Entrepreneurs dream of having their company appear on the front page of a major publication or doing an interview on a major network. Public relations can certainly create breakthrough moments, but in most cases it is simply an important part of an overall marketing strategy. Many marketers see public relations as only handling rudimentary communication activities, such as issuing press releases and responding to questions from the news media. But in reality, in a time when customers are inundated with thousands of promotional messages everyday, public relations offers powerful methods for cutting through the clutter.
Public relations involves the cultivation of favorable relations for organizations and products with its key publics through the use of a variety of communications channels and tools.
Traditionally, this meant public relations professionals would work with members of the news media to build a favorable image by publicizing the organization or product through stories in print and broadcast media. But today the role of public relations is much broader and includes:
- building awareness and a favorable image for a company or client within stories and articles found in relevant media outlets
- closely monitoring numerous media channels for public comment about a company and its products
- managing crises that threaten company or product image
- building goodwill among an organization’s target market through community, philanthropic and special programs and events.
While public relations holds many advantages for marketers, there are also concerns when using this promotional technique.
- Lack of Content Control. First, while public relations uses many of the same channels as advertising, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and Internet, it differs significantly from advertising in that marketers do not have direct control over whether a message is delivered and where it is placed for delivery. For instance, a marketer may spend many hours talking with a magazine writer, who is preparing an industry story, only to find that their company is never mentioned in the article.
- Risk of Off Message. While other promotional messages are carefully crafted and distributed as written through a pre-determined placement in a media vehicle, public relations generally conveys information to a member of the news media (e.g., reporter) who then recrafts the information as part of a news story or feature. Thus, the final message may not be precisely what the marketer planned.
- ROI Risk. While a PR campaign has the potential to yield a high return on promotional expense, it also has the potential to produce the opposite if the news media feels there is little value in running a story pitched (i.e., suggested via communication with the news outlet) by the marketer.
- Getting Bumped. There is always a chance that a well devised news event or release will get “bumped” from planned media coverage because of a more critical breaking news story, such as wars, severe weather or serious crime.
Public relations is not a magic pill – it must be worked and managed like other marketing tools and tactics. But if done well, it can help us entrepreneurs break through the clutter and give us a presence far greater than we have.