As part of the PR team at Constant Contact, when I tell people what I do for work, I’m often met with blank stares.

It’s understandable.

Public relations is an ambiguously defined industry. So ambiguous that the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) recently set out to choose one clear definition — they had 927 definitions to choose from — see, I told you it was ambiguous.

Here’s what they came up with:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

While this description does a good job, it might still leave you scratching your head. 

I’m going to simplify it a bit further. The end goal of public relations is to generate positive public awareness of something, whether that something is a business, organization, or person.

The term public relations encompasses all of the efforts and processes that happen behind the scenes to create and build that awareness — everything from building relationships with the media, to speaking at industry events, to hosting your own events that build goodwill with existing and potential customers.

Why should I care?

The biggest difference between PR and the rest of its marketing brethren is that PR is focused on earned rather than paid opportunities.

I know what you’re thinking: FREE marketing? I’m in!

Pay attention to the term earned — this goes back to the mutually beneficial part of the PRSA definition. Since you aren’t paying for these opportunities, you have to provide some value to the reporter or blogger who is writing about you. This is a you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours situation.

For example, a flower shop could provide behind the scenes insights to a reporter working on a Valentine’s Day piece, or a restaurant could update a food blogger on recent culinary trends.

You are providing the writer with great insights, first-hand experience, or tips they can use in their article. In exchange your business is benefiting from the exposure gained from being mentioned in the piece.

This exposure will help your business build credibility.

PR provides mentions and endorsements of your business through a third party (a reporter, a reviewer, a blogger, your customers, etc.). Third party endorsements are incredibly valuable because of the credibility they provide — they work very similarly to a recommendation from a friend or colleague. These types of endorsements will be the perfect complement to your other marketing efforts, and will help reinforce your value to people who are getting to know your business.

Keep in mind that PR is not magic.

There is no easy button to generate great PR results. Truly effective PR is the result of relationships and credibility built over time.

The perfect plan? Integrate PR efforts with your ongoing marketing activities. There are simple, time-effective ways that you can amp up your PR efforts, while continuing to effectively market with email, social media, and other campaigns.

This is the first in a series of PR-related blogs.  Stay tuned for the next article which will contain tips to kick off your small business’s PR efforts.

Do you have any specific PR-related questions? Post them in the comments below, and you could see your question featured in my next post.