A company with a product to sell or service to offer needs to let people know what it does and why it has something that the public wants or needs above the offerings of any other business. Some attempt to do this on their own either with or without a plan, but many turn to the assistance of a professional marketing service either in-house or independent. Such marketing may provide them with advertising campaigns, but more attention to developing a name and an image is needed, and that is where public relations (PR) comes in. PR is an essential component of a successful marketing campaign because it has so many tools for developing a business’s image and because it adds so much value.
Public relations (PR) and marketing are often confused as one and the same. Certainly, there are some small similarities, such as developing a plan and exhibiting creativity, but the two are distinctly different. Some say that marketing is proactive while PR is reactive; in some ways that is true though PR also requires planning, especially for crisis management. It is reactive when a news story develops, an opportunity to build community relations develops, or an upcoming event requires a public announcement. Public relations utilizes free media such as newspapers/magazines, television/radio newscasts, interviews, and online media, but, unlike marketing, PR does not have the final creative control over the information disseminated. Harold Burson, famed PR specialist, says that “Public relations is an applied social science that influences behavior and policy, when communicated effectively, motivates an individual or group to a specific course of action by creating, changing or reinforcing opinions and attitudes” (as cited in Cohen, 2012).
Public relations has many tools in its toolbox. There was a time when the most important means of communication were the use of press releases to magazines and newspapers and interviews for TV and radio. Today there are many avenues that a PR firm will follow to create a relationship that positively affects the name of the company.
Print and Broadcast Relations: “It is the challenge of all PR professionals to communicate their ideas and stories in such a way that media gatekeepers see them as valuable. Often this means months or even years of relationship building and growing the awareness of a specific client or product with respective media outlets” (B. Smith, personal communication, June 14, 2017). The media, in turn, may ask for an interview with someone in the business to develop a more in-depth story. It is so important to have established relationships with media personnel so that the story gets attention.
Online Media Relations: “With the proliferation of social media, the need to monitor, proactively post, and respond in real time has added a significant and challenging dimension to media relations.” (J. Ives, personal communication, June 20, 2017). Social media, blogs, and websites are just some of the areas on the internet touched by public relations. Every company hopes that something it has put in front of the public online becomes positively viral and not an unwanted distraction. CEOs who use social media, such as Twitter, too haphazardly or an unhappy employee who can divert attention from developing positive online relationships are the reasons that monitoring is a critical component of online PR.
Investor Relations: Cohen (2011) says that “this communications specialization relates to the information public companies must report regularly to their investors, the financial community, regulators and the government.” It is important that stakeholders are informed about performance and expectations. Public relations staff must work with well-informed analysts to disseminate news that emphasizes the good and downplays the bad.
Community relations and involvement: TOMS, a footwear company, has opted to take dollars otherwise spent on ad campaigns and put them toward a global initiative to offer shoes to children in need. Each purchase of a pair of their shoes brings a donation of a pair. The company has an annual One Day Without Shoes event where people send in a picture of their bare feet which brings a TOMS’ donation of a pair of shoes, up to one million shoes. While the company has been criticized for various aspects of this campaign, such as negatively impacting local cobblers, TOMS has received many accolades for its social responsibility. And the resultant PR is priceless.
Crisis Management: Businesses need to have an emergency plan in place before a crisis develops. Assessing possible disaster scenarios and having a plan that has looked at the worst-case possibilities means that the outcome will be more positive. One of the classic examples of a PR strategy that succeeded is the Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol drug tampering scandal during the 1980s. The news that bottles of Tylenol were laced with cyanide spread quickly and caused a panic. The company’s response averted a product catastrophe because it “placed customer concerns before profits” (Axia Public Relations, 2013). The company immediately warned consumers not to use their product and pulled it from store shelves. Johnson & Johnson redesigned their packaging to be tamper-resistant, and PR developed an aggressive campaign to tout the safety of its product. A crisis “plan should include procedures that: 1. train a crisis management team of key employees; 2. assign responsibilities for gathering facts and preparing statements; and 3. designate the spokesperson(s) who will represent the institution to the press” (Levine, 1995).
The value of quality PR is immeasurable. Public relations should be part of a broad marketing plan because PR is not advertising, which has creative control over what goes out to the public. A solid PR campaign provides a huge return on investment because it promotes credibility, creates a positive perception, fills the need to develop trust, establishes solid relationships with the media, keeps the company name in the public view, and responds quickly to a crisis (Turner, 2009).
Credibility: Because public relations does not pay for its submissions to the media, published and broadcast information is subject to the review of the press. They may do further research or do interviews that add a second layer of scrutiny to the submissions they receive, and by publishing a company’s news releases and announcements, the media is granting a significant degree of credibility.
Perception: A release that tells a company’s story and explains why the company exists as well as their mission statement can add to a positive perception in the public’s eyes (B. McCloskey, personal communication, June 5, 2017). A well-placed phone call or well-timed announcement of a new product will result in positive benefits to the company.
Trust: The public will respond positively to a company that has earned its trust. Trust is developed with honest responses to crisis situations or with news about community investments that follow through on commitments.
Relationships with the Media: Seasoned public relations departments or firms have developed relationships with people in the media who can make a difference. This rapport requires dedication and time on the part of the professionals. Not only is it important to know the people who can give voice to PR submissions, but it is also important to know what the media wants and will publish or broadcast.
Marketing must include a public relations component to do justice to a company’s need for positive exposure. There are many tools that the specialist will use to promote credibility, perception, trust, relationships with the media, positive exposure, and crisis abatement. “That some companies don’t hire experienced PR teams is a shame, because when PR is done competently and creatively it delivers results at a cost that no other marketing method can match” (Waddington, 2014).
-Diane Repass│Diane is a retired tenured assistant professor from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.