This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.
Not every manager will need to get involved in public relations, or PR, but, from time-to-time, many will. So it is worth knowing and understanding the basics of one of the most important aspects of marketing.
What is PR?
The definition differs from one expert to another and the emphasis is very different on the two sides of the Atlantic. I personally prefer the simplicity of the definition offered by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) on their website:
‘Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.’
The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) places its emphasis on reputation, and defines PR as:
‘Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.
‘Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’
For me, PR is about engaging with your public, so the concept of PR is relevant not just at the corporate level, but also at the level of individuals who want to strengthen their careers. The principal approaches to PR are:
- Engaging the press and professional media
- Engaging through social media
- Direct engagement
We will take a short look at each.
Getting your message out by writing articles, blogs (like this one) and books has a very simple effect: it says ‘we know what we are talking about’. By offering your public practical or insightful content, you are enhancing your reputation and strengthening your relationships with your readers. It has traditionally been largely one-way, but with the advent of social media and bookmarking, the ability for your public to comment on your writing and engage in a dialogue about it has grown mightily. This can only be a good thing for you, if you have something valuable to say, and you say it well. Please comment below!
If you can collaborate with other, non-competing, organisations, you can extend the reach of your PR activities to encompass their public as well as your own. If you engage them effectively, they can become your public too. So the relationship you need with the ideal potential collaborator is one of overlapping interests, but not conflict. This is not to say that there are not some valuable collaborations to be made between competitors too, but the risks (and rewards) are substantially higher.
Engaging the Press and Professional Media
For some people, PR and issuing press releases amount to pretty much the same thing. Without a doubt, the press is continually hungry for engaging stories that will interest their audiences, so if you do this correctly, this is nothing more than an example of a good collaboration. But what the media can do is get your message out, bundled in a package of objectivity and professionalism that amplifies its effectiveness considerably. But don’t blow it: if you are asked to comment on camera, on the radio, or even in print: prepare well, because if you don’t, and you perform poorly, the media can turn your reputation into an overnight shambles.
Engaging through Social Media
With so many forms of social media around, even the so-called experts are struggling to offer coherent advice as to which to focus on and how to do it well. The two tips that seem to surface again and again from the best of them, and which make greatest sense to me, are:
- Focus: choose one or two social media that your audience are most likely to engage with in numbers and in depth, and focus on using them well
- Social: the nature of social media is that they enable social connections, so you need to be listening to conversations and engaging with them as you would in a bar, cafe or restaurant. If you just use them for announcements, then you are losing most of their value.
From meeting customers in the street, to sending them information by newsletter, direct engagement has the capacity to be the most powerful form of PR of all – and therefore the ability to do your reputation most harm as well as good. The difference between a helpful advice email, with some good offers, and a piece of unwanted junk is subtle. As with writing, above, direct engagement has to have WAM factor: ‘what about me?’ says your public.
You may like The Marketing Pocketbook. There are also some great resources on the PR profession websites:
- Chartered Institute of Public Relations
- Public Relations Society of America
- There is also an online Museum of Public Relations that, at time of writing, currently has only five exhibits. But, like all good museums, has stuff you never thought you’d be interested in.