Public relations (PR) is a technique used by savvy businesses across the globe to communicate with their customers. From giant global leaders, such as Coca-Cola, to smart start-ups looking to disrupt a new market, like Brewdog, PR can make the difference between getting noticed by your customers and falling by the wayside.
No wonder then, that this communications technique has been used to inspire, engage and convert audiences for years. And, over the past 20 years, with the rise of the digital age, we’ve seen the PR techniques employed by big and small brands alike becoming more abstract and off the cuff in a bid to capture the attention of what is now a hugely saturated market.
So in such a busy marketplace, and in an age where the budget can’t always stretch to support content marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing, advertising, design, e-marketing, PPC, SEO and everything else you’ve been advised to invest in, how can you justify spend to stand out from the crowd?
A good question, and one that has plagued the mind of many business owners and decision makers for years… often with little sign of a solution. However, PR can help you to grow your business, but before deciding on a plan of action to take your business forward, first and foremost it’s important to distinguish you exact business needs and how different marketing disciplines work to support different objectives.
What’s the difference between marketing, advertising and public relations?
Let’s start by distinguishing the differences between marketing, advertising and public relations – all of which are known to cross paths, causing confusion between the disciplines.
Marketing is a discipline used to emphasise the promotion of products and services for revenue or indeed commercial purposes. Advertising is a tool used by marketers to get customers to act, and ultimately support the promotion of their products or services to drive revenue. PR is different. Whilst it holds similarities, the purpose of public relations is to emphasise cultivating relationships between an organisation or individual and key publics for the purpose of managing and protecting a brand or individual’s image.
So, fundamentally marketing activity is commercially focused and PR is focused on reputation. Now that this is clear, we can begin to understand exactly how PR can help to grow a business.
What are the advantages of public relations over advertising?
One of the main advantages PR can hold for businesses and brands, is its ability to persuade and build relationships. If a brand holds a favourable public image and draws attention to positive opinion through media coverage and smart social media management, it can begin to create its own narrative, without looking contrived or too ‘salesy’ – which in turn can be far more compelling than an advertisement, where the viewer feels as if they’re being sold to.
In addition to this, PR tends to target a wider audience than an advert or piece of marketing activity that is designed to convert sales. PR speaks to a varied audience, from internal employees to the media, to influencers, to the end-user. This means a message can be spread far and wide. And this ‘word of mouth’ effect can act as a powerful persuasive tool for a business. Something that should not be underestimated.
What does public relations do for your business?
The objective of PR is to gauge an understanding as to how the public or a specific target audience perceive an organisation. By discerning attitudes, business are able to identify issues that might impact the operations and plans of a business.
In addition to this PR works to access your business at all levels with regard to action and communication. This allows corporations to share the good elements from across the company both internally and externally, and work to address and – at times – minimise the perhaps negative elements of a company that you don’t necessarily want to broadcast.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, PR works to implement influence or change public opinion.
What does PR activity involve?
To this note, you could be forgiven for thinking that PR spans many roles. And in some respects, you wouldn’t be wrong. The tactics implemented by PR professionals are varied, but they do work to achieve the above functions identified one way or another.
Here are some examples of the tactics used to try and achieve the objectives of the public relations discipline – but do note, as the digital world continues to enhance and infiltrate our daily lives, we anticipate that these tactics will continue to adapt and change in the future, just as they have done over the past 20 years and beyond.
- Write and distribute press releases
- Speech writing
- Write media pitches about a firm and send them onto journalists
- Plan and execute media events
- Networking, attendance at and sponsoring of events
- Copywriting, blogging and content generation
- Crisis public relation strategies
- Social media promotion and responses to negative comments online
- Influencer relations
- Community management
- Development of partnerships and professional working relationships
- Content creation
- Organic SEO
- Media training
- Internal communications
It’s a varied list, and one that is bound to grow as the lines between marketing, advertising and PR blur in the digital age.
What tools can you use in your PR activity?
As with any profession, there are tools that businesses can use to help streamline the process of managing a busy PR team or press office as many refer to it. These tools come in all shapes and sizes and can vary from being cost-intensive to completely free of charge.
The variety of different tools available is so vast that it would be impossible to list them all in one article, however to help demonstrate the tools available to those interested, we’ve categorised some of our favourite tools by function.
- Social listening – try Sysmos and Answer the Public
- Social media analysis and management – check out Sprout Social and Tweetdeck
- Influencer relations – take a look at Influence
- Media relations – Response Source and Gorkana offer great tools
- Media monitoring – look at Google Analytics
Of course, social media in general also acts as a great tool for those looking to outreach their business. Secondary to the obvious benefits that spring to mind, such as showcasing key messaging for your business and accessing a direct line to your audience. Social media platforms can also be used for the following:
- Looking into what your competitors are doing
- Sourcing inspiration for content
- Spotting trending topics
- Taking part in existing conversations around a certain issue or theme
- Making a judgement on awareness around a certain issue or subject
- Finding journalists and reaching out to the media
The list and potential is endless when it comes to tools that can benefit your business from a PR point of view, not least as the media becomes ever more digitalised. A great port of call for anyone looking for a specific PR tool is PR Stack. This is a resource that has been designed for marketers, PR professionals and business owners on the hunt for tools that will help them to measure, research, analyse and outreach for their business.
How does public relations help to promote a business?
By now you have a fairly good understanding of what PR can do for your business, its potential as a promotional discipline and how it can be measured, analysed and implemented to impact your business in a positive way. But how do you go about creating a plan of action to implement PR as a strategic mechanism for your business growth and to promote your offering?
This isn’t a quick answer question, but it can be summarised. In short, to create an effective PR strategy, it’s important that you first consider your audience.
Ask yourself, what are my audience doing? What media do they access? What interests them? What’s their demographic?
Using the answers to these questions as a basis, begin to consider the above tactics and how you can implement them to get the message your want to the right audience.
Should you hire a public relations agency?
Of course, all of this activity is highly time-intensive, and it’s not uncommon for even small businesses to outsource PR contracts to gain the expertise they need for the job. Depending on your needs, an award-winning PR agency can be a great asset. Ask yourself – do I have the time and resource to implement an effective PR strategy, will I have time to respond to journalists and customers across multiple platforms and finally can I afford it?
It may be that you have to start small if you have a limited budget, or that you need to work on a project basis until you see an ROI for your business.
Regardless, there are multiple ways of working with agencies in a flexible way to suit your business needs. If you do choose to work with an agency like us, be sure to shop around, get referrals from your network of contacts and hold a pitch process so you can appoint a partner that both understands and is passionate about your brand and vision.
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