A lot has been written about the nature of public relations, and it can indeed be a complex field, especially when you account for all the changes the industry has seen in recent years.
But if you’re looking for a practical ‘public relations’ definition, then you’re in the right place.
Here’s one of the simplest ways to understand the absolute essence of PR work: think of PR and Pr campaigns as the process of sending a message, almost like two kids sitting at either end of a tin can telephone.
The person on one end of the line has something they want to say, and they want that message to get to the other person without having the message get distorted or interrupted.
The message itself can vary pretty wildly, but in the end, it’s all about communication and the actions that communication might spur on the part of the listener.
For the rest of this article, we’ll be going through who the senders and receivers are in the world of PR, and we’ll even talk about how messages can get muddled in the process.
In PR, the people sending the message are typically a client and a public relations team, or sometimes a sole public relations officer.
The message itself, as it applies to the opening analogy, actually consists of a series of key messages that the client and their PR team have agreed upon.
Although there can be a lot of crossover between key messages of different campaigns, each campaign should have its own custom set of key messages.
If you’re interested in learning more about key messages, you can check out our article on the topic here.
But in short, key messages represent core concepts that a client wants to communicate to the receivers, which can include members of a target audience, shareholders, or even government officials in certain cases.
Deciding on key messages before campaign planning begins is crucial, and it can also be a lot more difficult than it sounds.
This is precisely why it’s so important to understand the client and their needs thoroughly. Public relations professionals need to take care to communicate well with the client, and initial consultation meetings can also help determine whether the PR firm or PR rep in question will be able to meet the client’s needs.
Of course, the other side of the equation is understanding the receivers and what kinds of campaign materials they are most likely to respond to, which is the focus of the next section.
Having a message, or a series of messages, to communicate is all well and good, but it means nothing unless there’s someone to hear those messages. That’s where the ‘receivers’ come into play.
For the average civilian with no special knowledge of the public relations industry, that is probably understood to mean the general public. After all, most everyone watches commercials, sees billboards, and gets ads in the mail. All these are forms of PR, right?
Yes, these are technically examples of PR, but they’re also more closely related to advertising. They also don’t accurately depict the sheer scope of PR.
As we mentioned very briefly above, PR campaigns can be aimed at many different groups of people, groups that fall under the categories of internal PR and external PR. By the way, we have an entire article on the subject of internal vs. external PR, which you can read here.
So while very large public-facing brands have the luxury of being able to afford to market themselves to just about everyone on the planet, most clients seeking PR services want to reach their target audience.
A target audience is a specific group of people that a client wants to reach. Sometimes a client already knows who their target audience is, and other times, the client will need to conduct research to narrow down their target audience.
Another way to visualize this process is as a game of Battleship. The target audience is the boats on the other player’s side, and they are surrounded by empty water: other groups of people who the campaign isn’t meant for.
Doing market research and maybe even focus testing is the same as determining the locations of the battleships.
That way, the campaign (the equivalent of the missiles) has a much better chance of reaching the people who need to hear it, which can help achieve the client’s goals.
A client who manufactures high-tech baby bottles would have a target audience of parents, mostly young parents in their late-20s and early-30s. The campaign would probably seek placements with parenting magazines and websites, and maybe even television channels with family-friendly programming.
When all goes as planned, the target audience receives the key messages the client wanted to communicate, and the audience responds as intended.
But there are many things that can get in the way of a PR campaign, and while we don’t have time to get into all of them, we can say that many problems can be caused by not having a sufficient grasp of the client, both what they do and what they need, and an insufficient understanding of the target audience and how they can be reached.
When you truly understand what the client wants to say and how the target audience can be communicated with most effectively, the chances of finding success are much greater.
Though these concepts may sound simple as we’re describing them here, don’t let that fool you. It’s not easy to simply enter the PR industry and hit home run after home run.
It takes time, study, and professional experience to learn the intricacies of this line of work and how to adapt to many different kinds of situations and scenarios that you might find yourself in.
If you’re interested in learning more about the basic concepts of public relations, we encourage you to stick around and check out some of our other articles. You’ll also be able to find many resources across other online platforms and educational sites.