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What exactly is public relations? That question used to be easy to answer, but things have changed a bit over the past decade. We are now in an age where news is everywhere, not just the traditional newspapers, magazines and broadcast news programs that used to define the media industry. People now get their news from several different sources including online outlets, vloggers, bloggers, podcasts, social media and more. All of this has changed the complexity of the public relations industry and forced PR professionals to be even more creative and resourceful when engaging with members of the media.

On the highest levels, public relations is one of the most important components of an integrated marketing and communications program – but what exactly does that mean? Public relations is the art of communicating a news element or other significant announcement into a compelling storyline for members of the media and inviting them to cover your story for something called earned media. Gone are the days of just blasting press releases to journalists with an expectation that they’ll reach out and ask for an interview. Public relations is the art of storytelling done at the exact right time precisely the editors or producers covering your topic. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly.

Effective public relations is also understanding the very dynamic nature of today’s editors and producers. There’s no doubt that many traditional newspapers, magazines, and online publications still have traditional business models with a robust editorial staff. However, many have had to dramatically change how they operate to meet the needs of their business while still being able to produce quality content to maintain their readership. Some of those changes mean publications rely entirely on freelancers, contributors and shared content to be able to produce the volume and quality of content with limited resources.  The result of this means the journalists who are producing content often write for several different publications making it even more challenging to cut through the clutter and interest them in your specific storylines.

So, how do today’s PR professionals cut through the clutter and effectively reach editors and producers? It’s all about “the pitch.” This is the carefully crafted message that explains a storyline that includes the basics of the news you are trying to share in a short, succinct story that is compelling enough to get them excited to cover the story. Knowing how editorial staff tick is incredibly important because if your pitch misses the mark, so will your attempts to get a client in the news. Understanding the needs of your editorial contacts is quite simply the difference between success and failure in the PR industry.

Now that we have a good understanding of what PR is, let’s discuss what it is not. Specifically, PR is not advertising. When companies pay to have specific ads, graphics and other items placed on web pages, in magazines and newspapers or in commercial on broadcast networks, that is strictly advertising. Companies pay for ad space in magazines, newspapers and in digital spaces with the intention of influencing decisions or buying habits through the offer of a product or service that satisfies a need or perceived need. Advertisements used to represent about half of the overall space in a publication, but things have changed. Today, most publications and media outlets these days rely heavily on advertising to stay in business so instead of the occasional banner ad, users are bombarded with tons of various digital ads. It’s important to know that while advertising is often an important component of an integrated marketing communications program, it is not public relations.

Fortunately, today’s quickly changing landscape within the news industry has created new opportunities for companies to participate in paid programs with media outlets to produce content that looks like earned media but is not. This content can be in the form of an advertorial, sponsored media program like an extended product test, or a bylined article written by a company executive. These opportunities help companies with limited PR resources to participate in the editorial conversation without having a PR pro “earn” the opportunity. While often not recommended by most PR professionals, these opportunities can make sense where general visibility, earned and paid, is a major component of an organization’s communications goals.

Today’s most savvy PR pros can find success by continuing to be a student of the craft and following the latest news industry trends to deliver consistent results for their clients.

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