So what is PR anyway?
A lot of people get caught up on this conundrum. Public relations, or PR, is often seen as a fanciful luxury, a vocation where people have champagne lunches, organise events and rub shoulders with the good and great. PR is seen as a ‘nice to have’ for big companies, rather than a business necessity for organisations of all sizes.
Yet, no matter how big or small you are, good PR can enhance your reputation, create brand awareness and help you get on the radar of your target audience.
On one hand, you can call it reputational management. In the crudest sense, you could call it free advertising.
Now I bet that’s caught your interest.
But unlike advertising, PR has the added value of holding more gravitas in the eyes of the public, as it is seen as less of a ‘sell’ than an advert.
So in a nutshell, the traditional meaning of PR is influencing the influencers, which in most cases is the media. By engaging and influencing them, this can help raise awareness or inform public opinion of a person, organisation, issue or event.
This is usually done through the traditional means of media relations. Say for example, you have launched a new product, and you want your audience to become aware of it. A good PR consultant should take the time to understand your product, find out what makes it different, ask the tricky questions (the classic devil’s advocate tactic), and then position and pitch the story so that it will catch the interest of the media outlets that your product should be seen in.
Take note of the last point. You might want the front page of the FT, but your product may not be appropriate for that publication – or that page. But a good PR professional will find out what publications will work for your shiny new product, and, providing the narrative is compelling enough, get you in there.
Now I remember when a client once declared that he wanted to be featured in the Daily Mail. This was in the early days of my PR career and I remember drawing a sharp intake of breath. However, it just so happened that he had a rare treatment for an unusual condition and a strong, emotive patient story to boot. This triple threat made the story relevant enough to make a full page spread in the paper’s ‘Me and My Operation’ section.
This kind of coverage may not come all the time, but a good PR consultant should advise you on the merits and drawbacks of your story, and the likely reception it will receive. Of course, predictions can be wrong, but a PR professional’s core skill is to have a nose for a story.
On top of this, a PR consultant should also advise on creating stories rather than just reporting on what you’re already doing. For example, your new product may not be first to market, but gathering some interesting intelligence on user habits, or getting a celebrity endorsement might give it some media mileage.
The media coverage has numerous benefits. You’ve gained credible, external endorsement, coverage that will be seen by your target audience, and an enhanced reputation.
And if that wasn’t enough, consider this: an organisation that has no media coverage is much more likely to suffer lasting reputational damage in the wake of a negative media story about them, as opposed to an organisation that has proactively positioned positive stories in the media. This is because the former will be judge upon that one bad story alone, while the latter will be seen in the context of all good news it has generated.
So essentially, PR is a means of influencing your target audience through the media or other stakeholders. It can provide you with free publicity, or advertising, and help enhance your reputation.
So that’s my PR 101. I’ll be sure to post more PR-related stories in the future.