Found Feather Back to School logoWelcome to the second entry in our Back to School Primer on Integrated communications. Remember, the point of this primer is  to answer the question we know is looming out there:

What is the difference between media relations, public relations and marketing?

Last week we defined and offered tips for media relations. Let’s follow up with its close relative, Public Relations.

“Public relations is the profitable integration of an organization’s new and continuing relationships with stakeholders, including customers, by managing all communications contacts with the organization that create and protect the brand reputation of the organization.” –  Handbook for Strategic and Integrated Communications

If media relations is sexy and glamorous, public relations is a graying grandfather wearing a cardigan with patches at the elbows.

Public relations has been around. Some say it goes back as far as an 1800 BC Babylonian tablet and notes aimed at ancient Persian farmers specifying how to deal with field mice and harvest crops. Others say America itself was a turning point in public relations – you may be here now because of a PR campaign to attract settlers.

American historian Allan Nevins said the campaign to win ratification of the U.S. Constitution was, “the greatest work ever done in America in the field of public relations.”

Public relations is the responsible oversight of messaging and all aspects of a company’s strategic communication plan. Public relations works with senior leadership, investor relations, government relations and marketing to make sure all audiences interested in a company – from internal, to investors, to consumers, to media – have the same overall impression of the company and understand what it stands for. Media relations is a tactical facet of this work, one of the channels for delivery of a company’s story.

Thus, public relations is often considered the reputation center for a company. How will a decision at the corporate level about a new partnership affect that company’s good-will capital? Who is allowed to speak to the media, how are they prepared and what do they say? That’s public relations. Your CEO just won an award – PR will pull together a campaign to sing these praises across all your audiences, and deposit that in you company’s bank of good feeling.

One of your call centers just got hit by a hurricane? PR is in the war room pulling together messaging, issuing media releases, keeping responses honest and timely, working with media relations, operations and senior leadership to weather the crisis.

Most of the time, companies that offer media relations services also offer public relations, which is the overarching strategy and intuitiveness to get your company not just in the newspaper, but to get your company  in the newspaper saying the right thing at the right time.

Here are some questions to ask when you are looking for your own PR firm:

How much experience does your firm have in crisis communications? Be wary of PR firms that ‘don’t do’ or ‘haven’t really done’ crisis communications. Bad things happen to good companies. The only thing worse than a bad thing happening to your company is for it to happen after you’ve dedicated two years of PR to building a great reputation, only to see all that good will unravel in 5 days because your PR firm was caught flat-footed during a crisis.

Think of it this way: the higher your company’s profile and the broader its public exposure, the more at-risk it is of a simple snafu becoming a full-fledged PR disaster. The time to make sure your company is prepared for a crisis is before one happens. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can bring in a second firm to ‘handle’ a crisis after it’s already started. That’s called damage control.

How much experience does your firm have in media relations? Again, if you’re looking for a PR firm that can ‘do it all,’ make sure they’ve done it. Media relations is an integral tactical component of good PR. Make sure the firm you’re hiring has plenty of experience working with actual reporters – ideally local, regional and national – across a few different industries, especially the ones your company cares about.

What industries does your firm typically work in? It will probably be helpful if your firm has experience in the industry you work in.

Does the firm get your company, its culture and your strategies and goals? Remember, PR isn’t just about media. It’s about the responsible stewardship of a company’s messaging and brand. Make sure the person you hire to be your steward gets you.