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PR – Public Relations

Public Relations - PR

Public Relations - PRHow can your organisation build the reputation it chooses? Certainly through its deeds and through paid advertising. But one way trumps all others: good PR.

PR, or Public Relations is exactly what its name suggests. It’s about building relationships with your public. And it works whether you are a business, a not-for-profit, a political or governmental body, a product or service, or a celebrity; minor or major. Good PR gets the right part of the public interested in you and pre-disposes them to think in the way you choose.

So is it manipulative? Is it just an appealing term for what we now call spin and used to call propaganda? It can be. But in this article, we are going to stick to PR done with integrity. So the answer to those questions is: ‘it depends’. And what it depends on is the integrity of how your PR is carried out. And therefore on the integrity of the people who do it for you: your PRs.

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Richard Branson: Virgin

Richard Branson went from academic under-performer to being the first serial entrepreneur to create eight $8 billion businesses (and many other successful ventures too). He is an adventurer, a risk taker, and a visionary. Above all, he is a business person who sees business as a means to an end or, in his case,many ends. But despite the galactic scale performance of his business mind, there are many lessons we can learn from him, that apply equally to the day-to-day business and management practices of Pocketblog readers.

Richard Branson

Short Biography

Many acres of newsprint (and Branson’s own autobiographies) have documented the life story of one of the world’s favourite entrepreneurs, so here it is in brief.

Richard Branson was born in 1950  in South London, to a comfortable professional middle-class family, which was able to send him to a privileged private school, Stowe. However, Branson was not academically strong, due to dyslexia, despite being evidently highly intelligent, so he left the education system at 16, only to return for a number of honourary degrees in later life.

His first business, so named because he and his staff felt themselves to be business virgins, was a mail order business selling records below store prices, which he set up in 1970. This allowed him to enter the high street in 1972. In the same year, he created Manor Studios where his first recording artist was Mike Oldfield. The Tubular Bells album became (and continues, 30 years later, to be) a massive seller for the new Virgin Records label.

Branson’s achievements span far more than his business ventures, but we’ll leave it to the glossy magazines to cover his record-breaking, kite-surfing, books, island buying and publicity-seeking activities, and simply list a selection from his business ventures.

1973 – Virgin Records record label
1979 – Buys the gay nightclub Heaven1983
1984 – Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin cargo
1985 – Virgin Holidays
1987 – Virgin Records to the United States
1987 – The Virgin Group, along with Granada, Anglia and Pearson, founds BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting)
1987 – Virgin Airship & Balloon Company.
1987 – Mates condoms
1988 – Virgin Broadcasting
1991 – Virgin Publishing (Virgin Books)
1993 – Virgin Radio
1994 – Virgin Vodka and Virgin Cola
1995 – Virgin Direct Personal Financial Services
1995 – Virgin Express (a European low cost Airline)
1996 – Virgin Brides (indeed!)
1997 – Virgin Trains
1997 – Virgin Cosmetics
1999 – Virgin Mobile
2000 – Virgin Energy
2000 – Virgin Cars
2004 – Virgin Galactic
2006 – Virgin Fuel, to produce a clean fuel in the future
2007 – Virgin Media
2008 – Virgin Healthcare
2009 – Virgin Money Giving
2010 – Virgin Racing, a Formula One team
2010 – Virgin Gaming, for people to play competitively on popular Video Games
2012 – Virgin Money buys Northern Rock
2012 – Virgin Galactic announces the development of orbital space launch system LauncherOne.

Five Management and Business Lessons from Richard Branson

Lesson 1: Have Fun

It is easy to look at a multi-billionnaire and say ‘of course he has fun; he is rich and can leave other people to run his businesses’. The fact is though, that Branson remains fully engaged with the strategic aspects of his business, and that he prioritises having fun and spending time with his family. There are plenty of comparably wealthy people who do neither. If he can make these choices, so can you.

Lesson 2: Get Things Done

To make these choices, Branson is ruthlessly efficient at making lists and getting things done. He disparages those who write off To Do lists as a waste of time and is a compulsive note-taker and list maker.

Lesson 3: Persevere and Fight Back

Branson’s ventures have often faced opposition from incumbent market leaders and sometimes political figures. Branson has deployed every form of response he can to fight off this contention and see his ventures succeed. His battles with British Airways (on behalf of Virgin Atlantic) and, more recently, with the UK Department of Transport (supporting Virgin Trains) are notable successes.

Lesson 4: Master Public Relations

Brand and public perception are a vital, and maybe central component of Branson’s business strategy. Very few of his ventures have eschewed the Virgin brand. Branson is a charismatic figure who has been adept at using his own personal brand to gain media attention, which of course has assisted in his public battles on behalf of his corporate brands.

Lesson 5: Be an inspirational leader

The central holding business of Virgin is tiny (much like Berkshire Hathaway’s) and there Branson leads, rather than bosses – recently setting highly innovative and permissive HR policies in place, which truly demonstrate exceptional levels of trust in his staff. When Virgin Atlantic won a legal case against British Airways and both he and the company received  significant sums in compensation, he distributed this to the staff as a ‘BA Bonus’.

Richard Branson in his Own Words

Here is Richard Branson speaking at TED 2007.

[ted id=181]

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Public Relations Primer

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

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:

  • Writing
  • Collaborating
  • Engaging the press and professional media
  • Engaging through social media
  • Direct engagement

We will take a short look at each.

Writing

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!

Collaborating

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

Direct Engagement

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.

Further Reading 

You may like The Marketing Pocketbook. There are also some great resources on the PR profession websites:

 

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