction with your social feeds is through content marketing. Instead of directly promoting your brand, you can share funny cat images on Facebook, for example. Although it may not seem related to your brand, this increase in engagement can trick the social feed algorithm. As a result, Facebook will display more of your brand-oriented messages to a larger audience.

So, in conclusion, content marketing is often used to support PR goals. However, it goes beyond just public relations.

Public Relations: Understanding Its Meaning

Event Marketing vs. PR: Let’s Talk About Them!

When we talk about event marketing, we’re actually talking about a special kind of public relations. You know, when we organize webinars, seminars, or client events, we’re not just promoting our brand, we’re also creating awareness about it. It’s about making a positive impression that stays with people.

But did you know that networking at events can also be a form of public relations? Yep, when we attend conferences and meet new people, we’re not just making connections. We’re also showing who we are and what our brand is all about. It’s like building a reputation for ourselves.

Now, some companies take it even further. They want their founders or top executives to be seen as thought leaders in the industry. So, speaking at different events becomes a way to gain recognition and credibility for the company. It’s pretty cool, right?

When it comes to event marketing, it’s not just about getting attention. It’s about creating an experience that people will remember. And you know what? This experience shapes how people feel about our brand. It’s all connected to public relations, my friend!

Cause Related Marketing vs. Public Relations: What’s the Difference?

When I support a charity or a social issue, it’s an opportunity to get the attention of the media. It helps the public see my brand in a positive light and creates a connection with others who care about the same cause.

Cause marketing and PR go hand in hand, says Saadeh. As a small business, it’s important to let the world (or our local community) know that we are making a positive impact.

It may take some time to see the results of cause marketing. But if we add a PR campaign to it, we might see faster outcomes.

However, we must stay true to our intentions. We should never forget that the main purpose of supporting a cause is to make a difference in the world, as Saadeh emphasizes. That’s what truly matters.

No Need to Overthink

Lastly, we shouldn’t spend too much time searching for the perfect definition of what is public relations.

When it comes to public relations, understanding what it’s all about is essential if you want to achieve your business goals.

First, let’s get a grasp on what PR really means and how it differs from other marketing tactics. Once we have a clear understanding, we can dive into creating a PR strategy that works for your startup, small business, corporation, or nonprofit organization.

Images: original USamerica.US infographic; DepositPhotos, More in: Marketing 101 2 Comments ▼