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What is Public Relations and How Can It Help Me?

You heard of public relations and that it can be useful, but what exactly is public relations (PR) and how does it work?
As we open a newspaper or a magazine, or tune to a radio station, watch news on TV, or perhaps login to check our favorite online network – we see tons of information offered to our attention: it could be anything from breaking news to a review of some innovative product or trend, a holiday concert preview, or some interesting domestic story, etc.  How did these stories get there?

The job of the journalists is to bring meaningful content to the public through printed media pages, airtime or online news. It must be interesting, informative, relevant and entertaining to the audiences. They work under very tight daily deadlines and a lot of pressure and really don’t have enough time to do all the search and research.


This is when the publicists step in to offer assistance by providing exactly what journalists need – story ideas, event information, interview offerings and even ready-to-print stories. So, the journalists, or their editors, choose what to use from this abundant supply of press releases to fill their pages, to meet deadlines and keep their readership, viewers or listeners entertained and engaged.  So everyone is happy: the public, the journalists, the publicists, and the organization whose product got featured in the media.


I personally like the definition of Public Relations posted on Wikipedia: “PR is the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics. Public relations provides an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.”


The goal of PR is to communicate specific message to specific target audiences. This is achieved through an entire spectrum of PR tools: research, strategic planning, publicity, community relations, internal relations, and also relations with such public sources as government, investors/donors, charitable causes, professional organizations, customers and stakeholders, etc.


Public Relations often gets confused with Marketing and Advertising. Indeed, these are related fields but they are very distinct areas. In short, PR and Advertising are parts of the “marketing soup.”  In fact, this should be a great topic for another post!


Ok, you say, sounds cool and stuff, but why should my organization do any PR?


See, you may have the greatest product or service on earth to offer. But without people knowing about it, how far do you think your product can make it? A strong consistent PR campaign can turn a marginal business into a highly profitable one, a local non-profit – into a national enterprise in high demand, and a struggling book author – into a popular host on a major TV network or even a movie screen writer.  A timely PR campaign can also save the day if your organization has to prevent or manage negative publicity or a crisis.


Here is what real people, from real organizations, have to say about Public Relations:


Matthew Glandorf,  Artistic Director and Conductor
Choral Arts Philadelphia/ Bach Festival of Philadelphia:

“As an artistic director, I spend a lot of time contemplating not only the musical content of my programs, but also what I want each program to say. The next step is for me to inspire and convince the musicians with whom I work to make that work speak. Finally, that message needs to be communicated to the greater community.


But how do I do this, since I am not trained in media studies? An experienced PR consultant helps ask the right questions to help convey what an audience member will experience at any given concert. What will convince someone to experience a new or unfamiliar work, instruments that they’ve never heard, music in a language that isn’t their native tongue, but will still enrich their lives and make them glad that they went along for the ride.”


Jim Cummings, Principal
Evolution Marketing Research

“It is important for us to communicate to our competitors, vendors and clients that our organization is strong and growing, to maintain a continuing sense of development and innovation in our industry, so that we can stay on top of our profession. PR is what allows us to do just that.”


Nathea Lee, Managing Director
Kùlú Mèlé African Dance & Drum Ensemble
“Like many dance companies, Kùlú Mèlé has a small but mighty staff. Engaging a publicist to manage media outreach for our recent two performances was essential. We got great media coverage and both shows were sold out! There’s no way we could have done it on our own.”


Ulrike Shapiro, Managing Director
Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra:

“As is often the case in small arts organizations, our bare-bones staff performs a multitude of tasks in all areas of the organization (production, development, planning, finance, marketing and PR) simultaneously. While we do things well this way, adding a designated PR campaign manager brought PR into focus and increased its reach measurably. Even after the campaign came to and end, the effects can still be felt both internally, by considering PR in more of our ongoing decisions, and within the community.”


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