The 7 Elements of "Good" PR

IStock_000006381256XSmallOver this past weekend, dozens of people forwarded the NYTimes article on “PR in Silicon Valley” (and Arrington’s snarly response) to me in emails freighted with opinons and questions.

“Is this good PR? … Is this what you do? … Do you agree with Hammerling or Arrington? … This is bullshit! … This is awesome! … Would you have ignored the tech bloggers like the PR pro in this example? … Do you know Larry Ellison, too?”

First off, you should know that a deep and thoughtful response to this latest flap can be found on Brian Solis’s blog.  My own take is simplistic by comparison.

What is good PR?

  1. Good PR is telling the client what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear.  Good PR recognizes that the best “PR strategy” needs to be followed-up with the client’s good products/services or else it’s all a vain and wasted effort that harms everyone’s reputation.
  2. Good PR is not just about the over-glorified launch.  Good PR helps build and sustain a groundswell of brand support — incrementally changing consumer behaviors via a steady stream of relevant and candid communication to both “media” and “consumers.”
  3. Good PR celebrates the client’s customers in an inclusive, non-exploitive way.  And, good PR welcomes the input of “neutrals” and especially “critics,” and adapts strategy accordingly.
  4. Good PR is proactive in idea generation and responsive in a crisis.  Good PR finds the balance.
  5. Good PR is measurable.  (And yet also hard to measure, since most clients want to measure different things.)
  6. Good PR leverages pre-existing relationships with influential people — relationships built on trust and credibility earned over years of service.
  7. Good PR doesn’t need to know Larry Ellison or Kevin Rose or anyone in particular in the media, either.  Even though such relationships can come in handy, good PR almost always “gets ink” because a good story has been well-told to the right people.

These “7 Elements of Good PR” may seem simplistic and high-falutin’, yet they sum up 17 years’ worth of hard lessons in this industry.  PR is hard work, strategic work, underpromoted and infinitely interesting work —  hard to describe or appreciate until you’re in the trenches.

If you’ve been in these trenches — think carefully — what am I missing?

Posted on: July 6, 2009 at 1:37 pm By Todd Defren
201 Responses to “The 7 Elements of "Good" PR”


  • Alex McClure says:

    I agree with all seven of these elements of good PR. I think the second point is especially important, “Good PR is not just about the over-glorified launch. Good PR helps build and sustain a groundswell of brand support…” In PR you cannot create a program or campaign, implement it and hype the launch and then just forget about it. Evaluation and follow up are vital to any PR operation. A PR professional must continually be monitoring any campaign or program to track success or failure and to make changes to it along the way. Good PR is strategic and adaptive.

  • Sylvie says:

    Hi Todd,

    I really enjoyed your post.

    I think that some people get too obsessed with tactics that they don’t see the big picture. They can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. They rush the process.

    Yes, you could do that, but do you really want to?
    Are you targeting the right people?
    How is your message going to be perceived by the public?
    Is it even the right message?

    In my opinion, not enough research and listening is the worst blunder by PR pros.

    I think that we feel it’s expected of us to know all the answers right away. Tell me your PR problem and I’ll give you an answer.

    It doesn’t work that way. You need to be able to listen, ask questions and walk away from your client.

    After some careful thought and research, then you can come back with a tailor-made solution that will satisfy everybody.

    (Of course, in times of crisis, you give the best advice you can and hope for the best!)

  • veljkogaloo says:

    Excellent post. It really explain core of PR. I like articles like this that goes straight to the point.

  • Being proactive and accountable in Public relations in my eyes is one of the best benefactors of building influence as a agency or global publicity influence maker. This article, i love actually as it is quite correct in the ability to express the exactly right news to the influence makers in your network moves wisdom of crowds.

  • Brian Shipman

    Your 7 points run parallel with an extremely interesting journal article our professor had us read this week. It’s the Michael Parkinson critique of the PRSA professional code of conduct adopted by the PRSA Board in 2000.
    Board members declared the code was designed to ”inspire ethical behavior and performance.” But Parkinson’s criticized it for not reflecting real world public relations and not establishing a standard for the profession. Certainly not like the seven you’ve mentioned.
    In 1989 James Grunig argued that a two-sided approach to PR is the only way to break from the stereotypical view that public relations main job is manipulating the public to serve the client. To me, tour mention of neutrals and critics in #3 is what Grunig is talking about here. Instead of using spin when responding to critics, we could just actually listen and then respond honestly.
    Parkinson summed up his critic of the PRSA code with the assertion that PR specialist must stop thinking they are out to serve the public interest. The reality for him is that we cant possibly know what is in the interest of the entire public. Pr’s first obligation is to the client which takes me back to your #1.

    Brian Shipman
    Drury University

    Parkinson, M,. (2001). Public Relations Quarterly, Vol 46

  • Great. I am new here but will be visiting more often as you have done a good job.


  • Noclegi says:

    All true, exellent article!

  • David O'Dowd says:

    All good points, consistent with the fact that good PR is more about what an organization does than what it says.

  • Paul says:

    Good PR is not always about “getting ink. ” Its about protecting your clients’ reputation, which sometimes means avoiding ink.

  • GeriRosman says:

    Great post. Agree with it all but #7 is the money point. A good story will always be a good story and there will always be people in the media smart enough to recognize it. The challenge is working with the client to elicit that good story and/or having the backbone to tell them that what *they think* is a good story isn’t. Kudos! You never disappoint. Best/Geri R

  • Nehad Kenanie says:


    Great post and retort – however number 4 is slightly off the mark IMHO.

    Good PR should be proactive all the time – It becoming reactive in a time of crisis is what gives the profession the title of “spin”.

    A lecturer put it this way – think of it as a tap – the water should always be running and not just turned on when needed.

    • TDefren says:

      Fair enough, Nehad – certainly I did not mean to imply that the PR spigot was ever “off,” only that we could – let’s say, “change the temperature or water pressure” as quickly as necessary, in crisis situations.

      • Bmack says:

        I agree with above, the PR process should be as proactive yet responsive in both ways. Preparedness is key, but you can’t expect everything and having the required solution to any problems is paramount!

  • Sheri Rice Bentley says:

    Well done.
    -I’d add that good PR necessitates telling the truth – or the truth you want your publics to know.
    -It’s also to effect a specific business outcome.
    -It’s strategic – I’ve seen too many people get really excited about the tactic and lose sight of the rationale.
    -I’d also say good PR plays well with others: it’s integrated with other marketing strategy.

  • Shannon Paul says:

    Amen. Especially the last bit about a good story being told to the right people. I would add that good PR isn’t afraid to play the role of devil’s advocate inside the organization and ask tough questions about relevance of the story and a respect for an audience – companies often think about people who might “benefit” from what they have to offer without thinking about whether or not those people would be interested in that benefit. All the things that make a good story include an audience that’s interested in hearing it in the first place.

    I have had my nose to the grindstone so I don’t have a lot of background on the drama referenced above, but know that posts like this are why yours remains one of the stony faces carved into my personal, albeit imaginary, Mt. Rushmore. ;-)

  • casacaudill says:

    Not quite 17 years here, but with 6+ I’ve learned that good PR is – in addition to everything noted above – also about partnerships, dialogue and chemistry.

    A PR person can have spot-on strategic recommendations but if the client doesn’t like something about them, there will always be a bias and in some cases, that clouds good strategic thinking. Same on this side – I’ve seen far too many PR people who don’t like their clients and then scoff when they make a recommendation. It can’t work that way. You have to come to the understanding that this is a partnership based on trust.

    Without that, a PR team can only do so much. When I work with clients that trust the team to do a great job and come to us with dialogue (instead of orders) the results are amazing. You’ve seen the results: no press release for 6 months but a whole lot of info and conversations that yields back-to-back-to-back quality coverage that positions the company in a way that customers want to buy the product. Don’t want to talk to your PR team but just want them to pitch the news? Decent product hits in target pubs but nothing about your business value or why a customer would choose you over competitor X.

    Yes, the R is for relations – it doesn’t just mean PR person/media person. It means PR person + client too.

  • ZvezdanaO says:

    Great article!!!
    Good PR know how to create a news.
    Good PR know how to create a positive attitude of individuals, ideas, company or product in public.
    PR knows how to present the organization on positive way to its public.
    Good PR know how to establish and maintain the sympathy and understanding between the organization / company and its target public.

  • It’s good to hear a recap of the most crucial elements of good PR in an atmosphere of “latest and greatest” that can prove to distract from “The Facts.” Incorporating new tools is only effective if they are a part of an effective philosophy. Thanks!

  • DrewKerr says:


    There were two positive information points I saw from the NY Times story…

    1) That public relations does not center around press releases.

    2) Relationships are very important in PR (they just don’t have to be with Larry, Biz or those folks).

    It takes a large article like that to really inspire you to boil PR to its essence, as you did.

    All the Twitter feeds in the world couldn’t substitute for the old adage, “Action speaks louder than words.”

  • Great summary, Todd. I especially like #7, which ties in with the thoughts I posted on my blog in response to the NYT article (

    PR has never been about name-dropping or having a huge Rolodex of media contacts. If we can’t match the right story idea with the right reporter/blogger at the right time, how can we ever expect to be successful?

  • Mike T says:

    #7 just cannot be said enough. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked “who are your media contacts in our space?” Yes, knowing how to “get to them” is important, but knowing them guarantees squat. I may know Jane Bryant Quinn, for example, but she ain’t gonna write about my new consumer finance-related client just because she knows who I am. Still gotta tell her why it might matter to her audience and let her make the final decision.

  • Great insights, Todd. Thank you. I particularly like/agree with the measurement comment – therein lies the rub for PR pros, made even more challenging with proliferation of news/info/messaging. May I add that it just seems rare to find ANY story about the PR biz written by a journalist that “gets” these elements? I maintain my argument that PR needs to be required curriculum in J-school. Journos just can’t get out of the “PR = PR release/publicity/spinmeister” box.

    • TDefren says:

      Hi Jennifer – It would have to go deeper than a required PR course. I dearly wish all budding journalists STARTED OUT as PR pros – it would be a great insight into the newsmaking process and give them an appreciation for the PR world’s depth.

  • Good list, Todd. As someone with at least 17 years of experience ;) , I would add the following:
    - Good PR is data-driven, based on insights and strategies developed by facts and data not just intuition, educated guesses or past successes.
    - Good PR is aligned with business outcomes and able to articulate how PR outcomes are helping to drive the business.

    Regarding your number 7, I always thought McCann-Erickson’s old motto, Truth Well Told, was the best tag line ever for a communications company. -Don B @donbart

  • Keith Trivitt says:

    Todd -

    Thanks for the quick, yet insightful and frankly, very honest, look at what makes for “good PR.” I especially enjoyed your third point about good PR and PR practitioners not exploiting a client’s customers and including neutrals and critics into a campaign and adjusting plans as that campaign evolves.

    In the end, we’re trying to get a strong, positive message across to every consumer, thought leader, influential blogger/reporter, etc., that we can, and the way to do that is to be somewhat nimble, to take the good and the bad as they come from all sides, and adjust accordingly. If you’re not willing to adjust, you’re only in it for yourself. Where’s the fun in that?

  • Jon Ratliff says:

    Excellent post. I particularly liked the “good story, well told to the right people” part under number 7. A lot of bad PR comes from trying to sell a non-story to the wrong people.

    I also agree with the behavioral change element in your second point. That often separates good PR from adding to the noise.

    I would add one thought: The Solis post talks a lot about listening, so in some ways good PR is a thoughtful response.

    • TDefren says:

      Fair point Jon. I essayed to “get there” with lines like, “good PR welcomes the input of ‘neutrals’ and especially ‘critics,’” but I may have over-finessed things! ;)

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