Public relations at its basis is communicating with an audience without paying for that communication. On the other hand, advertising, by definition, involves some form of feet. If you buy a print ad in your local newspaper, you are advertising. If you convince a reporter to write about your company in the local newspaper, that's public relations.
That said, modern public relations have a far broader context. Companies and organizations also can communicate directly with customers through websites, blogs and social media. Public relations is any means you communicate with your audience, whether on your own or through another outlet.
In fact, many experts consider public relations to be much more effective than traditional advertising. The reasoning is simple: If you run an advertisement describing your product, your audience may be less than impressed. After all, don't you have a vested interest in saying how great your product is? But if a third party reviews your product, that reference carries much greater weight.
Good public relations can:
- Increase public awareness of your company and your products without expensive advertising
- Enhance your overall corporate or personal image
- Spread the word about new initiatives, products or accomplishments
- Improve employee recruiting, retention and morale
A number of outlets can advance your PR campaign. These include:
- Press releases. A well-written press release can gain immediate attention and widespread notice. By using online press release publication sites, millions of readers potentially can see your news.
- Traditional media. Mentions in print, on TV and on the radio can be powerful. That's why so many companies and individuals work incredibly hard to land segments on national or local television shows. The exposure you gain can create explosive growth you otherwise could never afford.
- Company blogs. Can't get others to talk about you? No problem, talk about yourself! You can also tap other blogs to tell your story for you.
- Podcasts. Don't like to write? Speak! Talk about creative ways to use your products, provide maintenance tips, answer customer questions, etc.
- Online forums. Your best customers may be happy to participate in online discussions about your products and services. You can answer questions, provide additional information and stay in touch with customer needs and interests.
Given the wealth of resources, it’s difficult to know where to start. For almost any business, the first step in building effective public relations is to provide a comprehensive website.
On that site, don't just sell products or services. Answer questions. Provide content about your company, your employees, your products, your charitable efforts. Let your customers develop a real sense of the company. Announce new products. Announce new services. Provide maintenance, warranty, and repair information. Instead of simply focusing on what you want people to purchase, focus on what your customers want to know about your company, your products, and your services.
Next, embrace different communication tools. Create a company blog, but not simply for self-promotion. Provide information your customers can use. Comment on news that relates to your industry. Leave comments on other industry blogs. Use blogs to put a "face" on your company.
Don’t forget about social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Pinterest. You can use a social media tool such as Twitter to alert customers to special deals. For example, a San Francisco bakery lets customers know what items are hot and fresh that morning. Other companies "tweet" their one-day-only sales to their customers. Is that advertising? In a way, but it's also free.
Public relations is, at its core, simply a marketing tool: take control of your own message and use a variety of tools to get the word out about your business.