You can hear it everywhere you go; small and medium size businesses, business publications, online forums, and when talking to people: “We need to get this and that message to our customers.” “If we only had the budgets big companies have for advertising.” These and many other statements are typical for many businesses; they focus on advertising and see this as the main, sometimes only, marketing tool they have to communicate with customers and create value of their product, brand, and business. But fact is, most companies do not have those big marketing budgets and will usually not be able to compete with big-brand advertisements.
We have to remember that advertising is not the only form of promoting a business. There is the marketing communications mix, which is defined as “the specific blend of advertising, public relations, personal selling, sales promotion, and direct-marketing tools that the company uses to persuasively communicate customer value and build customer relationships” (Armstrong & Kotler, 2008). Thus advertising is not the only form of promotion. Besides advertising, there is personal selling, sales promotion, direct-marketing tools, and public relations. While it is important to make proper use of all of these promotion tools to have the best effect, this article will focus on the latter one, public relations, and explain and discuss its use.
“The activity of keeping good relationships between an organization and the people outside it” (Cambridge Dictionaries Online, 2012) is a simple but common definition of public relations. One can see that its main purpose is to oversee and control relationships with all actors that have some interest in the business. In other words, in contrast to advertising, its main purpose is not to market the goods and services itself but to maintain a good and healthy relation with the public and strengthen one’s corporate image. The most common and popular public relation channels are press releases, interviews, newsletters, and employee communications (PR-Online, 2011).
If it is that important, why then do so many businesses fail to address public relations effectively and professionally? Why then do many businesses concentrate on advertising and neglect public relations to some part? The simple truth is that a one-way advertising is a lot easier to create and manage. Public relations does not only intend to maintain relations between the business and outside actors but also to control the way the image is communicated between these actors. In simple words, public relations are technically difficult and require lots of attention.
The easiest way to address and manage public relations is by contracting a specialized and professional public relations agency. While they know all the bits and pieces of public relations, they also cost a lot of money. As many small and medium size businesses do not have the budget for this, there are a five essential points that will help a business to manage public relations themselves.
- It is essential to know the purpose of the business, where it intends to go, and how it wants the public to perceive it. This is fundamentally important to create any promotion, no matter which promotion tool one uses. Knowing the intended outcome, it will later help to analyse the effectiveness of the promotion. Besides, not knowing these elemental points will ultimately eliminate any need for promotion; it will likely initiate the end of the business.
- “Public relations is a marathon, not a sprint” (“PR-Arbeit ist ein Marathon und kein Sprint,” Vock, 2012) is also a fundamental point to understand; relations are neither created nor maintained in a one-time-solve-it-all promotion. Creating a good and healthy image is difficult, requires care, and a lot of time. Frequent, regular, and professional care of the relations, such as press and shareholders, will support this type of relationship management.
- Creating a timetable on when to initiate what public relation actions is another elemental need for any business. It is not enough to know that one wants to create, maintain, and possibly develop relationships; this requires careful planning that is adjusted particularly for the needs and objectives of the business. One does neither want to flood the media and other channels nor is it beneficial to initiate anything that does not support good and healthy relations with the public and other shareholders.
- In order to manage all this effectively, it is best to assign someone in the business to deal with public relations. That person will be in charge of managing all that needs to be done for professional public relations and will serve as the business spokesperson. This does not only ease the public relation management internally, but is also convenient for media and other external actors to connect to the business; it is professional.
- In order to facilitate press, such as journalists, to get updates on the business and its current operations and events, it is very useful, and professional, to create a Public Relations area on the website. It should include anything from latest news, archives of news and photos, organizational charts, and, not to forget, contact information, in particular of the spokesperson.
Keeping those five points in mind will facilitate and improve one’s ability to address and manage public relations professionally and effectively. While this is, of course, not a bulletproof list of anything one should consider when working with public relations, it is a set of useful and “easy-to-implement” tools to get started.
While public relations are relatively inexpensive, especially comparing it to advertising, it does not mean that they are easy and quick to do. Besides all the mentioned tools mentioned, they generally requires a lot of attention. One always wants to look good and has to respond quickly and professionally to anything relating to the company, particularly external negative press. This requires conducting regular research on the business, its market environment, and outside opinions. Thus “we can argue that as much as three quarters of the public relations process is based on research—research, action planning, and evaluation—which are three of the four steps in the strategic management process in the RACE acronym, which stands for research, action planning, communication, and evaluation” (Bowen, Rawlins & Thomas, 2012).
As a simple and yet comprehensive summary, the following definition summarizes what public relations is all about: ” Using the news or business press to carry positive stories about your company or your products; cultivating a good relationship with local press representatives” (Entrepreneur.com).
As there are many different ways to handle public relations, the next part of this public relations article (The Importance of Public Relations, Part 2) will deal with all the functions of public relations, meaning the channels and blend of channels one can use to design them effectively and professionally.
- Armstrong, G., & Kotler, P. (2008). Marketing: An introduction. (9th ed., pp. 383-389, 407-410). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
- Bowen, S., Rawlins, B., & Thomas, M. (2012). Mastering public relations. (1st ed.)
- PR-Online. (2011). The most common pr tools. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/pr_online/the-most-common-pr-tools
- Vock, C. (2012). Pr für startups: Was für einen dauerhaften erfolg wichtig ist. Gründer Infoportal, Retrieved from http://www.blog.gruenderplus.de/news/pr/item/pr-fuer-startups-was-fuer-einen-dauerhaften-erfolg-wichtig-ist
- Effective Public Relations (rotary.org)
- Examining How Social and Emerging Media Have Been Used in Public Relations Between 2006 and 2012: A Longitudinal Analysis (prsa.org)
- Popular PR Myths: Debunked (buprssa.com)
- Public Relations: A Recession Proof Industry (buprssa.com)
- Standard on Public Relations (iaao.org)
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The Author: Konstantin von Brocke is a German international magna cum Laude business management student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and enthusiastic about marketing and sales, strategy and risk management, and business development and consulting.