Archive for January, 2014

January 4, 2014

What is PR? It’s like a broccoli tree forest

Image: I hate broccoli (Getty/Rosemarie Gearhart)

Photo: Rosemarie Gearhart/Getty Images

Remember all those nights as a kid when you pushed broccoli around your dinner plate because you didn’t want to eat it? Maybe PR could have helped you swallow it down.

What is PR?

PR – Public Relations. That’s the name of the game I’ve been in, professionally, for almost three years now. Time flies when you’re … making broccoli tree forests. More to come on that topic in a moment.

Here’s the definition from Public Relations Society of America: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

(Fun fact: I once had this definition memorized for a final exam in a college PR class.)

That definition is broad and vague, right? Right. OK. Let’s break it down.

No blame to PRSA; they have a tough task at hand to pinpoint our industry’s work. This is because the foundation of PR is communication. And what, in life, doesn’t require communication? Nothing. It’s e-v-e-r-y-where.

That shareholder letter you read from a CEO last quarter – a PR pro wrote it. The website about a new gadget you want to buy – PR pro. Story on the cereal box – PR. Article in the local newspaper – may have started on a PR pro’s desk. Reason you’re voting for that ballot measure – yep, PR. This blog post – you get the point.

Photo from dreamstime

Photo: dreamstime

PR is a broccoli tree forest
Some say PR is “spin,” and then it gets a bad rap. Well, I’m here to tell you that spinning can actually bring out some good. Like on the dancefloor. And in blenders. Or when your mom encouraged you to eat broccoli by making it look like a tree forest.

That last example most closely exemplifies PR “spin.” Forgive me for simplifying, but play with this imaginary case study:

  • The PR pro: Mom
  • The organization she represents: HealthyFamiliesRUs
  • One of the organization’s publics: Child
  • Goal of HealthyFamilesRUs: Increase children’s daily intake of vegetables
  • PR pro’s tactic: Make broccoli fun

Mom, being the PR pro shes is, knows the target audience (her child) well. So she creates a message, probably both spoken and visually, that is tailored to her audience’s interest and knowledge. The child, in turn, has fun while consuming more nutrients.

Mom developed something that was mutually beneficial to both her organization and its public.

Of course, for this logic to be logical, we have to all agree that eating miniature green trees is beneficial. There will be some who dislike broccoli no matter what, so there’s a lesson there, too: no campaign will successfully win the favor of the entire universe, regardless of how clever the PR pro is.

So how does public relations work:

  1. Understand your client’s goal. Maybe it’s to increase sales, boost attendance at an event, raise awareness about a cause, or pass a ballot measure.
  2. Learn what makes the target audience tick and in what scenario they’ll be most likely to listen to your client’s message. Use this knowledge to craft the campaign.
  3. Get third-party endorsement. A key factor in successful PR campaigns, third-party endorsement is basically peer or public influence. For a fundraising event, let’s say, the media and local businesses support it, so your audience decides it’s a good idea to attend. With the broccoli example, the third-party nudge may come from Junior’s older sister. If she likes the forest, maybe he will, too.

At the end of the day, the hope is to have created win-wins for everyone involved – clients and the publics that are integral to their success. Smiles all around. That, for me, is what makes the work rewarding. Plus, I like broccoli.