*previously published in the Texas Downtown Association’s newsletter, 1/2019

Everyone seems to know the terms, “PR,” “good PR,” or a “PR nightmare,” but not so many understand what public relations actually entails. How does public relations fit into a broader marketing program, and how can it benefit a destination such as a downtown association? 

If you’re savvy to the definition of public relations and how it differs from other marketing tools such as advertising, digital marketing or direct marketing, feel free to skip ahead. If you’re a bit fuzzy — public relations is the practice of building influence and reputation among target audiences for an individual, organization/business, product or service. 

Smart PR practitioners start with a clear set of messaging. “Unique selling points” or brand messaging are the foundation for communicating across ALL marketing platforms. For example, over the past three years, we’ve amplified these core messages in all of our media and influencer relations for Georgetown’s Visitors Bureau: 1) authenticity 2) preservation and beauty (The Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas), and 3) outdoors/nature. These messages were supported by a wide array of tangible, newsworthy elements, from their annual Red Poppy Festival and designation as a Great American Main Street City to shopping, dining and history around the town square, the popular spring-fed Blue Hole and winning a 2017 Parks Gold Medal from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society to name just a few.

From there, your PR person or team develops a customized plan that includes one or more of the following tactics, based on your specific communications goals:

  • earned media – non-paid media placements such as news or feature stories, calendar listings, profile pieces, photo spreads, etc 
  • content creation – think bylined articles, blogs, video how-to’s or expert contributions
  • influencer relations –the most influential voices on social media and the web 
  • special events – the best way to deliver real-time/face-time influence directly to your audience
  • community relations – significant partnership(s) with a nonprofit can generate multiple opportunities to build awareness
  • social media – if you do have a PR effort in place, social media should either be managed by the PR team or work hand-in-hand as far as messaging and brand-building objectives

Although not included above, PR is also the best – and first — method of response in times of crisis. When something goes wrong or something controversial is brewing, a crisis communications plan is the first step toward controlling your message and communicating your position in a time-sensitive manner.

For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on how thoughtful PR can help your town promote the good news and build interest among targeted audiences. 

From press releases and social media postings to video news releases or an opinion piece in the local newspaper(s), PR can “broadcast” your controlled message across many formats. 

There’s no better way to share your news and stories in a credible manner than via public relations. Reading about your new public arts program on a major newspaper’s website or seeing a historic property renovation in Texas Highways provides tons more influence than a paid advertisement. The folks in Georgetown can attest to this fact. Data from downtown retailers, hotels and area bed and breakfasts have experienced steady, and at times, rapid growth over the past three years. 

Public relations is the most credible tool in the marketing toolbox because it involves a third-party endorser. That endorser being media and non-traditional media such as bloggers and social media influencers or even a popular industry conference in which your spokesperson or CEO is presenting. 

Note that public relations is more of a marathon than a sprint, so you’ll see more return on investment when committing consistent resources over the course of at least a year. A press release here and there is a scattershot approach, which may get some attention, but will soon be forgotten. To see the fruits of a PR campaign, it’s best to bundle tactics, enhance with other forms of marketing and continue the outreach for months, if not years. For example, Georgetown continues to place targeted advertising buys such as The Daytripper on Texas PBS stations, billboard, a revised website and attention to search engine optimization. 

If you have the budget to bring in external public relations, it’s money well spent. PR is a blend of soft and hard skills such as strong writing and editing skills, staying abreast of news trends, trusted media relationships, persistence and adaptability. If your Main Street program is doing newsworthy things that deserve more attention in your community and beyond, it may be time for PR.