Know The Reasons To Use Public Relations For Your Business: A Checklist of Considerations

WHAT IS PR and WHY USE IT?
There are many possible reasons for using the powerful practice of public relations. First, let’s make sure we are on the same page when it comes to the definition of public relations. Public relations is also called media relations. The terms are used interchangeably though doing so is not completely accurate. Public relations obviously involves dealing with the public, while media relations deals with the media. The terms tend to be used interchangeably because it is through the media that we reach the public using this practice.

I’ve found in my adventures with my small business clients that starting out, most of them don’t have a clue about what public relations is or the power of its use. Small business owners rarely realize that sharing the stories -the news- of their businesses or brands through media outlets exposes their businesses in a way advertising can never accomplish.

Public relations is the practice, the art, of generating public interest in your business, message, product, service or what have you, using the distribution of your message through the media. In this age of information, that now includes “new media.”

This means getting your stories to the press online and off. Whether you realize it or not there are people whose job it is to get stories placed with the media. While media in this context includes social and online outlets, PR professionals are experts in NEWS media. These professionals are publicists and when they achieve their goals… it’s called publicity.

Articles in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, appearances on television and radio talk shows are generated by someone contacting those media outlets and convincing those outlets to discuss, interview, write about or otherwise put the message out there where the public can read, watch or hear it. Event publicity may even include allowing the public to EXPERIENCE your brand through live interaction and/or demonstration. In every instance of public relations, there are established standard practices of doing so and PR specialists, expert at getting it done.

The use of publicity -and PR professionals- is the primary way savvy business people these days successfully launch, grow and brand business.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT: Use Publicity To Get It
Public relations can be reactionary, used in response to current trends or incidents, or to send out responses to company challenges, mishaps and scandals. There is a whole industry of PR professionals who specialize in “crisis management.” Conversely, proactive PR is designed to shape the public’s positive perception of you on an ongoing schedule, not to only produce stories when there is an event or in response to problems. Proactive PR is planned and executed on strategy that brands.

To take advantage of proactive PR, you must first decide what you want to achieve. Whether we’re talking about your product, service, new business model, retail store, organization, vision for change, book, stage play, art exhibit, or web site, whatever it is you’ve got going on, you need to decide what you ultimately what from it right away and into the long-term future.

CONSIDER
Do you want to grow from small business to big business? To eventually take your business public or sell it? Do you want local recognition or national fame and fortune? Do you intend to “go global?” To franchise? Are you in or planning an expansion? Think about those things then use the following checklist. This list, though comprehensive, is inherently incomplete. Use the list to trigger your thought process to decide your publicity goals. Use it by completing the following statement; check off and add as many (endings) as you like.

I want my public relations efforts to:
• Increase my visibility and name recognition.
• Increase my company’s visibility and name recognition.
• Increase my income.
• Increase traffic (retail, online).
• Generate recognition for members of my staff.
• Announce major achievements.
• Build (my brand) credibility in the industries I’m involved in.
• Change a misconception.
• Generate interest to attract investors.
• Help expose and build events.
• Generate or increase event attendance.
• Generate or increase membership.
• Expand my customer base.
• Build public awareness.
• Generate support.
• Attract volunteers.
• Enhance personnel recruitment efforts.
• Sell.
• Generate more publicity.

THINK FIRST
So, when going into business; developing a product, project or brand; expanding a company or planning ANYTHING that involves the need to communicate publicly, THINK FIRST. Your reasons for establishing a public relations program for your business shape your approach for developing, and dictate the angle or “spin” of, each of your publicity messages. Your reasons for using PR guide your message goals, objectives and your means of delivery. The reasons you choose for implementing public relations serve as foundation for, as well as leverage to build on, the marketplace perception you receive and the results you achieve.

Public Relations: The Fundamental Premise

It seems difficult to believe at the dawn of the 21st Century, that there exists
a major discipline with so many diverse, partial, incomplete and limited interpretations of its mission. Here, just a sampling of professional opinion
on what public relations is all about:

* talking to the media on behalf of a client.

* selling a product, service or idea.

* reputation management.

* engineering of perception

* doing good and getting credit for it.

* attracting credit to an organization for doing good and limiting the downside when it does bad

While there is an element of truth in such definitions, most zero in on only part of what public relations is capable of doing, kind of a halfway fundamental premise. Worse, they fail to answer the question, to what end do they lead? Few even mention the REAL end-game — behavior modification — the goal against which all public relations activity must be held accountable.

Here’s my opinion about the fundamental premise of public relations: People act on their perception of the facts leading to behaviors about which something can be done. When public relations creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations mission is accomplished.

Even when we feel certain about the fundamental premise of public relations, maybe we should take another look? Because if we are wrong, at best we miss out on public relation’s enormous benefits. At worst, we can damage ourselves and our organizations.

The fundamental premise suggests that, to help achieve true competitive advantage, management must insure that its public relations investment is committed directly to influencing the organization’s most important audiences. And THEN insure that the tacticians efficiently prepare and communicate messages that will influence those audience perceptions and, thus, behaviors. For non-profits or public sector entities, the emphasis would be on achieving the organization’s primary objectives.

What is the alternative when we see some public relations people managing to go through their entire careers without a firm grasp of the fundamental premise of public relations? Their responses to crises, or to requests for well thought-out solutions to public relations problems, reveal a serious lack of understanding. They confuse the basic function of public relations with any number of tactical parts that make up the whole, such as publicity, crisis management or employee relations. Understandably, they feel unsure in approaching public relations problems, then uncertain about what counsel to give their clients. Many, relying on career-long misconceptions about public relations, forge ahead anyway advising the client ineffectively sometimes with damaging, if not dangerous counsel.

In seeking a solution to this challenge to understanding, we cannot rely solely on tactics or even emulate the artillery training commander who tells his student gunners “point your guns in any direction and fire when you feel like it!”

Instead, just as that artillery commander teaches his newbie gunners to carefully analyze their target and precisely what they must do to reach it, so it is with public relations.

Our best opportunity resides at the get-go where we really can make certain our public relations students CLEARLY understand the basic premise of public relations at the beginning of their careers. AND that they have an equally clear understanding of the organizational context — business, non-profit or public sector — in which they will be expected to apply what they have learned, and in which they must operate successfully.

Bushy-tailed and bright with promise, the new generation of public relations professionals must learn that their employer/client wants us to apply our special skills in a way that helps achieve his or her business objectives. And that no matter what strategic plan we create to solve a problem, no matter what tactical program we put in place, at the end of the day we must modify somebody’s behavior if we are to earn our money.

The best part is, when the behavioral changes become apparent, and meet the program’s original behavior modification goal, three benefits appear.
One, the public relations program is a success. Two, by achieving the behavioral goal we set at the beginning, we are using a dependable and accurate public relations performance measurement. And three, when our “reach, persuade and move-to-desired-action” efforts produce a visible modification in the behaviors of those people we wish to influence, we are using public relations’ special strengths to their very best advantage.

Budding professionals should learn at the beginning of their careers that most employers and clients are not primarily interested in our ability to fraternize with the media, communicate or paint images. Nor are they especially fascinated with our efforts to identify target audiences, set public relations goals and strategies, write persuasive messages, select communications tactics, et al.

What the employer/client invariably DOES want is a change in the behaviors of certain key audiences which leads directly to the achievement of their business objectives. Hence, the emphasis in this article on careful planning for altered key audience perceptions and modified behaviors.

Which explains why quality preparation and the degree of behavioral change it produces, defines success or failure for a public relations program. Done correctly, when public relations results in modified behaviors among groups of people vitally important to any organization, we could be talking about nothing less than its survival.

But why, young people, do we feel so strongly about the fundamental premise of public relations? Because some of us have learned from leaders in the field, from mentors and from long years of experience that there are only three ways a public relations effort can impact behavior: create opinion where it doesn’t exist, reinforce existing opinion or change that opinion. No surprise that the process by which those goals are realized is known as public relations. While behavior is the goal, and a host of communications tactics are the tools, our strategy is the leverage provided by public opinion.

We also learned the hard way that when your employer/client starts looking for a return on his or her public relations investment, it becomes clear in a hurry that the goal MUST be the kind of change in the behaviors of key stakeholders that leads directly to achieving business objectives.

I also believe that we should advise our newcomers that if their employers/clients ever say they’re not getting the behavior changes they paid for, they’re probably wasting the money they’re spending on public relations.

Here’s why I say that. Once again, we know that people act on their perception of the facts, that those perceptions lead to certain behaviors, and that something can be done about those perceptions and behaviors that leads to achieving the employer/client’s business objectives.

Which means s/he really CAN establish the desired behavior change up front, then insist on getting that result before pronouncing the public relations effort a success.

In other words, the way to increase their comfort level about their public relations investment, is to make certain that investment produces the behavior modification they said they wanted at the beginning of the program,

That way, they KNOW they’re getting their money’s worth.

I would be remiss here if I omitted reference to the difficulties those new to the field will encounter in attempting to evaluate public relations performance. Often, they will find themselves using highly-subjective, very limited and only partially applicable performance judgments. Among them, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross impressions and even advertising value equivalent to the publicity space obtained.

The main reason for this sorry state of affairs is the lack of affordable public opinion survey products that could demonstrate conclusively that the public relations perception and behavioral goal set at the beginning of the program was, in fact, achieved. Usually, opinion surveys adequate to the job of establishing beyond doubt that a behavioral goal was achieved, are cost-prohibitive, often far in excess of the overall cost of the public relations program itself!

However, young people, all is not lost. Obviously, some behavioral changes are immediately visible, such as customers returning to showrooms, environmental activists abandoning plant gate protests or a rapidly improving job retention rate. We follow less obvious behavioral change by monitoring indicators that directly impact behavior such as comments in community meetings and business speeches, local newspaper, radio and TV editorials, emails from target audience members and thought-leaders, and public statements by political figures and local celebrities.

We even shadow our own communications tactics trying to monitor their impact on audience perception — tactics such as face-to-face meetings, Internet ezines and email, hand-placed newspaper and magazine feature articles and broadcast appearances, special consumer briefings, news releases, announcement luncheons, onsite media interviews, facility tours, brochures and even special events like promotional contests, financial road shows, awards ceremonies, trade conventions, celebrity appearances and open houses — each designed to impact individual perception and behavior.

And it does work — we ARE able to demonstrate an impact on perception and behavior for the employer/client. But affordable professional opinion/behavioral surveys would be the best solution. Clearly, solving this problem remains a major challenge for both the public relations and survey disciplines.

One more piece of advice for the soon-to-be public relations professional. As we begin to achieve proficiency in public relations, an action pathway to success also begins to appear:

* identify the problem

* identify target audiences

* set the public relations goal

* set the public relations strategy

* prepare persuasive messages

* select and implement key communications tactics

* monitor progress

* and the end game? Meet the behavior modification goal.

I hope these remarks contribute to a broadened understanding of the fundamental function of public relations in our organizations, especially among our entry-level colleagues. In particular, how it can strengthen relationships with those important groups of people — those target audiences, those “publics” whose perceptions and behaviors can help or hinder the achievement of our employer/client’s business objectives.

A final thought for those entering or planning to enter the field of public relations — you’ll know you’ve arrived at each public relations end game when the changes in behaviors become truly apparent through feedback such as increased numbers of positive media reports, encouraging supplier and thought-leader comment, and increasingly upbeat employee and community chatter.

In other words, sound strategy combined with effective tactics leads directly to the bottom line — altered perceptions, modified behaviors, and a public relations homerun.

Please feel free to publish this article and resource box
in your ezine, newsletter, offline publication or website.
A copy would be appreciated at [email protected].

Robert A. Kelly © 2005.

Public Relations is a Discipline of Depth

Most of us prefer to place our trusted business affairs, such as strategic outreach through public and media relations, in the hands of experienced practitioners. Whether with our attorney or IT vendor, our airline pilot or our accountant, we value experience when the job is complex and the outcome critical to our success.

This same principle applies to the selection of a public relations and marketing adviser. Effective public relations does not happen by gravitational pull; rather, it is the outcome of incisive strategy skillfully executed, managed and measured. It can be taught in school – but it is learned only through experience.

Public relations is commonly mistaken as the domain of generalists. At many firms, “paint by number” strategy drives “fill in the blank” planning to create “cookie cutter” campaigns. Although cookie cutters can rapidly create dozens of identical cookies, they rarely leave a distinct impression. They certainly cannot convey a firm’s unique value proposition.

Contrary to popular misconception, public relations with an impact is the discipline of depth. In today’s business world, successful practitioners are those who can step outside the box of traditional agency practice, and embrace the communications trends that are working today. Communication is no longer an arena in which businesses dictate their messages to consumers. Consumers, with multiple communications channels available to them, now have the power and the desire to form their own opinions based on a survey of the information available to them.

Indeed, media consumers now have the power to create their own messaging and counteract corporate messaging that they feel is inaccurate. This is a Web 2.0 world, which is being increasingly and consistently defined by consumers. Businesses who are not agile and able to modify their messaging and tactics to utilize and work with this trend will quickly become irrelevant to their markets and unable to expand their reach by targeting new market sectors available through emerging communications channels.

As such, effective public relations practitioners must be knowledgeable not only of their clients’ business models and areas of expertise, but also in target market behaviors with regards to media consumption. Practitioners must be able to utilize innovative, multi channel strategies to deliver messages to consumers with messages they will understand and through their media of choice.
Public relations professionals must develop the ability to integrate and consolidate all communications channels to reach target audiences, and understand the synergies that exist between all communication media. They must combine traditional marketing and communication experience with new technology and market research to create outreach strategies that are effective, relevant and cutting-edge.

This principle is demonstrably true in specialized, niche industry practices, including technology public relations, financial public relations and mortgage technology public relations, to name a few. Although clients in these industries retain a deep understanding of current technologies as means to solve specific problems, they often do not have the knowledge to utilize technology in a way that produces effective marketing and clear communications with their target audiences. In realms such as these, savvy communications experts who are independent of traditional agency “cookie-cutter” approaches and organizational restrictions can make a significant impact on behalf of their clients.

The Internet is truly the realm of small businesses and innovative solutions. Big box providers depend on their existing brand recognition and market penetration to do their marketing for them, leaving a huge vacuum of potential for smaller business seeking a competitive advantage. Smart public relations practitioners who understand how to utilize the Internet to support an overall integrated communications and marketing strategy will be poised for rapid success by connecting their clients to relevant messages through emerging media channels.

Public relations is a discipline of depth. All a savvy practitioner needs to succeed is an innovative approach and a depth of mind.

For more information on technology public relations, financial public relations and mortgage technology public relations, visit depthpr.com.