Public Relations – What, How, Who?

Public Relations Definitions

“What is Public Relations?” This question gets asked dozens of times daily. A simple question it is, yet it has managed to acquire several definitions throughout the world. Essentially, Public Relations (PR) deals with publicizing the image, reputation, intentions or purposes of organizations, groups and individuals in the best possible way – regardless of the actuality of the situation. In other words, the primary objective of PR is this – the represented body or individual must “come up smelling like roses”. There has been growing concerns that the purpose of public relations is merely to spin the truth of a matter. While this perception is understandable, it arises from the misunderstandings about the role of public relations. The fact that PR agents provide representation for an organization, does not mean they have the authorization to lie on that organization’s behalf. It means however, that PR professionals have the full responsibility of highlighting the positive aspects and benefits of their respective organizations, in the context of that representation.

Other Definitions:

– Public Relations can also be defined as the management of understanding and communications between organizations/individuals and the wider society through various media platforms. It bridges the gap between the two thereby ensuring mutual adaptability and coexistence.

– Public Relations is a discipline in business that measures public perception of and attitude towards an organization or individual and thereby seeks ways to secure its trust and acceptance. It examines the programs and policies of the respective organization and highlights their benefits and goodwill that serves public interests.

As such, Public Relations has developed into diverse areas of specialization so as to focus on specific functions. There are Marketing and Advertising PR, Government PR, Financial PR, Consumer PR (not to be confused with marketing), Industry PR and others. They implement various information technologies (IT) and techniques such as Social Media and Networking; Press Releases; relating directly with journalist among others measures, in an effort to get their messages across. Marketing and Advertising PR, in particular, are even more likely to implement such media and techniques in their campaign strategy. With new forms of IT being introduced daily, they seize every opportunity to reach as many of their niche audience as possible.

With that said, PR professionals are expected to abide by certain Code of Ethics and Conduct that are set in place. This is for the purpose of regulating their activities and eliminating possibilities of misinformation to the general public. As alluded to before, the instances of spinning an issue is also reduced by these measures as Public Relations professionals are held accountable for their actions and any misleading information that they may issue.

Public Relations As a Management Tool

Public relations (PR) is an often misunderstood and under-valued management tool. To many it is seen as just another form of advertising while others dismiss PR as dealing with journalists and sending out press releases. In fact, PR can play a central role in the achievement of specific objectives at all levels of an organisation’s work by focusing, reinforcing and communicating an effective message.

Used properly, public relations is an excellent and cost effective method of improving the image of an individual, organisation or product. It is about ensuring that your audience (customer) receives and accepts the message you wish to project.

Public relations involves many other disciplines and it can have an impact on every aspect of an organisation. It is about projecting the right message and as such, it can involve press relations, advertising, marketing, sponsorship, exhibitions, local community events, the environment and public affairs.

Communication is the key to public relations – communicating the right message to the public, employees, shareholders and other specific target audiences.

PR defined – The Institute of Public Relations defines public relations as “the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain good will and mutual understanding between an organisation and its customers.”

Why use PR?

A company can survive without PR, but with a planned PR programme the company can expect better results and an enhanced reputation.

Obviously no amount of good relations can hide a bad product or protect an unethical company. For public relations to succeed the organisation must be credible. PR alone cannot cure a terminally sick organisation. What it can do is help to promote a positive corporate reputation and to minimise the damage that occurs when something does go wrong.

A good corporate reputation can be likened to a healthy bank balance. The better the reputation, the more ‘reputation credit’ you have with your stakeholders and if people think well of you, it makes it easier for you to do what you want – even if that means changing working practices or increasing your prices. In addition, when things go wrong the more credit you have in your reputation bank the better you will weather the storm (provided the issue is properly managed). But if you have no credit at all, there is only one way to go.
What happens if you don’t use PR?

No matter how good you are, if you don’t communicate with your public, you won’t put your message across. You will lose out to your rivals who are using public relations more aggressively to ensure effective communication.

It is not possible to abdicate from a public image. If you are not managing the information by which people form their opinions, their view of your company will be based solely on what they hear from other (uncontrolled) sources. In short, if you do not manage your reputation, others will do it for you.

You cannot quantify what you lose if you don’t use PR, but companies that do use it can see the benefits in increased awareness of themselves and their products. Companies feel effective PR working for them in many ways:

o Better staff recruitment and retention
o Greater market share
o Customer recognition and loyalty
o Motivated sales force
o Shareholder satisfaction

In other words a structured PR programme helps a company operate more successfully on all levels of business. Cultivating a good public relations image is worthwhile and having a bad image or even no image at all in the eyes of your market can have disastrous consequences.

In order to operate more effectively and efficiently an organisation needs to recognise and meet the needs of all its customers – some more obvious than others.

This means:

o Identifying all potential customers
o Identifying and responding to their needs
o Communicating with them

Responding to your customers’ needs

o What do your customers want from you?
o What do you provide that your rivals don’t?
o What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)?
o Is your market aware of your company’s USP’s?

Communicating with your customers

o How do your existing customers hear about new developments, projects and contracts?
o How do potential customers hear about your organisation?
o Are you quoted in the press, more or less frequently than your competitors?
o Do you monitor your communication material to ensure that it is relevant and effective?
o What do your employees think of your company?
o Is your belief in the organisation the same as your public image?

The process of reviewing communication in an organisation is often referred to as a “communications audit”.

Some PR facts:

o PR is about presenting a positive image
o PR is about managing reputations
o Customers take notice (and are willing to believe) a news story in a magazine
o What someone else says about you is at least ten times more believable than what you say about yourself
o Used properly and to complement other parts of an organisation’s activities, PR can

actually save money!

Why should you use PR?

Use PR because:

o It creates a good image
o It makes people more keen to do business with you
o It improves your standing in your own market
o It makes it easier to attract, and retain, a high calibre of workforce
o It puts you in the media when you want to be there
o It allows you to control the message
o It allows you to create the image you wish for your company
o It gives you ‘licence’ to change your working practices – increase costs etc,
o It can help to minimise the damage when things go wrong

How important is corporate identity?

The answer is very. A strong, positive corporate identity can enhance your company across all its operations, while a poor or negative identity will be equally effective in weakening your reputation. A good image can take years to build, but it can be quickly tarnished by negative publicity. Great care, and effort, is needed to foster and protect an organisation’s reputation.

A strong corporate identity results in people trusting in the value of you and your products and/or services. They are happy to deal with you and give you their custom. They will come back to you time and time again if you gain their loyalty. Your reputation is enhanced and this in turn helps to reinforce your corporate identity.

“The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation; that away men are but gilded loam or painted clay” – Shakespeare, Richard II

Public Relations and Brand Management

Public relations often times is overlooked by business, and it is easy to do so with all moving parts of a business is focused on at any given moment. When a consumer finds news of any product from third party or independent agencies customers trust more of that particular brand and it keeps on increasing when customer find news of that brand on regular basis.

The biggest benefit that you get with consistent public relations is that pr builds general awareness about the brand and your company and the consumer assumes that this particular brand or company is bigger and well established, weather it is fact or not.

There is no shortage of industries where the successful implementation of Public Relations can make a huge difference in a business’ success in the market place. No matter what a company sells – goods, services or both – a smart public and media relations program can result in great returns. Effectively incorporating PR into your business efforts can do a number of things:

  • Create “buzz” when your company introduces new products or services into the marketplace
  • Generate interest in a company’s goods and or services
  • Enhance the credibility of a company and polish its brand image.
  • Attract attention to a company and raise its visibility in a competitive market niche

Public Relations has become an effective way to build a brand. The aim of branding is to convey brand message vividly, create customer loyalty, persuade the buyer for the product, and establish an emotional connectivity with the customers. Branding forms customer perceptions about your product and or service. It is branding that makes customers committed to your business. Brand management is the art of creating and sustaining the brand. A strong brand differentiates your products and services from that of competitors.

Branding helps give a quality image to your business. The primary aim of branding is to create differentiation. It is that differentiation that helps in capturing market share and drive your business. Branding creates an identify for a business and in a sense, your brand serves as a foundation, so want to ensure that your brand is as strong as possible. It is key that your brand is fully developed before engaging in public relations, marketing, and advertising activities–you want to avoid implementing these strategies prematurely. PR along with marketing and advertising do not build the brand. These activities defend the brand’s reputation bring exposure to it, and get the story of the brand out to the public. If the brand itself is not strong, or not fully developed then these efforts are done in vain.

Whether it is gaining exposure for your brand or creating buzz around the launch of your newest product, Public Relations is important! Getting the word out about your product or service should always be a priority.