Public relations practitioners use various communication techniques to create, build, enhance, nurture and facilitate relationships with a wide range of target audience groups, or constituencies.
Think of how many constituencies are important to the overall reputation of your company, brand or organisation (or that of your clients’) – consumers, media, legislators, employees, distributors/retailers, key influencers (e.g. experts, bloggers, thought leaders, business/professional/trade associations etc).
Traditional, Live & Digital Media Channels
So what do people in public relations do? Pretty simple really – we’re in the brand image and reputation business. We develop strategies designed to shape the attitudes and opinions of a community or marketplace – and we use the most relevant tactics available to implement these strategies across traditional (print and broadcast), live and digital media channels.
Unfortunately, too often when we think of public relations, we get hung up on ‘publicity’…quick hits. There would not be a single public relations practitioner in the country (the world?) who hasn’t had a client, whether in-house or agency, requesting – “get us some free publicity”! Please note, there is no such thing – it’s not free, it’s earned!
Yes, publicity (or its more strategic cousin, ‘media relations’) is extremely important for virtually all businesses and organisations, and it’s definitely the ‘bread and butter’ for many public relations firms and in-house practitioners.
You will not get anyone in the industry denying that fact, and rightly so, as media editorial is powerful – it’s generally more credible than advertising (because it’s considered to be ‘third-party endorsed’), plus it is often read (or watched or listened to) by more people than advertising because, well, it’s not advertising. But, I’m not here to pump up the virtues of ‘earned’ media coverage.
The Most Important Marketing Cog
Public relations today is potentially the most important cog in the marketing communication wheel.
While public relations has always played a vital role, albeit in the background, the changing nature of the media and marketing landscape means the public relations discipline – with its bent towards word-of-mouth, brand conversation, dialogue and connection – has risen to the fore of what works most effectively with consumers.
With the golden era of one-way interruption (advertising) on the wane, and two-way conversation and social media all the rage, welcome ladies and gentlemen to the ‘new’ public relations.
It’s a well-known fact that public relations practitioners use effectively the various traditional print and broadcast media channels. But we don’t stop there.
We utilise and integrate myriad tools, channels and strategies where required – for example, roadshows and events, forums, roundtable discussions and influencer briefings; guerrilla stunts, live communications and brand experiences; blogs, podcasts, websites and online video; sponsorship, sampling, product placement, cause-related partnerships, promotions, branded properties and media content.
When strategically weaved together, these elements help us not only to connect with our key ‘publics’ in ways that resonate, but also in many instances receive feedback (public relations is big on two-way communication, which obviously is important in the relationship-building process).
To be effective on a long-term basis, before we even think about the channel mix, we adhere to a strategic process which, depending upon a company or brand’s goals and requirements, may include research, constituency mapping, communications planning, key messaging, media training et al.
Building Relationships Takes Time
Building relationships takes time, and we’re kidding ourselves if we think otherwise. Yes, love at first sight is possible and relationships can flourish quickly. But generally, you’d have to say it takes time to form a fruitful relationship, and it needs proactive nurturing if it is to last the distance.
The same, I believe, with public relations. You need to adopt a longer-term view if you’re trying to establish relationships with targeted audience groups.
To think in terms of ‘instant results’, well, that’s pretty naïve in this day and age.
Generating quick media results – that’s fine, and I agree there is always a need for sharp bursts of publicity, especially when you have something newsworthy to say and a short window within which to say it.
But all too often this one-off publicity is here today and often gone ‘tomorrow’, and is generally not part of a longer term strategy. Doesn’t sound much like relationship-building to me.
My advice when it comes to public relations is change your thinking to ongoing, long term – think broadly, laterally, think ‘slow burn’. Think media coverage by all means, but don’t box in the public relations team. Give them some latitude, some room to move, and you might just be surprised at the results.
By Trevor Young