PR is one point of the triangle that is Communications – Advertising – Public Relations. It is important to acknowledge that while PR stands apart from these in subtle yet distinctive ways, it’s also indivisible from them. In Advertising you are directly selling your product or service, while in Communications you are coordinating information flow (a.k.a. communicating). Public Relations, on the other hand, requires you to sell yourself and your business. At its core, PR is about communicating to the public that your product and company have consumer imperatives such as quality, integrity, morality, and community focus. PR is all about the buzz – generating it around a new product, launch or announcement; maintaining buzz throughout that launch; and working to correct negative buzz when and if something goes wrong. Let’s take a look at the importance of public relations in business, and see how it can lend brands a competitive advantage in today’s market.
Public Relations starts and stops with quality. High-quality products and services generate their own buzz, and few components are more important to creating and maintaining a positive reputation than quality and consistency to your customers. The PR side of quality comes in sharing or reinforcing the news that your company creates high-quality goods. This is often a scheme in advertising showing ‘our brand’ vs. ‘leading competition brand’, but the public relations side better reinforces what otherwise might be seen as a gimmick. Quality sells itself, but a well-executed PR plan ensures the public knows it, too.
Integrity ties in tightly with quality, but presents its own unique challenges. A combination of modern skepticism and abuses by large corporations have led the public to believe that corporations are the ‘bad guys’ and ‘all CEOs are evil’. The battle to rise above this blackening is all about integrity. Companies that are open communicators, quickly resolve issues, and give good value for money are the definition of integrity. Strengthening these three areas internally will strengthen your reputation externally.
Distinct from integrity, morality is hand in glove with reputation, and reputation is what public relations is all about. Showing good morality as a company isn’t about espousing a specific value set copied from a religion, political group, or public figure; morality is about everyday good and bad behavior. Moral companies are held to the kindergarten rule set: no bullying, wait your turn, share with the class, treat others as you want to be treated, and no putting paint in other people’s hair. Maybe not so much the last one, but the aim is still to have patience in dealing with problems, giving back to the communities that support you, general kindness, and overall good behavior. The public likes to stand with moral companies, and with specific, targeted messaging within your PR activations, you can ensure your audience knows that you are moral.
Perhaps the most traditional form of generating positive public notice, showing community focus has become even more important as part of a successful PR strategy. These days it goes far beyond writing a fat check to a local charity, as the public is more likely to see this form of disengaged charity as a ‘tax write off’ or something any company could do. Modern community focus is about putting your time where your money and mouth are. Investing people power, effort, thought, and time get you farther in this field. It is an “awww, cute” moment when people see your company sponsored a local kids sports team, but it is a “wow, that is great!” reaction when you hear a local business owner volunteers his time year after year not just coaching but coordinating the community kids softball league. Before you dash off a check, think if the resources would be better spent helping a charity coordinate a specific event, or pioneering a local clean up effort that will gain positive local attention.
The above points may seem more internal than external, but one leads to the other. Public Relations is about communicating the internal workings to the external world in order to build reputation. Modern PR is not just about using modern methods in your PR campaign, but ensuring that your company has modern values that appeal to the modern market.