What business is public relations in?

Paul Holmes asked the very challenging, provocative question of PR agencies across the world: what business are we in? In his post, he offered perspectives on media, trust, awareness, advocacy, engagement, and relationships, and it’s an excellent post worth reading.

The SHIFT answer to this question is a little more tangible, built on everything Paul listed in his post. We, the public relations industry, are in the business of new audiences. When you look at the marketing, sales, and service funnel for any organization, the fundamental question that every marketer runs into sooner or later is, “Where can I get more leads?” or “Where can I attract more customers from?”. The perennial answer is that new business comes from new audiences, new people that you can do business with.

Everything Paul mentioned is part of the equation of new audiences and new business. In order to reach new audiences, we need to work with the media – earned, owned, and paid. We need to create awareness and trust by sharing stories that inspire. We need to create engagement by sharing stories that are worth talking about. We create relationships with the public and with our media contacts when we help to tell great stories. But many of these things are qualities, not necessarily business objectives.

Spiders in the funnel
Your business without PR.

At the end of the day, the CMO and the VP of Corporate Communications have to answer to their P&L. They have to be able to answer the question from CEOs, shareholders, and owners, “What did this do for the business?” If public relations is in the business of generating new audiences, then we can confidently respond that our work feeds the marketing that powers sales and ultimately brings new customers to the business.

In the final analysis, PR is in the business of creating business.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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