PR or public relations is about creating favourable images of the company or organization in the minds of consumers. PR often involves creating a news story or event that brings the product or company to the public attention. A news story is more likely to be read than an advertisement, and is also more likely to be believed. PR differs from advertising in that the message is not paid for directly; the newspaper or magazine prints the story as news, and of course is able to slant the story any way it wishes to. PR people are often ex-journalists who have some contacts with the news media, and who know how to create a story that will be printed in the way the company wants it to be done. Newspaper editors are wary of thinly disguised advertisements and will only print items that are really newsworthy. Public relations officers and marketers often have differing viewpoints: PR people tend to see their role as being about image-building with everybody who has anything at all to do with the firm, whereas marketers are concerned mainly with customers and consumers. There is therefore a lack of fit between the information- processing requirements of marketers and PR people. Public relations is defined as ‘the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics: customers, employees, shareholders, trade bodies, suppliers, Government officials, and society in general’. The PR managers have the task of co-ordinating all the activities that make up the public face of the organisation, and will have some or all of the following activities to handle:
The basic routes by which PR operates are word-of-mouth, press and TV news stories, and personal recommendation. The aim is to put the firm and its products into people’s minds and conversations in a positive way. Because the information appears as news, it tends to carry more weight. PR is not advertising, because it is not paid for directly (even though there is usually some cost attached in terms of paying somebody to write the press release, and also in creating a news story).
Advertising can be both informative and persuasive, but PR is used for conveying information only.
Here are some examples of good PR activities:
Good PR can be much more effective than advertising for the following reasons:
PR is largely about sending information and creating the right image for organizations and products, but it is also concerned with creating favourable impressions in people's minds. It is rarely, if ever, connected with directly bringing in business, and in this respect it differs from the other tools in the promotional mix. Although most of the time and for most activities PR will be the responsibility of a press agent or PR officer, PR is the responsibility of everybody who comes into contact with people outside the organisation. This will include the ‘front-liners’, the people whose day-to-day work brings them into contact with outsiders.
This is apart from the marketing staff, such as salespeople, who come into contact with outsiders. In a sense, everybody in the organisation must take some responsibility for PR since everybody in the organisation goes home after work (and discusses their company with their friends).
In this context a bad approach to PR (but one that is all too common) is to hire somebody with a nice smile and a friendly voice to sit by the telephone to handle complaints and smooth over any problems that arise. This is a fire-fighting or reactive approach.
A good PR approach is to make all the staff feel positive about the company. This is done by ensuring that everybody knows what the organisation is doing, what the policies are and what the company's overall aims are, in simple language.
Most people would like to think they are working for a good, responsible, successful organisation; it is part of the job of public relations to ensure that this is communicated to staff. This is sometimes done by using a slogan or company motto to sum up the company’s main aim.
Internal PR uses staff newsletters, staff training programmes and staff social events to convey a positive image. Because most of the front-liners are working away from the company's headquarters, the PR process has to be handled by persuasion, not through diktat. It would be impossible for the PR staff to be everywhere at once, following people around to ensure that they say and do the ‘right’ things.
Public relations and the press - Usually, PR communicates through the news media. Newspapers and magazines earn their money mainly through paid advertising, but they attract readers by having stimulating articles about topics of interest to the readership.
Press releases- Typically, a PR manager or agent will be an ex-journalist who understands what is newsworthy and what is not, and will be able to issue press releases about the company that will be published.
Media events - Often companies will lay on a media event, a launch ceremony for a new product or to announce some change in company policy. Usually this will involve inviting journalists from the appropriate media, providing a free lunch with plenty of free drinks, and inviting questions about the new development in a formal press conference. This kind of event has only a limited success, however, unless the groundwork for it has been very thoroughly laid.
PR and other publics - PR involves dealing with the company's other publics, apart from the consumers.
These are typically the following groups:
Pressure groups can cause problems for companies by producing adverse publicity, by picketing company plants, or by encouraging boycotting of company products. This can usually be dealt with most effectively by counter-publicity. Sometimes adverse publicity from pressure groups is dealt with by advertising.
Defensive PR - Defensive PR is about responding to attacks from outside the firm and counteracting them as they arise. The attacks might come from pressure groups, from investigative reporters, or from members of parliament. The safest way to handle this type of attack is to begin by trying to understand the enemy, and to this end the following questions should be asked:
If the pressure group is justified in its criticisms, it may be necessary to help them to effect the changes in the organisation in order to quell the criticism. Otherwise the problem will simply continue. Good PR people will always respond in some way, however; as anyone who watches investigative reporters on TV will know, the company managers and directors who flee with a hasty ‘No comment’ always look guilty, whereas the ones who are prepared to be interviewed always appear honest (until the reporter produces the irrefutable evidence, of course).
Another aspect of defensive PR is crisis management. Some industries (for example airlines) are more prone to crises than others, but any company can be subject to bad publicity of one sort or another. A good approach to handling crises is to be prepared beforehand by establishing a crisis team who are able to speak authoritatively to the media in the event of a problem arising. The crisis team should meet regularly and should consider hypothetical cases and their responses to them. They should also ensure that they are immediately available in the event of a crisis occurring.
Proactive PR - Proactive PR means setting out deliberately to influence opinion, without waiting for an attack from outside. Here the manager will decide on the following:
Overall, it is probably better to be proactive rather than defensive (or reactive) because that way the PR office is in control of the process and is better-prepared. If the firm is planning on dumping toxic waste in a beauty spot, in other words, it is better to contact Greenpeace beforehand and get its opinion rather than suffer the inevitable protests afterwards and take a chance on being able to patch up any problems.
The following list tells you what good PR will do for your firm:
On the other hand, here are some of the things that PR will not do for your firm:
Ultimately, PR works best as part of a planned and integrated programme of promotional activities which includes advertising, sales promotion and personal selling. It works worst when used only occasionally, and in isolation.
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