PR: Who Needs It?

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ItÂ?s not uncommon for a potential client to question what PR is. Unsaid at that moment is that they also donÂ?t understand how PR can help them.

“We have a PR agency,” I tell potential clients. Inevitably the next words out of their mouths are, “PR, what’s that?”

It’s not uncommon for a potential client to question what PR is. Unsaid at that moment is that they also don’t understand how PR can help them. That’s when a good working definition of PR can make all the difference in securing a client—or not.

“PR is public relations. Think of it as publicity or buzz,” I tell them. “The kind of buzz that happens when people are talking about you, about what you do.” At this point, the future client’s eyebrows go up. And they might ask, “I thought that’s what advertising was supposed to do?”

Once upon a time, that was true. Back in the day when we actually trusted what advertisers told us. But today, even the most sincere advertisement can’t cut through the ad clutter that bombards us everywhere we turn. As a result, our ad meters are pretty darn good. ‘That’s an ad,’ we tell ourselves moments into the sales pitch—and we tune it out.

“The difference between advertising is this,” I say. “Advertising is you saying you are good. PR is other people saying you are good.” This is when the message sinks in. PR is third parties talking about who you are and what you do. Third parties like newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and ezines. Forums and chat rooms too. Even word of-mouth from friend-to-friend and family-to-family. And good PR is what puts people, businesses and organizations on the map.

A good PR firm is going to find out everything possible about a client's business or organization. What is different, unique and special. Then they will craft the words and messages that tell the client's story on their website, in their brochure, in press releases, and feature stories. All of which they will shop to the media who serve the client's customers.

Is there still a place for advertising? Certainly. Advertising is most effective today when it reminds people of what they learned through an effective PR effort. Think of it this way: PR launches brands, advertising maintains them. New companies need PR to get their name out there, established companies need PR for new products and services. Once PR has established a company's good name, ad dollars are an effective way to remind customers what others are saying.


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Peter Terhorst
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