Public relations spans a broad array of tactics and strategies. As such, what any two PR campaigns look like in actual practice can be vastly different depending on its goals. From old-school media placements to large-scale event planning to modern digital communication, it often requires an interesting mix of skills and competencies to do well.
And that’s probably why you’re here. You know the benefits of doing PR: earning trust, establishing valuable relationships, and building branding awareness, all while collaborating with content and social media marketing, but with lower costs than traditional advertising.
Sounds awesome, right?
Well, sure it does. But which tactics should you execute? Where do companies start developing plans? And what does effective PR even look like in real life when it encompasses so many things?
That’s what you’ll find in this post: 29 examples demonstrating what this time-tested marketing discipline looks like in the real world. You’ll find basic stuff like different areas of the business you can explore, plus tons of actual campaigns to help inspire your own strategy.
Dive Deeper into Public Relations
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Snag Three Free PR Templates
This post is full of examples you can borrow ideas from.
But, what happens when it comes time to execute your strategy?
Grab these free templates to support better execution:
PR Plan Template: Use this template to prepare your entire PR plan in one place, allowing your team to draw from one source of truth and execute plans more efficiently.
Press Release Template: This press release template will help you write high quality, engaging press releases — this time and every time.
AP Style Cheat Sheet: No need to stress over formatting — this cheat sheet will help you write in AP style without digging through a thick, burdensome style guide.
So … What is Public Relations, Really?
This is a bigger question than it might sound like. To summarize what this field is all about, here’s a basic working definition: Public relations describes the actions a business or organization takes to shape perceptions of its brand and develop relationships with its customer base, target audience, partners, and other important stakeholders.
What's the Difference Between Public Relations, Social Media Marketing, and Influencer Marketing?
You'd be spot on if you read the PR definition above and thought...
"Wait a sec... the definition of PR sounds a lot like what social media, marketing, and influencer marketing do!"
Let's spend a moment to explore how PR, social media, marketing, and influencer marketing are different and how they should collaborate.
The public relations department is responsible for communicating news and story angles to produce earned media.
Here's an example:
Say you're starting a new, upscale retail business, PR will send influencers or bloggers an invite to the store opening in the hopes that they write about it, post pics on their Instagram, etc.
The key here is that there is no obligation for the event invitees to write about the store opening. You are earning exposure with organic posts.
Influencer marketing is responsible for engaging with and promoting a brand's products to influencers.
This usually entails a strategic and paid transaction where the influencer gets something in exchange for their media contributions.
Let's use our retail business example from above. The person responsible for influencer marketing will reach out to a few strategic influencers and offer them the opportunity to promote your opening. The influencers agree to post 3 Instagram images and write one, 1,000-word review of the store on their blog. With influencer marketing, you can usually dictate the direction you would like them to focus on, provide branded hashtags, etc. They must also disclose that they were paid to post on your behalf. This is paid exposure.
Social media, similar to influencer marketing, can be its own department with its own goals, which rolls up under the marketing department.
OR It can also be considered a tactic or channel that the marketing team is responsible for if a specialist role doesn't exist.
9 Examples of Basic PR Disciplines
If you’ve got a job in this field, or if you’re responsible for executing any part of it, that could mean a lot of different things. Some of this might seem basic, but it’s worth reviewing because it’s possible there may be work you’re doing (or could do) that you didn’t even know fell under the PR umbrella.
Old-school landing placements in reputable news outlets and publications. This is all about building relationships with reporters and editors and securing favorable coverage. Most often, this involves cold pitching, distributing press releases, and connecting on social media.
You want to keep corporate investors happy. That’s what investor relations is all about.
Companies and organizations that interface with government agencies have a need to manage those relationships well.
And conversely, governing bodies need to manage relationships and perceptions with their constituencies and stakeholders, too.
Companies, organizations, and nonprofits often have a need to manage the connection they have with their surrounding communities. This can also extend to online communities and community management.
Beyond just customer support, how do companies shape perceptions and build relationships with their customer base? Strong customer relations can go a long way toward building brand loyalty without relying on advertising or content alone.
This one is a hot topic these days, but it isn’t often openly discussed as a PR tactic. That’s a good reminder that PR is dictated by its goals, and not just the tactics and channels used.
Bad things happen. When they do, it’s someone’s job to manage the fallout, ensure that the right information gets out fast to people who need it, and stop problems from spiraling even further out of control. That’s where crisis communications come in.
Corporate Social Responsibility
In the modern era, people expect companies to act responsibly and to be good stewards of natural resources. CSR helps businesses show what they’re doing to make a positive impact (and in turn, build goodwill with potential customers).
8 Basic Examples of PR Tactics (Including Some You Might Not Have Considered)
Companies sometimes put PR into a limited box of tactics without stepping outside those lines. But, doing so might be limiting your opportunities and ability to connect with audiences. Here are some obvious (and not so obvious) tactics to try.
One way to grow your audience is to leverage someone else's.
Here's an awesome PR partnership example. Online mattress brand, Leesa, partnered with West Elm to give people the chance to try their mattress in real-life before ordering. This also meant that people had to go to West Elm to try them, which increases foot traffic for the furniture brand.
Letters to the Editor
If building support for a cause or issue is part of your organization’s goals, a letter to the editor of your local newspaper (or newspapers in areas you serve) can be highly effective. These can be written on behalf of your organization, or by members advocating for your position.
Here's anop-ed example penned by Google's CEO which was published by the New York Times. The PR piece discusses privacy and privacy concerns among its users.
Pop Up Shops
Pop-up shops aren’t just an effective way to capitalize on cheap retail space or seasonal shopping trends. They can also be an effective means of earning media coverage.
For evidence, take a look at this example from the 2016 Honest Tea campaign, where they set up unstaffed pop-up stores that let people pay for tea on the honor system. It’s an interesting story, and a lot of news outlets thought so, too:
Good, old-fashioned print collateral still has tons of value. If you have a physical presence, leaving people with information they can take with them is a useful way of ensuring they come back.
Press conferences remain an effective means of getting a message out to a large group of reporters all in one shot, and not just for pro athletes in post-game interviews, either.
Journalists love to cite original research in their own work. So, doing your own research on a topic and sharing that content can be an excellent way to position your company’s expertise.
12 Examples of Effective PR Campaigns (And What You Can Learn From Them)
So, what does absolutely awesome PR execution look like in real life? That’s what this section will take a look at. And not only that, it’ll look at some un-flashy but effective work you can emulate too.
Ice Bucket Challenge
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was more than a viral video sensation. It was also started byThe ALS Association and raised an incredible level of awareness around the need to find a cure for an extremely serious illness.
What made this campaign work so well? Here are a few thoughts:
It gave people a cause to rally behind. Doing good feels good.
The campaign encouraged people to participate. Giving people a chance to show off on social media is an excellent way to get them engaged.
There was an element of fun and creativity. The novelty of the campaign caught people’s attention.
Those three things together added up to one of the most effective viral campaigns in recent memory. While social media was the medium it used, its goals were rooted in pure PR.
It’s promoting a cause. People love to feel like their purchases are helping advance an important issue.
The book is raising awareness of the organization, too. Plus, by raising awareness of Charity Water, people might be more inclined to continue donating and supporting their mission.
Partnerships are clearly displayed. If you have a website page or landing page promoting something, including either places to buy the product or partnering organizations is smart.
Google.org Impact Challenge
Another example of leveraging partnerships and issue-driven messaging, the Google Impact Challenge connects the company with nonprofits, lending funding and the help of Google volunteers to winning organizations.
This campaign drives awareness and engagement by:
Setting high stakes. Google is a big entity with massive resources.
Taking on big issues. And as such, they’re able to do big things that get a lot of attention and help advance tough problems in a meaningful way.
Actively encouraging participation. They’re actively raising awareness for everyone who enters (even if they don’t win) just by giving them exposure.
Apple and the Environment
Another example of corporate social responsibility, Apple goes to great lengths to communicate what they do to benefit the environment.
Not only do they build a simple landing page highlighting their efforts, they produce an in-depth annual report:
Here are some tips to emulate this approach:
Invest in quality long-form communication materials. White papers, annual reports, and case studies are all valuable PR tools.
Have actual data to back up your claims. Tell the truth!
If you’re going to talk the talk, then walk the walk. Your organization needs to actually do good before you can accurately communicate what you’re doing right.
The last CSR example this post will examine comes from Microsoft. Similar to the Apple example, Microsoft also puts their annual CSR report into a well-designed PDF:
The way they’ve broken out some key stats below the CTA in the header graphic is a nice touch:
Some tips to emulate this example:
Again, make your communication materials well-written and well-designed. Presentation matters when it comes to shaping perceptions.
Give readers a TL;DR version. Highlighting key stats gives Microsoft an opportunity to point out some major achievements even if people don’t download the report.
Make PR materials easily accessible. The call-to-action is clear, right at the top of the page.
Lyft and David Ortiz
Want to amplify your brand’s exposure? Partner with someone who can help you reach new audiences. In this example from Lyft featuring retired pro baseball player David Ortiz, they were able to generate tons of exposure by doing something surprising with a well-known celebrity.
You can replicate this idea even if you don’t have a huge budget or the clout to partner with a professional athlete. Here are some ideas to consider:
Identify someone your audience knows, who also has some public recognition. This could be someone from a partnering company, a local community figure, anyone who is well-liked and has a solid public presence.
Find something surprising they could do. The partnership in the example above works because no one expects David Ortiz to be their Lyft driver. What else could you think of with your own influencers?
Nebraska Tourism Campaign
Products and places that are universally loved are easy to promote.
But, what if you’re promoting something with, well, charms you could argue are hidden?
Do what the state of Nebraska did and use some self-deprecating humor. Since outsiders don’t consider the state an exciting tourism destination (according to research, and the opinions of literally anyone who has driven through Nebraska), the Nebraska Tourism Board ran an anti-tourism campaign owning the fact that “it isn’t for everyone.”
By being brazenly honest, they’re able to show people what makes Nebraska worth visiting, instead of trying to tell people the state is something that it’s not. While this is an ad campaign, there’s an earned media component too, with the campaign generating tons of media attention.
So, how do you make this approach work for you? Consider the following:
Be honest. No amount of PR spin can make you something you’re not.
Play to your strengths. It turns out there’s a lot you can do in Nebraska, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to make their own fun. Whatever your strengths are as an organization, lean into them.
Embrace humor. It’s okay to laugh at yourself a little bit.
50 States of Target
People love a story with a local angle. So, with their50 States of Target campaign, the national retailer picked one story to tell about what they’re doing to help local communities in each state. It’s a win-win for Target and their beneficiaries:
Doing something similar could be as simple as this:
Get involved in local communities you serve. Make charitable donations, volunteer, or find other ways to make an impact.
Tell those stories. Your blog is a great place to highlight those stories. Then, with some smart outreach, you can earn more coverage and backlinks.
IKEA Happy to Bed Campaign
What better way to get people interested in a product, other than to let them try it? Well, when it comes to mattresses, that can get a little tough.
So,IKEA partnered with Havas Media to create apps that helped people envision what their perfect bedroom arrangement could look like. They also sponsored slumber parties inside IKEA stores. The results? Increased awareness of their bedroom product lines and tons of earned media.
Smokey the Bear
This one is worth including because it’s one of the most well-known and long-lasting marketing messages ever created. The result of a collaboration between theU.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council, the goal was simple: get people to care about stopping forests from burning down.
There was also a national security angle there, too:
Today, he even has his ownTwitter profile:
What could be the secrets to the staying power behind such a simple message as, “Only you can prevent forest fires?”
It gives people a sense of responsibility.
It’s also easy to remember.
Bears, man. Maybe when a bear tells you to do something, you do it? Who knows.
Make information easy to find. Don’t bury important numbers and figures.
Add graphics. Charts, graphs, and data tables are great for making information digestible.
Be true to your brand. You don’t stop being who you are just because you’re crunching numbers.
Never underestimate the power of a well-written press release, backed by strong distribution.
Put PR to Work for Your Marketing Operations
Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of the role that PR plays in a broader marketing mix. Public relations can help your brand take advantage of earned media, and is vital for creating and developing relationships with your target audience and important stakeholders.
PR professionals often have a variety of roles to fill, including crisis management, community relations, influencer marketing, and many more.
PR tactics like press releases, original research, and events can be effective in accomplishing your PR goals, which are most often to shape positive brand recognition and develop relationships.
Now before you go make a splash with your PR campaigns, don’t forget to claim your templates and resources from the beginning of this post. They’ll help you get this process rolling and save you a ton of time on the way.
It’s time to go put your PR plans into action. Good luck!
Ben Sailer is the Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.