Public Relations 101 Basics of PR and How to Get It

PR is a fantastic marketing channel, but it requires a process and methodical approach. A PR specialist will know how to strategically and creatively reach out for media coverage that would be most beneficial to the company’s image. Jessie Paul outlines what you need to do before you sign up with a PR agency as well as why your current program might not meet your expectations or goals. In this article, you will have all your questions answered.

What is Public Relations?

Public relations is the process of communicating with society at large. In order to do this, you must figure out who you are trying to reach and then how they will be reached. The misconception about what is PR in many people’s minds is that it only deals with traditional media, but its primary goal, today, instead lies in reaching out for more exposure through outlets such as newspapers, events, social media or blogs written by members of their targeted demographic.

This type of communication primarily strives to get one’s ideas/information known by reaching audiences outside their personal networks (e.g., members of various communities).

When it comes to reaching the public, PR is not your only option, of course. 

What is the difference between advertising and public relations? 

Differences between Public Relations and Ads

PR and advertising are often confused.  We need to understand both what is PR and also what is advertising. 

PR is what you pray for, whereas advertising is what you pay for. 

The key difference between PR and ads lies in the level of control each party has over their campaign. With an ad, a company controls every aspect of its message from start to finish – not so with Public Relations!

Publicity campaigns are less controlled than paid advertisements, thanks to being dependent on how good (or bad) something goes once released into the journalist’s hands; whereas people know exactly what they’re getting when purchasing ads through different companies who advertise themselves or sell them at cost price.

Types of Media

Types of Media

There are three types of media: Paid, Earned and Owned.

Knowing this will help further clarify what is the difference between advertising and public relations.

Paid Media

Paid, it’s essentially ads where you pay the media house to get some space in their publication. But sometimes it isn’t as obvious that this particular communication has been paid for; so when you see an advertorial or native ad, there may be a small disclosure saying, “This is promoted content!” but not always.

Promotional content is not always labelled as such in India, so it may be difficult to tell that the publication or author has been paid for the post. Additionally, there are digital ads and Google AdWords, which can serve as advertising platforms. Alternatively or additionally, speaking engagements at industry conferences can also count as advertising due to their visibility among your public. Paid influencer engagements also count – their tweets and Insta posts are like ads too.

Also see my article on PR is Dead. Long live advertising!

The owned media

Companies have many opportunities to reach out and be creative. One way is through an awards program where they can both apply for, as well as give others the opportunity to win these prestigious prizes with a company’s involvement. Another option would be thought leadership programs which allow companies not only to promote their expertise but also share it in different forums such that more people are aware of them than before.

Engage with your customers and prospects in a meaningful way by keeping up to date on new content through social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram. The research lab at the company can produce original, high-quality articles for your monthly newsletter that is also delivered to all of your contacts automatically each month!

Earned media

The third category, which is our primary focus, is earned media. This term includes space in somebody else’s publication and PR work. Influencer relations are also included as part of this section.

In their quest for raising awareness about the products and services they offer, companies often seek the services of influencers. If you’re in IT services for instance, then Gartner or Forrester probably stand out as major influencers to watch for; but even if your company operates outside the tech sector, there’s still a number of analysts and researchers that have powerful sway over how an industry thinks and they are covered by media outlets.

What is the Role of PR Agencies: What can a PR agency do for you?

What is the role of a PR Agency

PR agencies are an invaluable resource for any company.

PR agencies have the power to use their connection with publications and media outlets in order to get your message out. They can help you strategize about how best to go about getting that message across, as well as what you are trying to say.

Also, with the help of these experts, you can create high-quality content on any subject that will make your business thrive when trying to reach and connect with new customers or clients in case you don’t have it already with you.

Also, they can guide you on how to build a positive corporate reputation.

When things go wrong, they are here to help. When the chips are down and you’re in the midst of a crisis, PR agencies will help you to communicate your position to your audience. Moreover, such communication, filtered by a credible media house, can add tremendous weightage to your efforts to alleviate the damage. 

PR agencies also offer financial communications services ranging anywhere from helping develop successful campaigns through specific publications focused on investors to generating press releases about new opportunities available at their clients’ companies.

Some years ago Paul Writer conducted research on the PR Landscape of India – if you are evaluating agencies you may find this report useful.

PR Metrics: How to measure public relations

One of the most common measures is advertising value equivalency. PR agencies have been looking at ways to measure what they do because people are not sure how it should be measured or if it can even be measured. The Barcelona Principles is a set of seven principles that provide the first overarching framework for effective public relations (PR) and communication measurement. It was adopted by a number of PR firms and will give you a good starting point to measure yours.

And they say advertising value equivalency is not the best way because it’s simple and prevalent. It’s like saying that if I had to pay for an ad of a similar size to the coverage I have received, how much would you charge me?

The impact on your business outcomes.

The second is the impact on your business outcomes. So if, for example, you felt that in order to get a funding round- let’s say $4 million dollars of seed money from investors like Andreessen Horowitz or Sequoia Capital – you needed to show them the coverage and sentiment around your company’s product or service by publications such as The New York Times or Economic Times so they can see that you are a credible company. This would be an excellent outcome when considering PR’s return on investment (ROI). It also has qualitative aspects too but are good ways to measure success with this strategy!

There are a number of ways that you can tell if your PR campaign is successful. One way to do this would be by measuring the space in which they got coverage on various publications, but it’s important not just to measure output and forget about input – the PR Agency has no control over what gets published or how many opportunities for briefing journalists will be available; success depends largely upon whether our message was appropriate for them.

But when it comes to being successful, we all have our own part that needs to be played. Unless the agency was also managing your content and strategy, there’s a lot they can’t do for you if things don’t go well.

A more qualitative and gut feel-based measure, which I actually personally think if you’re not doing a whole lot of PR, is to see if things improve on any front. So I mentioned three things that they can do for you: credibility, SEO, and reach, and you take a call as to which of these you’re going to measure.

Typical Public Relations Models

Types of Public Relations Commercial Models

Fixed-price campaign

My personal favorite is a fixed-price campaign, where if, say, the retainer price per month is $100, then you would pay 4x or so for a 3 month package with a fixed set of deliverables.

This is my personal favorite, because it gives people a chance to set their price as well. It allows the agency the opportunity to show what they are willing to offer in terms of discounts for better retention rates and increased revenue potential.

The agency will work with you for, say, three months to figure out what kind of results you want, how they can be achieved and put a plan in place.

The retainer model

The second, which is most popular, is the retainer model. This is one of the most popular models with many agencies. It’s like a consulting fee, but you’re paying them to stay on as your marketing service provider. I personally don’t really care for it because there can be status quo challenges on both sides when using this model – sometimes they’ll get complacent and not push boundaries or try new things.

Retainer plus performance model bonus

The third is Retainer plus performance model bonus. This is a system that I’ve seen work really well, where you say this flat fee for your services. And over and above the regular retainer price, if we achieve these goals together, per goal achieved will earn you x amount of money. This aligns our objectives nicely with each other as both parties have an important financial upside from the arrangement.

This way, both have a stake in the game. If the agency doesn’t meet the goals, then you are not going to pay more money and vice versa. It really helps create that bond because it is clear what needs to happen from your side as well, so there aren’t any surprises.

What are the media magnets?

What are the things that make you want to stick around and keep reading? Some media magnets could be amazing imagery or a crazy video.

Media magnets are what people often like to see on the internet. They can be anything from a celebrity interview, an exclusive look at something happening in another country, or even just some pictures of cats that make you want to spend hours scrolling through social media feeds looking for more feline content!

Awards as a Media Magnet

Awards are a great media magnet when you’re winning one, but they also can be created to attract attention. If it’s big enough or appealing to the readers of the publication giving out the award, then coverage is pretty much guaranteed.

CSR as a Magnet

In our society, we often do good deeds to earn recognition and appreciation. If you are genuinely doing something that is valuable for the community or readers in general then chances are they will give you organic coverage. However, it has to be really good work done without just wanting PR!

What about controversies?

Basically, if you’re a challenger brand and small player, to get some attention in the media you need to be controversial. If people are saying what everybody else is already talking about, it’s not considered news or something worth reporting on. The old adage states that it’s more fun for readers/viewers when they hear how a man bites a dog rather than when a dog bites someone.

The more you go against the norm, the better chance that people will pay attention to what you’re saying.


Thank you for reading! I hope that my experience and advice were helpful to you. If there are any unanswered questions or if you would like me to do a session separately, please let me know as a comment on this post or tweet @jessie_paul

FAQS about Media Relations

FAQs about PR

Can I do this in-house if I am a cash-strapped startup?

Well, yes, and no. Whether you should do it yourself or outsource it is a product of many factors:

Time Availability vs Agency money

The time and money trade-off is a huge factor in deciding whether or not to do your own PR. I’ve been doing my own for 10 years, but it takes so much work!

You have to be an executive brand.

If you’re not an executive brand, then it is up to you to create one. And when I say established executive brand, that means your expertise in the space of what you are trying to promote must be well-known and acknowledged by others.

Access to the publishers

You have to have access to those publishers. So if you don’t have it, you will need to develop one. So the point of outsourcing is that someone else will take care of the access for you. And trust me, if you don’t have access, it will take you a few months actually to build that organically. And it will require considerable time investment for you.

How much do you actually have to pay for a PR agency?

What’s the price of a PR agency? I’m sure you’ve all wanted to know the answer to this question. Well, it varies! In America, some people might be able to start at $5k per month, but usually, $10-15K is just about right for your average client in America.

In India, if you’re looking at the very basic starting level, it would be somewhere around 75,000 rupees a month, though one lakh would be a more common starting point, with one and a half to three lakhs being more common for a larger organization.


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Jessie Paul is the CEO of Paul Writer. Paul Writer partners with PR agencies as a part of its client engagements. You can mail us at [email protected] if you would like more information.


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