December 2011

PR is for Public Relations

PR stands for Public Relations (It’s not just about a press release)

By Yin Chang, Phoenix Marketing Communications

Contrary to popular belief, public relations executives are not all spin masters who can weave believable stories out of thin air or “put a spin” on a company faux pas with a single meeting. Neither is the life as glamorous as Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Like any discipline, PR requires time, focus and strategy in order to succeed.

What is PR? Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.* The “public” part of PR includes various functions/departments including corporate communications, community relations, public affairs, investor relations, internal communications, crisis communications, issues management and the like.

Just do it: Why this is the PR Mantra

Like the Nike tagline, PR is a “Just do it” proposition. Why? Unless you have millions to spend on a branding campaign like Nike, Coke, Apple, or American Express, the best way for companies to build visibility and credibility is PR. Unlike advertising, PR is not a paid endorsement. In fact, in many ways, it is the antithesis of advertising. Since PR does not pay for endorsements, the methods used are more believable. Why else? PR creates ….

  • Awareness amongst the target audience(s) and influencers.
  • Sustainable high interest level
  • Implied objectivity based on the medium the messages are delivered (e.g. media outlets)

People act based upon their perception of facts and research. By managing, controlling and influencing perceptions, PR can initiate a sequence of behaviors that lead to the organization’s main objectives. With the Internet and the importance of online visibility, PR specialists have worked closely with executive management and marketing departments to influence online perceptions.

PR is more than just a press release (though many seldom think beyond the written release). What the public – whether prospects, clients, shareholders, investors, employees, or partners – wants to hear is a good story all around. While the press release can help deliver the company’s message, the credibility factor is limited by the fact that the source is the company. Though, there are many good reasons for a press release including Fair Disclosure regulations (for publicly traded companies), corporate announcements, search engine marketing, etc. However, just writing and posting the press release is not enough. There needs to be some thought as to distribution and follow-up activities. So, what other tactics are deployed by PR:

  • Social Media. The transformation of social technologies has created a consumerization effect within the marketplace. No longer are companies pushing out product and creating trends within the target markets. This has been turned on its head and the target audience is now creating the products based on this unstoppable groundswell of public opinion online. From proactive social media campaigns to managing reputation online, PR has the ability to be on the frontlines defending a company’s reputation where they are most vulnerable.
  • Publicity/media relations. There are many tactics used for media relations, but the goals remain the same – control the company message, increase visibility and build credibility. As was mentioned before, unlike advertising, articles in media outlets are not paid for and, thereby, more credible. And, in some cases, a mention of a company or product/service implies endorsement by the editor or media outlet. How many times have you seen a news program or read about a product in a magazine that you’ve thought about buying? Or, at very least, thought “that must be a good product since I saw it in/on X”.
  • Byline articles/media relations: Ever wonder how your competitor ended up writing an article for CIO magazine, Computerworld or even BusinessWeek? PR has a big hand in that.
  • Awards and honors: Winning an award or having an industry honor bestowed on you confers credibility (even if you are a runner up). PR is certainly behind the scenes before and after the awards.
  • Speaker’s Bureau: If you’ve wondered how an executive ended up on the stage speaking at an event or on a panel, it’s more than likely that a PR person was working behind the scenes at least 6 months prior to the event to make it happen.
  • Website follies. While this has traditionally been held by the marketing department or advertising agency, the website should be a collaboration between all three since it is one of the first and most visible public communications vehicle out there.
  • Client case histories: Let your PR people handle the case histories so that it goes beyond just the downloadable marketing collateral. There may be opportunity for the client to agree to participate in media interviews, article contributions and the like.
  • Webinars: While this particular tactic has fallen to sales or marketing, it’s probably best to assign these to your PR or communications department with a specific objective in mind – anywhere from lead generation to hosting a demo to creating a product review. The rationale: The mindset of PR is free and clear of pushing a hard sell, which will help drive attendance.
  • Reputation monitoring: With all the communication vehicles out there today, if a company has the potential for disaster, it’s best to monitor your reputation – including Twitter, Facebook and other social media technologies.
  • Blog! Blog! Blog! But only if there is a strategy and reason for it. PR should lend a huge helpin’ hand here.

10 years ago, PR was limited by the tools available. Today, PR is essential in the world of communications. Even one Tweet could start a company down a dark and lonely path. PR has become essential again.