There is a debate raging right now in the Midwest over the branding of cattle. Animal rights activists, along with some restaurant chains, have indicated that the practice of branding is cruel and inhumane. Meanwhile, ranchers explain that branding is the only way that they can protect themselves, and their cattle, from rustlers.A recent article in The Dallas Morning News reported that Burger King sent a letter to meat suppliers urging them "to find pain-free alternatives" to branding. But the ranchers all still insist that nothing can do the job of identifying what is theirs the way branding can. While the use of branding in marketing might not shock your system like a hot iron on your backside, it has become a rather painful experience for many companies. People today are inundated with marketing messages everywhere they turn: magazines, newspapers, television, radio, billboards, e-mail, US mail, the internet, on buses, in elevators, on the telephone, in movies, at the ballpark, on matchbooks, on valet claim checks, and even on the drain covers in urinals. It seems that everywhere we look or listen, someone is trying to tell us something. The increasing amount of messages - referred to by many as "clutter" - directed at us on a daily basis is staggering. The task of successfully delivering your message to a target audience has become, at best, difficult. During the past couple of years, much has been written about the credibility of PR, specifically how it can be a driving force in branding and how it has certain advantages over advertising. PR people have been using the term "branding" almost as much as our counterparts in the ad community. Sometimes it seems as if everyone in PR is talking about branding. But the funny thing is, while PR people are all talking about the increased use of PR in branding, it seems very few are actually doing anything different than they did before. The sense I get is that most PR people who say that they now use PR as a branding tool are, in fact, just repositioning what they have been doing all along as being beneficial in the branding process. For example, many PR practitioners claim that the publicity generated for a certain product raises awareness of the brand, and therefore must be deemed brand PR. While I won't deny that an article about the latest laptop computer from Dell can contribute to the well-being of the Dell brand, I would argue that it is not necessarily brand PR. Many PR people will counter by explaining that their efforts to secure a profile story about their client - the company, not the product - in a magazine must surely be considered brand PR. Not necessarily so. So, the question remains, what exactly is brand PR? Brand PR is simply using the practices and methodologies of public relations to deliver specific messages to target audiences about a brand. However, there seems to be some confusion about the term "messages about the brand." Brand messages are just that; message points that communicate the predetermined identity or characteristics of the brand. If an article you secured for a client claims that the company, or product for that matter, is "terrific," that's great, but it's not brand PR. If, however, the article indicates that your client, or one of its products, has gone to great lengths to protect the environment, that would be an example of brand public relations if "environmentally conscious" was one of your client's predetermined brand attributes. While this is all fairly elementary, for some reason the term "branding" has become one of the most misused terms among PR people. The good news, though, is that PR is an extremely effective and cost-efficient branding tool. In order to have true impact on a business, however, PR branding must be orchestrated by someone with an understanding of the anatomy of a brand, as well as what does and does not constitute branding. If not, your branding campaign may hurt you more than one of those hot iron cattle prods.