Why is Public Relations important for businesses?
• What is Public Relations? It’s much more than pure press relations and publicity. If you look at industry definitions for example The Canadian Public Relations Society defines it as: ‘Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest.’ (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008).
‘There is an interesting analogy between medicine and public relations. A medical practitioner and a public relations practitioner must both first diagnose and then treat. It is common for both to be called in after the damage is done. Preventative public relations is just as important as preventative medicine and like the latter is equally rarely employed.’ (Black 1989: 11-12).
One of the reasons I personally find PR so interesting is it is extremely subjective, there is no formal handbook to prescriptively tell you or organisations what to do – in my opinion it’s a learned art form. A delicate balance of relationships and messaging which needs constant attention, refining and management. Without being completely in touch and attuned to your internal and external audiences and therefore producing powerful and resonating communications, a sustainable business model is difficult.
• Media & Press Relations – Media exposure, it can have its pros and cons, whether you’re looking for it or not journalists may choose to write about your business. Keep track of your media presence, if you can’t afford a media monitoring service then as a minimum stay connected to google alerts, twitter conversations and relevant social media trends, even if they aren’t directly about you/your business. Not being privy to what is being said about you puts you in the dark, which is not a good place to be. You don’t necessarily have to shell out for a full scale retained PR agency, you can probably find a consultant you can call upon if the need arises, worth having an expert on speed dial. If you are dealing directly with customers it’s an idea to seek guidance on how best to manage various different complaints or issues to prevent an undesirable PR story. Plus a basic lesson in media relations and press releases never did anyone any harm.
• Pay as much attention to the ‘who’ and the ‘how’, alongside the ‘what’ – it may sound obvious, but who is delivering your messages and via which channel is as critical as what you are selling or promoting. Does the messenger have credibility with your audience? Is the channel trustworthy? Without the first two elements being perfectly honed, there is minimal hope that what you are actually communicating will be digested.
• Communications barriers – delve into the theories on this and do your homework prior to setting plans. For example Kotler (1984:605) identifies three reasons why the intended messaging may get lost – selective attention, selective distortion, selective recall. Whilst David Bernstein suggests there are three types of ‘noise’ – channel, psychological and language.
• Communication channels – Recognise that individuals receive information from each other within a communication environment as well as from mass media. Seek professional advice on communications or digest various communications theories to aid you in your planning. For example, Rogers ‘Diffusion of Innovations Theory’ and Lazarsfeld & Katz’s ‘Two-Step Flow Information’ model share fundamental assumptions that more than one channel and stage is necessary to effect successful planned communication.
• A Campaign Framework - The same principles apply to executing an integrated campaign, there are various stages and it should be approached methodically – starting with the desired outcome and targeted audiences and progressing to the plan and narrative, all informed by research and analysis. There should be clear milestones mapped out with realistic and measurable goals, otherwise they are hard to evaluate.
• Take time to thoroughly evaluate – evaluation often gets overlooked. Even the best laid plans can have glitches or be improved, reviewing how things are going and what you can tweak, hone or improve is critical. It’s near impossible to get everything right the first time around, even with meticulous planning. In addition no one can’t always pre-empt the media environment, so in particular when it comes to marketing, PR and communications you may need to tailor your approach. What seemed appropriate a few weeks ago might not be in the current setting. Looking at how your initiative has been received as well as what is going on externally which may impact your business is fundamental.
• Crisis Management – Game Theory could come into play here. Always be prepared for all eventualities, having an in-depth and robust crisis management plan is critical for certain scenarios, one which ideally includes previously cleared media lines. This will be invaluable if needed to avoid knee-jerk reactions and will aid efficiency as all internal parties will be clear on their roles and responsibilities.
However good your product or service is as a standalone, getting your public relations spot on and continually reviewing and honing your communications and media strategy can help make or break your venture.