Written by: Mvelase Peppetta, a Senior Account Manager at Irvine Bartlett Public Relations in South Africa
Many businesses in Africa believe they’re not yet at a development point to warrant investing in public relations, and indeed don’t necessarily know what they’d be investing in if they did decide to expand their brand awareness “through an editorial medium”.
This is why so many brands, businesses, and other stakeholders in the marketing mix often have ambivalent or negative opinions of the role of public relations in growing a brand, when in truth their businesses would probably benefit from the involvement of a good public relations team.
In a nutshell, what public relations should be to a business is a driver to attract new business, retain current business and build a good brand reputation that is recognised and trusted by existing clients and potential clients.
And all this theoretically without costing the company a penny more than the public relations agency fee, because much of the work is driven through obtaining editorial opportunities for clients across media types.
Some of the stumbling blocks to businesses understanding and accepting public relations as part of their development strategy are:
PR is just like advertising
The most basic difference between advertising and public relations is that one is paid for, and one isn’t. A business pays for the advertisements it places in media, but not the media coverage it earns from PR efforts.
This PR coverage, if done correctly, gets a client’s name into the media arena in such a way as to position the company as the best in its field.
But if clients only view PR as a vehicle to get “free advertising”, they wouldn’t be fully utilising what they have. Public Relations is more than that. A key outcome of good PR is to ultimately build the ideas about a client’s brand or business amongst audiences deemed key to achieving business objectives.
This could mean building a strong, direct relationship between the core customer base and the brand through the use of social media. Or, on the other hand, it could be seeding positive content about a client’s brand to selected media through the use of strong narrative angles which will lead to positive editorial features.
And these are only two of the ways in which PR can achieve the marketing goals that advertising cannot.
To be clear, the argument being made isn’t that “PR is better than advertising”. In marketing a business, PR and advertising have different, yet equally important roles to play.
Everyone can do PR. It’s easy
This, perhaps more than anything, is the greatest misconception plaguing the PR industry. With no clear understanding of what PR is, does, and can achieve, any Johnny-Come-Lately can decide to name him- or herself a PR “guru”, “ninja” and “maven”.
It’s a sad irony that in an industry with so much talent to shape and inform public perceptions and attitudes, there is a lack of focus being placed on doing that for the industry itself.
PR has a responsibility to not only service its clients, but to inform current and future clients about the public relations industry itself.
PR is all about events and going out for lunch
Perhaps in a time when media wasn’t as pressed for quality content for the gigabytes of data we consume on our smartphones and tablets, and when an ever-decreasing number of ever more junior journalists were expected to fill inches of magazines and newspapers, PR was all about events and going out for lunch.
But that’s not today’s media landscape. More than ever, today PRs are being seen as partners to media houses, helping them provide the quality content they need for their audiences. The key word here is quality.
While media may be struggling to produce the ever-increasing quantity of work they’re expected to publish by the hour on the hour with diminishing resources, audience expectations haven’t dropped.
And in a world where content providers are aware that a reader can just as easily view a competitor’s content produced from halfway around the world, no pair of eyeballs can be ignored.
A lunch here and there and a champagne-fuelled event every six months may happen, but more than anything, today’s PR professional is expected to provide high-quality, rich and engaging content to media partners.
PR is a nine to five job
Does the media cycle run nine to five? If the answer to that question is yes, then definitely, PR is a nine to five job. In reality, PR is an around-the-clock exercise if a PR company is doing it right.
The PR industry has two equally important masters: clients and the media.
Clients can need crisis communications assistance at 1.30am on New Year’s Day, and media can request comment or assistance for a story to run in tomorrow’s edition just as you’re about to go to bed. Both of those needs have to be fulfilled with equal urgency.
PROs always spin the truth
A key element of PR is crisis communications, which doesn’t equate to “spin” if it’s done right.
While good PR is about building a positive image of a client’s brand with the audience it wants to reach, PR ultimately can only ever be as good as the client it is representing.
Facing a communications disaster, the best PR strategy, more often than not, is to simply do the right thing. Telling the truth allows clients to get in front of whatever situation it is they are facing.
Consider what happened to BP’s reputation in the 2010 aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Prior to the spill, BP had done an inordinate amount of work to bill itself as a “green” energy company. While it was true that they were making steps to make their business friendlier to the environment, they underplayed just how environmentally risky (despite all attempts to minimise those dangers) their business could be. This, ultimately, made them into bigger “bad guys” when disaster struck.
So what are the lessons to be taken from all this? More than anything, a key misconception about PR is that it is the panacea to a company’s marketing needs.
PR is a specialised tool. Utilised correctly, by an agency or individual with the capacity, contacts, and technical expertise, it can achieve great things in terms of awareness of trust in any brand.
But the key to achieving PR success is frank discussions on expectations and deliverables between PROs and clients right at the start of the relationship. This, second to nothing else, is the number one requirement in fully harnessing the power of PR to build a business