Many business people are still under the impression that the primary objective of public relations is to generate free advertising by pumping out lots of press releases.Any good PR professional will tell you that this concept is false and wrongheaded for two main reasons:* PR is not free and it never was free. A company must pay someone or some agency a substantial salary or fee to develop and execute an effective public relations program.* PR is not and never was advertising.Perhaps creating a press release and having the media pick it up can be misconstrued as free advertising — especially if you score a few column inches in a reputable newspaper or trade publication.How about that: you received a mention about the size of a small advertisement in your local paper. But it wasn’t free and it isn’t advertising.And it’s important to point out, when it comes to strategic PR, that generating press releases and having them picked up by the media is one of the low-ball elements of an effective PR program.The strategic objective of an effective PR program is to manage your many different publics’ awareness and opinion of your organization and its management team.PR is a focused effort to gain and maintain positive, continuing relationships with the individuals and institutions that influence your organization’s specific sphere of existence.Press releases are the least convincing element in this overall effort. Your customers and other publics know you generated the releases and did your best to convince the media to publish the information they contain.Public Relations’ Primary ObjectiveThe primary objective of a solid, effective PR program is to positively influence your many publics — your markets, legislators, analysts, reporters, editors and many others. You want to cause them to maintain a positive impression of your organization and to follow its activities.To accomplish this goal you must* Cultivate positive relationships with your public.* Make sure the “news” about your organization that you are generating is really interesting news that’s worth covering.* Make sure your organization’s actions will generate positive responses from your public.What you should look for in an effective public relations agency and in your company’s in-house PR professional * A strategic public relations firm focuses on controlling your positive reputation as seen by your many public.* An effective public relations firm focuses on developing your organization as the one your public want to watch.* You want your PR firm to position your organization with your public — including the press and analysts and your markets — as a company to watch, work with and buy from. And when they do follow you, work with you and buy from you, they’ll find an organization that’s interesting, ethical, solid and valuable.And that’s how they’ll think about you and talk about you.And that’s what strategic public relations is all about.