PR is a somewhat misunderstood profession. Many people, when asked what they think it entails, will name people like Max Clifford, Alistair Campbell or Edina from Ab Fab. They may think it’s nothing more than wacky stunts, launch parties and boozy lunches daaahling.
This perception is somewhat unfair and incorrect, largely due to the afore-mentioned spin doctors and manipulators. There is actually much more to PR than that. It has more substance for a start and isn’t just about getting your name in the paper.
So what does public relations actually mean?
PR, or Public Relations (not press relations as some people mistakenly think), is all about reputation.
Many different people will come into contact with your business, from customers and suppliers to employees and investors and of course, the media. Once this contact has taken place, they will form an opinion – be it good or bad, right or wrong. These perceptions will drive their decisions about whether they want to work with, shop with and support your business or organisation.
And let’s face it, every organisation, no matter how big or small, ultimately depends on its reputation for survival and success, especially in today’s competitive market. Reputation can be your biggest asset – the one thing that makes you stand out from the crowd and gives you a competitive edge.
This is where PR comes into play – it’s one of the most effective ways of managing your reputation and building good relationships with your different audiences. Regular communication with them will help raise awareness of your business and what you offer.
PR can help build the worth of a company, perhaps for exit strategy and can also protect your brand and reputation in times of crisis. In the right hands, PR can be a powerful tool, letting you set the agenda.
PR is cheaper than advertising
Another benefit of PR is that it is the best route to reaching your audiences cost-effectively. It’s far more economical than spending money on advertising. The fact that you don’t pay the media directly for any exposure also gives your messages third party credibility and authority in a way which advertising and direct marketing do not.
A well-written PR article, published in the correct publications can greatly increase the awareness of your brand. By associating your brand with a relevant news story, not only will your company stand out from competitors but will also be seen as innovative, knowledgeable and trustworthy.
More than media relations
But PR isn’t just about media coverage – it’s also about engaging directly with consumers, be it through your website, newsletters or social media. It’s raising your profile in your community or in your business sector by giving talks to local schools and colleges or becoming a figurehead in a local organisation. It’s sponsoring events such as a school fete or exhibition, donating to raffles or a promises auction, sponsoring a local sports team, helping with or donating products/services to charity, and teaming up with suppliers or customers to work on attracting joint publicity.
PR works on many levels but, the best PR requires research, thought and planning and comes from an on-going campaign, perhaps in conjunction with other marketing techniques and practices. When done well, PR should help your business meet its objectives, whether that is increased brand awareness, new customers or profitability.
Is PR for you?
Here are some final considerations to take into account before deciding whether or not to go ahead with a PR programme:
Do you have time? PR is a collaborative process the whole way through. Are you available at a moment’s notice to approve a press release, give a media interview or provide overnight samples to a photo shoot? Media requests are usually urgent and require action that day, overnight or even within minutes. Saying ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ to an editor is like flushing your PR budget down the toilet!
Do you have patience? Contrary to many an opinion, sadly PR is not magic. It is a strategy of consistence and patience and you must be in it for the long haul to see effective results. While you will certainly see coverage come out quite quickly in short-lead media like blogs, newspapers, weekly magazine etc, some publications work on 3-6 month lead times so seeing coverage on your company in them can take months. As a general rule of thumb, six months is the time in PR to see effective results. Patience is a virtue!
Do you have news? News is not advertising or promotion, and what you consider important for your business, may or may not be important or of interest to the media. News value and relevance drive coverage, meaning that the media decide what is newsworthy by evaluating your story idea against news criteria. The key is to be consistent; issuing a press release at least once a month is generally recommended to stay on the media horizon; however quality must always come before quantity.
So there you have it. I hope that’s given you a clearer insight into the world of PR and shown you that if you want more column inches, it doesn’t have to involve Freddie Starr eating your hamster… Sweetie, daahling.
Stefanie Hopkins is the founder of Faith Public Relations, a Brighouse based PR consultancy offering a comprehensive range of communications services to small businesses. www.faith-pr.co.uk