In short:

  • Although fleshed-out PR campaigns are primarily associated with larger brands, businesses of all sizes can reap the benefits of implementing a PR strategy.
  • With relationship-building at its core, public relations primarily relies on strategic communication to bridge the gap between an organization or person and the public.
  • Kickstart PR operations at your company by designing initiatives that are: current, curious, creative, consistent and connected.

For nascent business operators, the thought of creating some form of public relations may seem to be a mysterious necessity, for others, a mildly frivolous investment. But effective PR strategies can increase brand visibility and build trust with the public, and there are some basic steps you can learn and start taking now.

Great PR campaigns can help business owners increase their credibility and prevent or address any communication that may damage the reputation of the business. Here, we’ll provide an overview of PR and some guidelines for starting a PR initiative at your company.

What is public relations?

In its simplest form, PR is the process by which an organization or individual manages its public perception. The most successful companies in the world know that PR is more about reputation than just recognition. Public relations professionals can influence how the general public (or the subset of the public that comprises their target audience) perceives a concept, person, group, product, service or business.

Who is doing it well, and how does it pay off for them?

Earlier this year, the Reputation Institute published its annual study(opens in a new tab) of corporate reputations. For the fourth year in a row, Rolex secured the number one spot as the world’s most reputable company. At over 100 years old, the luxury brand still brings to mind opulence, prestige and superiority for consumers. And its name is recognized in almost every language.

Since 1905, the brand, owned by founder Hans Wolsdorf’s charitable organization, has steadily increased its production to about 800,000 watches every year. It’s also estimated(opens in a new tab) that Rolex rakes in somewhere between $5-8 billion per year, but the Swiss watch company has never revealed its actual profits.

A Rolex is kind of its own currency(opens in a new tab),” Alexander Linz, editorial director for the Swiss website Watch Advisor, told the New York Times in 2017. His remark speaks to how consumers perceive this product’s significance.

How can I get started with my company’s PR?

Rolex’s PR efforts are successful because the team adheres to what I like to call the five C’s. The company stays current, curious, creative, consistent and connected. Businesses of any size can benefit from prioritizing these tenants.

The five C’s of successful public relations:

1. Current

In PR, timing is everything — especially when it comes to thought leadership. Companies that understand industry trends and can predict changes to the market are ultimately seen as credible and leaders in their respective industries. Successful public relations professionals consistently absorb new information, which equips their businesses to offer tactics a cut above their competitors’ and launch more effective campaigns.

��Companies that understand industry trends and can predict changes to the market are ultimately seen as leaders.

If you’re integrating PR into your business operations for the first time, start by ensuring that your PR point person — yep, even if that person is you! — stays current. For example, listening to podcasts(opens in a new tab), following industry-relevant social media accounts or reading practitioner blogs can give your PR manager a perspective on trends.

PR YogaClub(opens in a new tab)
YogaClub stays abreast of social movements while honing an authentically inclusive brand image.

��How they grew it: YogaClub is an example of a company whose founder stays current, yielding a favorable public image. Founder Nick Nomann doesn’t just understand industry trends; he sets them. When Nomann learned that machine learning was a market trend, he accurately predicted the PR gains that would come from using the tool at his business. YogaClub now employs machine learning algorithms(opens in a new tab) which both convey the activewear brand as a cutting-edge industry leader and highlight its customer-centric approach by allowing consumers to set trends each season. What’s more, YogaClub maintains a diverse and inclusive image in stride with an industry trend — see the recent launch of its plus size activewear collection.

2. Curious

Personal curiosity can set your business’s public image apart from the rest. Larger brands likely have a PR team established, while small businesses can benefit from hiring a public relations professional or having a founder who knows the importance of asking questions such as “Why?” or “What if?” Asking those research-esque questions promotes progress, in any field. When companies approach their industries with the curious attitude of a scientist eager to run experiments, they are able to offer truly valuable solutions to customers.

�� When companies approach their industries with a curious attitude, they’re able to offer truly valuable solutions to customers.

In your business, fostering curiosity could look like offering workshops on emerging technologies, covering travel expenses for industry-specific conferences(opens in a new tab) or funding employee professional development and continued education. Each of these yields a favorable company image; in other words, it’s “good PR.” On a more personal level, successful PR professionals aren’t afraid to admit they don’t have all the answers and take a genuine interest in learning. Curiosity can also look like research: Research competitors, so you can differentiate your brand’s messaging to your advantage. Research target publications, so you can pitch stories that are irresistibly up reporters’ alleys. Research which topics your industry peers chatter about daily, so your brand can join the conversation on its site or social media. Research also looks like fact-checking content before publishing, which helps businesses avoid image-altering mistakes.

serial entrepreneur(opens in a new tab)
As a “serial entrepreneur,” Kalika Yap relies on curiosity to perfect her brands’ messaging.

��How they grew it: Full-time mom and entrepreneur Kalika Yap takes a business approach involving curiosity. Curiosity is critical to staying ahead(opens in a new tab), she writes, especially when it comes to new technology. She says, “If you’re not in the know, you are in danger of quickly becoming obsolete and outdated.” Yap also advises remaining inquisitive. Asking questions can be critical to understanding how your business’s message will be received. It is difficult to improve the image of your business without first asking questions to understand consumers’ current perceptions.

3. Creative

In the past 10 years, the PR landscape has changed, and with it, so have PR strategies. Businesses have gone from relying on a standard press release to employing more creative image management strategies, such as becoming publishers and telling their own stories. For businesses both large and small, it takes creativity to build a unique brand presence while maintaining a consistent tone in customer-facing messages. When a company prioritizes creativity in PR, it develops memorable content and establishes a unique voice.

�� It takes creativity to build a unique brand presence while maintaining a consistent tone in customer-facing messages.

On a tactical level, creativity in PR looks like developing sizzly headlines, pitching smart story angles and personalizing marketing campaigns from scratch. In some cases, these aspects of PR can be handled by one or two experienced professionals. However, larger businesses require sizeable teams. Regardless of who’s doing PR at your company, ensure they know how to inventively shift a narrative.

PR guru Jeff Barrett(opens in a new tab)
PR guru Jeff Barrett uses creativity to create memorable campaigns for his clients.

��How they grew it: Jeff Barrett, the CEO Status Creative(opens in a new tab), knows how critical creativity is to the success of PR efforts — so much that he put the word in the name of his award-winning digital PR agency. Status Creative seeks to create memorable narratives that motivate and capture the imagination of consumers. Just take a look at its “Kids Tasting Ice Cream for the First Time(opens in a new tab)” campaign for Moose Tracks. The video isn’t your typical ice cream ad and thus inspires viewers to become devoted, action-taking customers.

4. Consistent

Memorable public relations campaigns are consistent in both the frequency and tone of their messages. They use repetition to cause consumers to associate a particular style of communication with a specific person, event or organization.

�� Memorable PR campaigns use repetition to cause consumers to associate a particular style of communication with a specific person, event or organization.

It’s important for businesses to consistently communicate to the public, which means making strategic decisions about how many times per week, month, etc. to disseminate messages. It also means determining which channels of communication will be most effective in the long run (a task that also requires creativity). Optimal PR campaigns are marathons, not sprints. Shock and awe are short-lived, but oftentimes, a brand’s consistent presence can make it catchy and ultimately unforgettable. Make messaging itself consistent, too: Both employees and customers value this, especially when internal and external branding are congruent.

Instagram Pair of Thieves(opens in a new tab)
Because Pair of Thieves posts consistently silly pictures on Instagram, customers know what the brand represents.

��How they grew it: Pair of Thieves(opens in a new tab) founder Cash Warren knows the importance of consistency well, especially when it comes to interactions with consumers. Of course, consumers enjoy novel products, but they also develop certain expectations about a brand’s image over time. Thus, Pair of Thieves remains consistent in its messaging: Its relatable branding campaigns routinely use vibrant images and self-deprecating humor. The messaging is also consistent in its timing. Pair of Thieves posts to Instagram at predictably-timed intervals, for example.

5. Connected

Public relations is largely centered around business development, relationship growth and, increasingly in recent years, giving back to your company’s community.

�� PR is largely centered around business development, relationship growth and giving back.

In practice, being connected means more than just engaging market influencers. It also means developing relationships with industry leaders, media professionals such as reporters and journalists and members of the surrounding community. These relationships make it easier to place a story in the hands of the right publication or reporter and in the most effective media channel (social vs. editorial vs. TV, etc.). Companies with effective PR managers utilize professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn to build a network of thought leaders to reach with their messaging. Other social platforms such as Instagram and Facebook can be used to connect with clients and consumers. Offline, helping out in your business’s local community lends to favorable perceptions among both the public and employees.

Employees of water brand Waiakea(opens in a new tab)
Employees of water brand Waiakea volunteer in the local community.

��How they grew it: Waiakea exemplifies the concept of connectedness yielding a positive brand image. This certified carbon neutral(opens in a new tab) bottled water brand makes it a priority to show respect and give back to its community. This company pays its employees their hourly rate to volunteer at nonprofits that they care about. Moreover, founder Ryan Emmons hand-delivered boxes of Waiakea water to cafes, fitness studios and natural-food retailers in the company’s early days. In addition, the company sought connections with reputable brands, such as Whole Foods, to strengthen its brand credibility and overall image.

�� The bottom line

If you’re looking to launch PR efforts at your business, remember that you can smart small. Whether you hire a specialist or assign public relations to a current employee, basics of “good PR” remain the same.

They include: Studying current trends, approaching your industry with curiosity, getting creative when it comes to campaigns, maintaining consistent tone and frequency of content and making genuine efforts to connect with others, right down to your business’s local community.