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Media relations

Public Relations 101 – understanding PR

What is PR (Public Relations)? Why is PR important for businesses? What types of services do PR firms offer?

Public relations. Unless we’re actively seeking it out, rarely do we know what it encompasses. Yet, if you consume news, use social media, purchase one product over another, vote, listen to music or watch a movie, then you have been exposed to an aspect of PR. Which begs a crucial question:

What is public relations (PR)?

While public relations only calcified in the 20th century, its practises are as old as time.

“The Romans used pamphlets and developed a new public relations device – the daily newspaper.” Edward L. Bernays, Origins of Public Relations, Public Relations, 1952

Edward L Bernays – the ‘father’ of public relations – describes public relations as (1) information given to the public, (2) persuasion directed at the public to modify attitudes and actions and (3) efforts to integrate attitudes and actions of an institution with its publics.

PRINZ (Public Relations Institute of New Zealand) – NZ’s governing industry body – defines public relations (PR) as the planned and sustained effort to maintain communication between an organisation, business or NGO and its publics.

What are publics? Publics are a group of people – sometimes referred to as stakeholders – that share common qualities. Publics vary for every business however, examples of publics, include:

  • Customers/clients
  • Board members
  • Shareholders
  • Local government bodies
  • Community members
  • Media

Put simply, PR connects people and strengthens relationships, through storytelling. This is typically done by sharing stories via media channels such as print, radio, TV, online, and through building relationships with important stakeholders. Keeping publics informed and engaged, that’s what PR is all about.

Why is PR important for businesses?

Communication is what businesses run on. However, communication isn’t always easy. It’s dynamic and changes vastly depending on who you’re speaking to. The language you use for a social media post is completely different to your website copy and what you would write in an end-of-year board report.

And while it’s tempting to default to just sharing information or giving stats and ‘cold, hard facts’– which are great in the right contexts – these don’t always engage or connect. However, stories do.

Just like an accountant understands the specific details and nuances between numbers, public relations consultants understand the sensitivities of words and language in storytelling. A highly skilled communications consultant can identify stories and the strongest way to share it.

Some examples of powerful stories shared via public relations campaigns include:

  • “The Ice Bucket Challenge” by ALS Association. The strategic campaign flooded Facebook news feeds in 2014, with celebrities joining in. The significant amount of awareness generated via social media (and then media outlets covering the local-global stories) resulted in over 17 million people participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge and raising more than $115 million for The ALS Association.
  • “Think Different” by Apple. With the return of Steve Jobs as Apple’s CEO in 1997, the company launched a campaign to promote the brand’s renewed focus on innovation and creativity. To share this story, a series of powerful and inspirational TV commercials – featuring historical figures such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr and John Lennon – and print ads, celebrating innovation, creativity and the ability to ‘think differently.’
  • “Red Bull Stratos” by Red Bull. Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner defied the odds in 2012 by jumping out a helium balloon from a height of more than 35+ km. His fear-defying feat was streamed on YouTube and other social media platforms. More than 50 million people worldwide tuned in to watch with extensive international media coverage too. As the brand associated to it, this story reinforces Red Bull’s brand positioning as leaders in adventure.

What types of services do PR firms offer?

Some specialise in government relations, others in crisis communication. Some prefer corporate work and others support not-for-profit groups. Generally, PR services include:

  • Communications strategies and communications plans
  • Media releases
  • Media relations
  • Crisis communications support
  • Reputation management
  • Stakeholder relations

As a fully integrated PR firm, we offer these traditional PR services as well as digital PR which involves:

  • Reviewing a client’s website and SEO rankings
  • Writing SEO-optimised website copy
  • Digital advertising (Facebook/Google Display/Google Search ads)
  • Paid advertising, via traditional media outlets (such as radio, TV and print).

This complete wrap-around approach enables us to share stories in a way that is consistent and mitigates any confusion or miscommunication. Click here for a client case study of this integrated approach.


We believe everyone has a story to tell and that effective communication is proactive. If you have a story that you’re eager to share, but you’re not too sure how to do it or where to start, let us know.

Written By Aspen Bruce
Aspen holds a Bachelor of Communications (public relations and journalism) from AUT University. She has worked for Allied Press titles Otago Daily Times, Central Otago News and Wānaka Sun. Aspen’s experience covers storytelling and communications alongside running events, training workshops and campaign launches.

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About Scope Communications

Scope Communications is a boutique marketing communications consultancy that specialises in digital PR. The consultancy helps brands gain visibility through the power of authentic storytelling, personal connections and digital insights. Scope Communications offers strategic communications, crisis communications and reputation management, community engagement and stakeholder relations, digital PR, media relations and media releases, editorial and special publications, website copywriting for SEO and digital advertising.