PR – or public relations – is all about reputation. It’s the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you. It is used to gain trust and understanding between an organisation and its various stakeholders, whether that’s employees, customers, investors, or the local community.

PR isn’t just for big companies using national newspapers or television. Even the smallest start up or social enterprise can use PR opportunities to catch the eye of its local audience. But PR is often misunderstood, its practises are often unclear and how to ‘do’ PR is a mystery to many people.

I’ve pulled together some top tips to help make the practise of PR a bit clearer, help you generate some positive PR with limited resources, and offer some simple advice to get your organisation’s own PR and communications activity up and running.

What is Public Relations?
As I mentioned before, PR is all about reputation. Public relations professionals use many different techniques as part of their PR campaigns: from media relations and lobbying, to speaking at conferences, and more. PR is different from marketing and advertising, because with PR you do pay the newspapers and TV channels for the media exposure it secures. It’s the credibility of third-party endorsement that gives PR its power. For more information on the background of PR and its best practices, take a look at the free guidesthat the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) has put together.

The Media is a Channel
Many people misunderstand that PR is all about engaging the media and using the coverage generated to put a spotlight on your organisation. But should be made clear is that the media is just a channel, a way to reach your stakeholders. This means that your organisation needs to have its messaging right, its proposition and the impact it makes clear, before you undertake any PR activity. The basics of getting a PR campaign together are covered by Striding Out’s useful guides here.

The Rise of Social Media
Understanding that the media is just a channel to reach your stakeholders is especially important to understand with the rise of social media. Social media cuts out journalist and media organisations as a channel to reach your stakeholders. Organisations can now interact and engage directly with their stakeholders, using sites such as Facebook and Twitter, in an affordable but effective manner. A blog is also an effective way of getting your organisation’s messages, news and recent announcements out to a wide audience. There’s too much to cover off on social media here, but here’s a fantastic video from Common Craft that explains what social media is in plain English:

There’s too much about using social media to cover it here, but if you’re interested in creating a social media campaign but don’t know where to start, take a look at Content & Motion’s excellent guide here or PR 2.0’s free ebook here.

Get Your Descriptor Right
To help with your messaging, it is worthwhile creating a descriptor for your organisation. A descriptor is a short sentence, no more than a few words long, that captures what your organisation is and does. This acts as an introduction for any press releases you send out and is often used by the media to help categorise your organisation and provide a neat intro into any stories they might write about you. For example:

“Bright One, the volunteer-run communications agency, announced today that it had written a fantastic descriptor for its latest PR campaign.”

Other examples of social enterprises with good descriptors include Divine Chocolate (“The Fairtrade chocolate where the cocoa farmers own 45% of the company”) and MyBnk (“The education charity working with young people to build the knowledge, skills and confidence to manage their money effectively”). UnLtdWorld.com’s is very neat too – “a networking site for social entrepreneurs”.

If it helps you to keep your descriptor clear and succinct, try and keep it to a 140 character, twitter-style description. You could even post your descriptor in the comments below this post and we can help refine it for you.

Register on askCHARITY
askCHARITY was set up to help organisations in their work with the media. It is an online contacts book which lists organisation’s details including their key media contacts. It aims to make it easier and faster for media professionals to get in touch with charitable organisations. askCHARITY also aims to open up, hard to reach sections of the media, so by registering your organisation (which is absolutely free) you’ll stand a much better chance of journalists, broadcasters, researchers, freelancers, and every kind of media professional finding out and taking an interest in your organisation. Find out

Get Professional Help
There are lots of PR professionals out there who are looking to give back to the community and help organisations such as yours tell their story effectively. If you’re interested in bringing on some PR support, I would recommend taking a look at the Media Trust’s Media Matching service, which brings together media and communications professionals (advisers) with charities and voluntary organisations that want to improve the way they communicate. Also take a look at Bright One, the volunteer-run communications agency, who are on hand to offer charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations affordable yet effective PR and communications campaigns. Bright One helps organisations get their messages heard and offer resources so they can focus on core activities, so find out more by going to www.brightone.org.uk.

Further Reading
The PR industry has developed a fantastic culture of knowledge sharing, which means that there is plenty of information available for you to learn more about running your own campaign. As a starter, I would recommend visiting Volunteer Genie for advice on using the media to recruit the volunteers you want, reading the guide that Business Link have put together, or visiting the askCHARITY blog for lots of advice on communications.