PR is more than media pitches and marketing slogans. The art of PR involves sharing narratives, engaging people, and building relationships. It all boils down to honest communication and trust. In this guide, we delve further into the main principles and golden rules of Public Relations.
The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as
“the strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its public.”
While the basic principles of public relations are easy enough to comprehend; drafting press releases, pitching to media outlets, and writing thought leadership content to get your client noticed, the real question is how to do this well. What are some of the guiding principles? Well, here they are, the 10 principles of public relations. The list here is not exhaustive, but it includes the most important to PRLab and those we think all modern PR professionals should consider.
Always tell the truth. Once trust is lost, it’s hard to get back, and in the digital age, wrong or misleading information is shared far and wide. This is a big responsibility. Avoid using PR to spin a story. To some people, spinning a story is dishonest and exaggerates the truth. If what you share is untrue or misrepresented, you tarnish your reputation and the industry’s.
Honesty is paramount in all content you produce and distribute. This is important if you work for a PR agency; transparent client management should be at the heart of the client/agency business relationship or if you are an in-house PR professional in an organization. When you are open, you set the foundations for long-term success. There is no point in setting unrealistic expectations or just saying ‘yes’ to clients. Clients hire you for your professional services; part of this is being able to say ‘no’ if you feel something won’t be fruitful or will waste their budget. Rather than telling the client what they want to hear, good PR tells them what they need to hear. If you are working in-house, have an open and honest conversation with your boss about what will work and what won't. This will save both you and the organization a lot of time and effort.
This brings us to our next PR golden rule - measuring your success. You can’t hope to ‘fix’ what you can’t measure. Good goals are always measurable. This is where having SMART KPIs comes in.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART was almost tailor-made for PR. For example, you may want to increase sales by 15% in the next quarter after running a particular campaign. As a SMART goal, the sales target here is specific (a number), measurable (by 15%), achievable (realistic, based on capabilities), relevant (it is part of a larger goal of increasing market share), and time-bound (three months is the timeframe). SMART goals help you determine what you wish to achieve and how you will measure your success and progress. Without it, there is little point in doing a PR campaign.
One of the key public relations principles. PR aims to reinforce or maintain a brand’s image over time, so good PR doesn’t ever end. It is about solving a pain point for your audience and communicating this so that, over time, this consistent effort can alter consumer behavior while nurturing a loyal base of brand advocates.
Unlike advertising campaigns, it's an ongoing reputation management process. It is not about quick fixes but building trust and credibility, brick by brick, one message at a time.
In the face of digital, a changing ecosystem, and the need for expertise in different areas, PR must recognize the intrinsic value of collaboration. Working with employees, marketing teams, and other third-party stakeholders is essential to understanding a company, its market, and its goals. Regular updates put both sides on the same page. It helps PR practitioners understand and mitigate risks and do their jobs better.
No one side has all the power anymore. It's no longer about who shouts the loudest but who collaborates effectively. In PR, teamwork makes the dream work. Collaboration and cooperation are the basis for effective PR campaigns that hit home with target audiences. Put aside any preconceived ideas about an industry and be ready to learn something new. There are always fresh perspectives and new insights to be gained.
While we are busy as public relations professionals announcing new products, sharing important updates, or media pitching, we must also seek to understand how these brands and products are perceived. Media monitoring tools are great for analyzing media coverage, share of voice, and brand sentiment.
Keeping your ear to the ground allows you to identify and quickly respond to negative comments before they become a potential crisis. Listening also helps to pick up on new trends and formulate new strategies for reaching audiences and fine-tuning your PR tactics.
You’ve probably heard that PR is all about managing a crisis after it happened or about a glamorous product launch, right? Well, wrong… The best PR does not sit around and wait for news but actively creates it. You must constantly engage with your public and the media.
Be sure to shape your PR strategy before a crisis shapes it for you, or you risk being caught on the back foot. You should anticipate potential issues and be prepared with responses. Being reactive can sometimes feel defensive or insincere, while being proactive can feel natural and secure.
Inbound PR is earning audiences' attention without ‘interrupting’ them. It is about getting found. The primary goal is to create highly audience-driven and strategically placed content and share it so stakeholders come to you (and not vice versa). Today, this predominantly happens online. But the right content is at the heart of this. Without high-quality content, your message is dead. This approach helps build productive relationships with the media. Modern inbound marketing methods include email opt-ins, blogs, downloadable whitepapers, SEO, and social media. Traditional methods include TV, billboards, paid ads, and press releases. Outbound ‘interrupts’ but inbound ‘attracts. It is voluntary. See the difference?
The way consumer decisions are made has fundamentally changed. The rise of digital has ushered in a new paradigm for decision-making and choice. People don’t want to be bombarded with messages or have advertising ‘done’ to them (think of email spam or annoying YouTube ads). Similarly, journalists need to be able to find stories effectively. Simply put, it's about creating value and building relationships with contacts, creating a ready-to-go audience you can leverage for clients. It’s also easier to measure the success of this method over more traditional methods (see point 2).
A cornerstone of PR is a commitment to communicating candidly and relevantly, not just with the media but with consumers. It's about respecting others in the profession. The PR field can sometimes feel small. Be humble in everything you do. You won’t know everything.
Share knowledge with others in the industry. They may share some useful info with you. LinkedIn and PR communities are great ways to do this. Be mindful of the time of journalists and treat them with respect. They have a job to do. Make life easy for them and answer their questions accurately and promptly. Be thankful when they cover your news and courteous when they don’t. This brings us to our next point.
It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that good PR is built on relationships and is one of the main principles of media relations. Invest time and effort in cultivating these, especially with journalists. They hold the keys. To ensure pitches sent to journalists are 100% on target, research and inquire about what they're looking for.
Some in PR have reduced in-person networking since video calls have become more popular. However, the fact that so many people now rely on digital communication means that in-person contact is even more important. Anyone can blast a message into the digital sphere, but without pre-existing relationships, that’s where the message will stay. You need someone to pick it up. Digital media platforms are great, but technology can’t replicate a true connection.
A fundamental golden rule of PR is to check your facts and ensure any sources are reliable. Nothing says ‘we have no credibility’ more than misinformation.: There is no excuse for this in today’s information-driven era. Always fact-check. It's what professionals do.
Trustworthy information is the cornerstone of effective PR, and trust is the holy grail of PR goals. Brands must work hard for this. Knowledge is power, but only if it’s accurate. Get into the habit of doing a check. It could be the downfall of your agency otherwise.