Public Relations 101: What the heck is it?

By Allison Koontz, Small Coffee Intern

The ladies of Girls Impact the World Film Festival on We Are Austin in 2018.

The ladies of Girls Impact the World Film Festival on We Are Austin in 2018.

Editor’s Note: We asked our intern Allison Koontz, a rising senior at the University of Texas, to answer a frequent question we get with startups and businesses who have never worked with a publicist. She also provides some advice and resources for people (students, we’re talking to you) who want to get into PR.

Public Relations. You may have heard that brand needs it, but what is PR? Well, the Public Relations Society of America decided to define it back in 2012 as part of a campaign to modernize the definition of public relations. This is what they came up with:

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

Okay, so what does that mean? As a student who’s had the opportunity to really learn about the industry from inside a classroom and through internships, PR is all about relationship building, engagement and persuasion. In a great article written for Forbes, Robert Wynne describes it simply by saying that PR is all about  “trying to convince an audience, inside your building or town, and outside your usual sphere of influence, to promote your idea, purchase your product, support your position, or recognize your accomplishments.”

Because it is an earned medium, unlike advertising, PR professionals must work hard to get their voice out there. From writing press releases and pitching them to news outlets, to strategizing a social media plan, to planning events, public relations is about creating and maintaining a brand’s image to the public through relationships.

How can I start doing this thing called PR?

If you want to be a publicist you need to be passionate about people and about communicating to them. And above all, you need to be curious.

Writing is crucial to this industry, so get familiar with the AP Stylebook and start working on a portfolio, even if it’s just a simple website you can use to show potential clients or employers. It always helps to be able to show someone what you can do.

Reach out to PR professionals and ask to sit down over a cup of coffee to talk about what they do, how they got there and why they do what they do. I’ve found this incredibly beneficial and eye-opening as everyone has a different story and a different way of getting down to business. Finding a mentor is also helpful in figuring out where to start in the industry. These relationships are crucial to broadening horizons and making connections all over the industry.

Be confident in what you can do, be persistent in what you want, ask questions and always have a good attitude no matter what.

Resources to help you along the way

Whether you’re starting out in the industry or you just want to learn a little bit more about PR, here’s a list of websites, books and podcasts to help you navigate the media relations world and quench your curiosity about the industry:

Here’s to you and your journey through the world of public relations! Best of luck.