You probably already have a general idea of what public relations (PR) is, just based on phrases you’ve heard in the media in the past. Statements like “this is a PR nightmare” when a CEO’s troubled past is revealed, or “her PR team must be amazing” when a celebrity manages to spin a conflict in her favor provide insight into a part of what PR is all about. But, what you might not realize is that PR isn’t only about crisis management and celebrities, and doesn’t only exist to benefit the target of its efforts.

What is PR, Exactly?

PR involves managing an organization’s image at all times. Whenever an organization communicates with the public in some manner, you’re engaging with their PR strategy. Every tweet, press release, image, and blog is carefully considered and executed to engage the public and convey a particular sentiment. And the interesting thing is that these interactions and sentiments do not exist only to benefit the entity, but the public as well. We all have something to gain from engaging with PR. In fact, in 2012, the Public Relations Society of America updated its definition of PR to “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”  This definition accurately highlights how an effective public relations strategy should be a two-way street. PR shouldn’t be something that exists solely to keep a company or individual in a positive light for appearance’s sake, but rather to engage the public effectively so they can get something positive out of an organization as well.

In the modern age of technology, social media, and the internet, public relations has started to focus on the metric of “engagement.” This shifts PR strategy goals from passive,social media engagementsuch as reading a blurb or viewing an image, to something more active, like sharing a Facebook post or retweeting a website link. Now you have your audience actively taking part in spreading your organization’s message. And when an audience feels compelled to share content with their connections, they invite a new audience to take part in the experience. Accordingly, high engagement is an excellent measure of PR success. Not only does it indicate that your audience is responding well to your message, but you also know that the message is being broadcasted further.

Anyone wondering “what is PR?” should know that there is more to PR than just making sure distributed content has a desired effect on an audience. You also have to make sure that the message you’re putting out to the public is internalized effectively within your organization. By this we mean that you need to be sure you have the right personnel to accurately represent, understand, and execute internal business affairs as they are presented outwardly. After all, your goal is to try and represent your organization in a positive light, and ensuring you can actually deliver helps to ensure your good reputation stays that way.