What is PR?

what is pr

For a profession that is built around helping businesses and brands clearly communicate with the public, the public relations industry does a horrible job doing its own PR.

In fact, very few people can even explain what PR is.

Don’t believe me?

Ask my parents. After nearly 22 years of having a daughter in PR—and multiple attempts at explaining my profession—the closest we’ve ever come to describing my true profession is, “she represents professional athletes.”

It’s almost right.

Now, if you’re a fireman, baker, or doctor, it’s clear right away to everyone what your job function entails.

Not so with PR.

As someone who represents entrepreneurs and brands on the grow, I find that I spend most my time explaining that PR doesn’t involve purchasing ads, planning social media posts, or distributing free product samples at the county fair.

What does PR do then?

PR works to promote the brands we represent, as well as their products and services.

Unlike advertising agencies, however, PR professionals persuade our target audiences using unpaid or earned methods.

What does that even mean?

It means that—whether it’s through traditional media or social media—PR methods communicate with audiences through trusted, not paid, sources.

Are you still with me?


To help you understand more about PR and how to use it to your advantage, here are three things you should know about public relations.

What is PR?

According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Clear as mud, right?

In layman’s terms, PR is the business of persuasion.

PR is when you are trying to convince an audience, outside your usual circle of influence, to promote your idea, purchase your product, support your position, or recognize your accomplishments.

This makes PR professionals storytellers. We work to create storylines that advance our clients’ agendas.

These narratives can be used to protect, enhance, or build reputations through traditional media, social media, or even internally within a company.

The best thing PR can do for your brand is to analyze it, find its unique selling points, mine for positive messages around those points, and turn those messages into persuasive news stories.

On the flip side of things, say when there is a scandal or when the news being shared about your brand is bad, PR can help form your best response and mitigate any damage.

What tools are used in PR? Here are a few of the most used:

  • Drafting and distributing press releases
  • Brainstorming media pitches and sharing them with the media
  • Creating and executing special events designed for public outreach
  • Conducting market research on the brand or its messaging
  • Connecting and growing business networks by attending and sponsoring events
  • Writing and guest blogging for the web
  • Performing crisis communications strategies
  • Managing responses to negative opinions, both online and off

Is PR advertising?

There is an old say that states: “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.”

What does this mean?

Basically, that advertising and PR are two separate things. But also, that advertising is media that you pay to place your name in. PR, on the other hand, is media that you earn without paying for placing.

This means that, through PR, you convince the media to write a positive story about you or your brand.  It then appears in the editorial section of a publication, during the TV news, or on another credible area of a media outlet’s website.

With advertising, your content would appear in a paid media, or advertising, section of one of these media outlets. These usually include a disclaimer that states your on-air or in-print feature is an advertorial.

Using PR, your story is being endorsed by the third-party media outlet without you paying them to do so. Because of this, your story is looked at as having more credibility.

Another huge difference between advertising and PR is the price.

Advertising adds up very quickly and can get pricey. PR is more flexible, and you can use PR services on a one-off basis for specific projects or on a monthly basis for a retainer rate.

Here’s another example of how advertising and PR differ: Prior to signing on with Hearsay, one of my clients purchased a $16,000 ad in a monthly magazine. This fee didn’t include the money she also spent on the creative design of her ad or the costs to produce it.

Even so, once that ad ran the one time she paid for it to, she expected her phone to ring off the hook, to be the talk of the industry, and have her ad be the topic of multiple dinner conversations around the country.

She received none of these things.

In comparison, that same client invested nowhere near that amount of money with Hearsay, and has already been quoted as an expert in eight of her top 10 target media outlets.

This coverage has resulted in a wave of new clients, two lucrative partnerships, and invitations to speak on nationally-recognized panels.

Not to mention, solid credibility as an expert in her field.

Is PR dead?

PR is dead. Long live social media.

I get into this debate once a week with my peers. Mainly, because I like to stir the pot. But also, because I like to hear their reasoning around why they feel my profession, out of all the professions out there, is the one that’s dead.

Mind you, my peers aren’t the only ones who think PR is dead.

There seems to be a growing perception that blog, Facebook, or event Instagram posts—if enough people see them—are just as good as being quoted in a nationally-recognized media outlet.

If you believe that, I have oceanfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell you.

While social media can enhance PR efforts, I am a firm believer that social media should only be used to amplify your messages.

Rather than relying solely on social media and abandoning PR altogether, you should look to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others for what they are designed for, to be social on and as platforms in which you can engage with others in conversations.

Above anything else, you need PR ahead of your social media serving as the support function necessary to make those social conversations relevant, effective, and engaging with your target audience.

Which PR does through research, social audits, identifying influencers, developing and distributing your content.

Getting media attention is one of the best ways to build your brand and get the word out about your business. Unfortunately, sparking media interest can be hard.

Which is why PR and PR professionals exist.

Do you use PR to share your story? 

Ready to take your PR to the next level? Check out our Hearsay PR Packages