PR Fundamentals: What is External Public Relations?

By Tiara Ogabang

Internal vs. external PR

There are many different PR terms that are important to understand for anyone who works in PR or who is aspiring to work in PR in the near future. 

Thankfully, most of these terms can be explained with simple common sense and don’t require a great deal of study to grasp. 

But here’s something we get asked quite a bit: what is external public relations? External public relations is unfortunately one PR term that isn’t immediately accessible to most people. 

So what does it mean? 

In the most simplistic form possible, internal PR is about how you communicate with people within the company, including employees and managers, and external PR is PR aimed at external entities, such as customers, the general public, governments, and company shareholders. 

In other words, the type of PR that most people are familiar with is external PR. Commercials are external PR, as are billboards, websites, and company-run social media profiles. 

A very important note before we move on: external public relations should not vary in message, only in how those messages are communicated to each group of people. 

Now that we have the basics nailed down, we will run through several different groups at which external PR is aimed and how PR materials might differ for each one. 

For the general public 

Typically, a client only needs to start worrying about marketing toward the general public after they have grown to a certain size. 

In most cases, clients are most concerned about communicating with their target audience and with their shareholders. These are the people who will have the most direct impact on the overall health of the company. 

But after a certain point, every client utilizing PR services of some kind needs to think about how they are viewed by the general populous.

For the general public

Any PR materials created for the general public should be as broad and widely appealing as possible, and they probably shouldn’t get into specifics about the company’s operations or the fine details of their products. 

Think of any major television commercial for Coca-Cola. In general, these commercials will show happy people with Cokes in their hands. The commercials are as pleasant as possible and might feature one or two lines about a new green initiative the company is undertaking. 

It won’t talk about how the stock price is faring or how many products they sold during the last financial quarter. 

PR like this meant for the general public should generally try to create positive associations with a brand. If a viewer wants to dig deeper and get more info, they can do so via other resources. 

For existing customers 

PR meant for a client’s existing customer base can be extremely important. Customers like knowing that they’re important and valued, and that any concerns they might have will be taken care of. 

External PR materials for this group could still involve commercials or online ads, as long as they’re aimed at their target audience and people who the client knows are already customers. 

It could also be promotional emails sent out on a consistent basis, offering discounts, loyalty programs, and cursory updates about how the company is doing and their plans for the near future. 

PR for customers should really only venture into more somber territory if there has been a crisis of some kind, such as a product defect or recall. 

Rather than letting customers stay angry about the situation indefinitely, they at least get to hear an apology from the company and receive any important information about what the company plans to do to correct the situation. 

But in most instances, PR designed for customers should make the customers feel valued and gently convince them that they made the right choice by purchasing these products. 

In fact, if you check your inbox right now, you’ll probably be able to find dozens of emails that fall under this category, even if most of them get sorted into a separate ‘Promotions’ folder.

For existing customers

Read through a few to get a better sense for how different brands take slightly different approaches to keeping customers in their camp. 

For shareholders 

Shareholders are incredibly important to any company that offers shares in any form, and they are especially important for large, publicly-traded companies, who rely on their shareholders for a large percentage of their overall funding. 

Sure, shareholders are interested in a company’s products, but really only to the extent that each new product has the potential to make all of them a lot more money.

You’ve probably heard of companies holding semi-annual shareholder meetings, which are often in-person events specifically designed to make shareholders feel confident in their decision to support this company. 

The event itself definitely qualifies as external PR, as well as the presentation given and all the information provided. 

A PR team may even choose which executive within the company should deliver the presentation. 

Obviously, PR materials for shareholders focus a lot more on hard numbers and data. Shareholders get to hear and see information that would probably never make it into a public-facing commercial. 

One of the most important aspects of PR materials for shareholders is projections for future performance. 

While these projections can never be 100% accurate (predicting the future never is), they definitely cannot mislead shareholders, as this would constitute fraud. 

Still, companies tend to be very optimistic with their financial outlooks, in the hopes of encouraging shareholders to send even more funding their way. 

For governments 

All companies need to cope with government regulation in some form, even if it’s only the payment of taxes and adhering to federal workplace requirements. 

But for certain very large corporations, making efforts to communicate effectively with government representatives is extremely important.

For governments

In fact, this is the biggest reason for the ubiquity of lobbyists. 

Rather than seeking special treatment from governments at the local, state, or federal level, this form of external PR is all about making sure that everyone is on the same page. 

No company wants to be unfairly regulated, and every company definitely wants governments to understand exactly what kind of work they’re doing and that it’s all above-board and eco-friendly. 

Don’t expect to be creating PR materials for the federal government your first year on the job, but familiarizing yourself with all these different types of external PR will be very important for the success of your PR career.