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

Sexy – Creating a Stand-Out Online Public Relations Plan (Part 1 of 2)

Some people mistakenly assume that “Public Relations” has only to do with mitigating bad press. However, when we consider the concept of public relations in a broader context, we see the value in developing and implementing an ongoing strategy for handling our company’s public image. All businesses, whether they are sole proprietorships or publicly-held corporations, need to ensure that their public image is consistent, positive and appropriate for their industry. Public relations involve many levels, including the image we present not only to customers, but also to vendors and even employees.

One of the greatest advantages of online PR is that we have a unique opportunity to bypass the traditional media filters used to determine the few stories that make it to the public. Now, with web portals like Yahoo and Google, along with “vertical sites,” which actually pull several websites of common interest together, you can go directly to the media source. The biggest challenge becomes, however, how you ensure that your message rises to the top. After all, people can only identify you as an expert in your field if they know you exist!

The quality of your public relations plan can be the difference between success and failure, but how do we begin, and how do we know how well it’s working? Following are a few simple steps to follow when creating your professional public relations plan:

Step 1 – Hit Your Target: Your business needs to have a public relations plan, just as it has a business plan and a marketing plan. In today’s information-saturated market, sending out a few press releases a year to the local paper doesn’t qualify as a viable PR plan. With the benefit of the Internet, news about your services and achievements can be distributed nationally, and even globally, as well as to local media outlets. Newspapers, ezines, blogs, business and social networking sites all can help you get your message to the public for little or no cost. However, be careful to not waste your time with a shotgun-blast approach to publicity. Taking the time to identify your target markets, and recognizing which media outlets are most likely to connect with that target, can save you time and headaches in the long-term.

Step 2 – Become a Virtual Networking Guru: Online Public Relations involves connecting with people in a personal way that is more effective than advertising alone ever could be.

  • Social Networking sites: Free sites such as MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and others allow you to set up a profile, keep it current and get to know other like-minded people.
  • Newsgroups and message boards: Do an Internet search for your type of business. Find out where people are “hanging out” online. Spend your time on the busiest boards for maximum exposure. You have to be ready to invest your time and resources in others too; don’t just advertise. Give advice, seek advice, and get to know your fellow posters, and they’ll come to see you as a valuable business partner.
  • Referral and affiliate programs: Offer tangible incentives to people who bring business your way. It’s good business etiquette to spend as much time thanking and recognizing people as you spend asking them for something. Always recognize when a lead comes from an associate, and make it worth their while to do it again.

Step 3 – Be an expert in your field: Having knowledge that others need makes people come to you, which is always better then you going to them! How do you become an expert? You’ll have to come back next month to find out. Read Part two of Online Public Relations in the April Issue.

Get Results From Your Public Relations Firm: Do’s and Don’ts for Start-Ups Seeking Publicity

Most new business owners know the value of publicity for promoting their company’s reputation and selling their product or service. However, many don’t know how to go about getting it. They may hire a public relations firm – a good idea even for start-ups – then be disappointed with the results.

This does not have to be the case. If you are the owner of a new business, you can have a successful working relationship with your public relations firm and achieve your goals simply by following some basic guidelines.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts that should put you on the right track.

DO:

1. Expect honest representation. Your public relations firm should have a good idea of what will – and will not – get attention in the news media. They should also know the best media outlets and reporters to approach to get editorial coverage for your business. Listen to them. Problems in a PR firm-client relationship often stem from public relations counselors going against their better judgment and pitching a story they know will not fly, just to please an insistent client. Media pitches for a company with a reputation of sending out material that isn’t newsworthy are likely to be ignored.

2. Communicate everything about your business to your public relations counselor – not just what you think he or she needs to know. You may have some hidden gems of stories in your business that you – being an insider and not attuned to media interests – may not think are all that interesting. You should also share information about any potential problems or embarrassing situations. A PR professional will keep your confidences and help you manage negative publicity, should it occur.

3. Ask for a crisis communication plan. You may never have to utilize it – and let’s hope that’s true – but having a crisis communication plan in place and circulated among top officers of your company will come in handy to tap down negative stories before they balloon into major problems that could damage your company’s reputation.

4. Have a media contact procedure in place. Everyone – from the receptionist to the president – needs to know what to do if and when the media calls. The best advice is to have everyone refer calls from the news media to the public relations firm. They can sort out all the particulars and arrange for any interviews.

5. Respond quickly to interview requests as they are presented to you by your public relations person. Media interviews are an opportunity for you to present your company the way you want it presented. But reporters have deadlines; if you aren’t available, they will interview someone else, and you may miss out on an opportunity to get positive media coverage.

DON’T:

1. Expect a guarantee. Media coverage cannot be guaranteed, unless you do a “pay-for-play” agreement with a particular publication, in which you buy advertising and get an article on your company in return. Other than that type of arrangement – usually referred to as an “advertorial” – no public relations firm can, or should, guarantee coverage.

2. Be a one-hit wonder. One big round of publicity is not going to carry you very far. A good public relations program is an ongoing enterprise, and often a “drip-drip-drip” strategy is better than a one-time splashy feature.

3. Be caught unprepared. Ask for media training. You may be a great communicator in many ways, but doing a media interview is a special skill. Having some knowledge of how the media works, developing strong messages, and practicing delivering them will make you a better, more confident company representative.

4. Expect media coverage to do it all. There are many other ways to reach your targeted audience, including social media, marketing communications, and opportunities for direct engagement. A good PR person will look at your firm – its goals, its product or service offerings, its target markets – and design a communication strategy specific to your needs.

5. Be discouraged if your plan takes a while to get off the ground. You want to have everything – messages, action plan, trained spokespersons, etc. – in place before you go public. First impressions are lasting ones.