Flack. Spin doctor. Manipulator. These are just a few words that have unfortunately been associated with the public relations profession, which quite frankly infuriates me to no end. While I do believe that many business owners understand why public relations is important, I feel there is a need to better explain what PR is and how it can help you and your business.

First, there are three types of media – paid, owned and earned. Paid media includes advertisements in newspapers and magazines, TV commercials, billboards, online web banners, etc. Owned media is anything you/your company owns, such as your website, branded Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Google+/Instagram company pages, store locations, etc. Earned media is one of the many things that public relations practitioners do every single day – get placement for your company, your company’s CEO/executive, new product, etc. in the newspaper/magazine or on TV/blog.

Image source: Justin Bieber photograph by Michael Prince, for Forbes Celebrity 100 Issue

I should also point out that public relations is more than defending Justin Bieber’s angry outbursts or commenting on why Kanye West is still attracted to Kim Kardashian even though she’s gained pregnancy weight. That is called publicity and for the record – public relations and publicity are NOT one in the same thing. Publicity is a very small facet within the practice of public relations, which is a communications discipline that should be executed by a person/agency that possesses strategic communications capabilities.

So how do you know if a PR person is worth their weight in gold? Easy – make sure they have their APR (Accreditation in Public Relations) credential. There are 5,000 public relations professionals who have earned this voluntary certification and I can assure you – the process is rigorous and intense. APRs are dedicated to the profession and practice of public relations in addition to maintaining the highest ethical standards. To clarify – I know a lot of great PR practitioners who do not have their APR and they are just as qualified and ethical. However, if you are comparing apples to apples, always pick the apple with the APR if you have the choice.

Now the big question – what can public relations do for you and your company? More than ever before, having a public relations strategy and implementation plan in place is imperative, given the increase in consumer engagement, particularly within the digital communications area. It is critical to ensure that your organization’s brand messaging is consistent across all platforms. Public relations can also influence consumer behavior, raise awareness of products and services to your target audiences and most importantly – it is a driving force to ensuring your brand is understood and recognizable among your stakeholders.

CEOs and executives must realize that having a public relations practitioner at the table is crucial to the bottom line. PR is a key component of numerous business outcomes that are directly tied to organizational success, such as crisis management, reputation and brand building, consumer engagement, sales leads and so much more. If there is not a public relations component in your overall business plan, I strongly encourage you to research how PR can benefit your organization.