What is Public Relations?
Simply put, it entails the management of perceptions and communications between a company and its stakeholders and/or the public.
Why the need to manage perceptions?
To begin with, perceptions are opinions, thoughts, feelings which stakeholders hold or perceive of your company, management and staff. Even though your company has kept a low profile, initiated no activities to garner any publicity, your stakeholders will still hold a certain perception of the company. Rather than leaving it to them to hold misguided, or negative views, why not tell them what you stand for?
This involves developing your corporate positioning which usually centers on a few key messages. These will state a combination or all of the following: who you are, what you do, how you do it differently from your competitors, where you operate and why you are unique. For example when I am introducing Mileage Communications, I say:
“We are Singapore leading local public relations constancy with 15 offices in nine countries regionally. We service many multi-national and local clients in sectors such as, financial, healthcare, technology, shipping, travel and lifestyle. We have a strong forte in crisis management having handled countless crises and issues locally and abroad.”
Many years ago, I was asked by the Ministry of Education to give a keynote address to school principals on Public Relations. I asked the audience how many had engaged the media. Only a few hands in the audience went up. Many said they had kept a low profile, mainly out of fear of dealing with the media.
Yet they wanted to attract the best students and teachers to come to their schools. To achieve that, the stakeholders must know that the schools have the requisite facilities and abilities to deliver the experience they seek. One way to get that information across to the stakeholders was to generate publicity through the media.
I told the principals that even with the lack of outreach efforts, the parents, students and teaching community will still have formed perceptions about what each school stood for. They will brand you as a school with great academic results, or one with outstanding sports excellence or worse, one where students with poor grades end up.
Why the need to communicate?
Managing communications is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship or rapport with your key stakeholders across a host of platforms in order to shape and frame their perception of your company. In the past, Public Relations professionals in their publicity campaigns would use an array of tools like staging a media conference, issue a news statement, release it on print or air or online.
Today, with the advent of social media the field has been disrupted because of the speed in which news and information is disseminated on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Weibo etc. A good example is President Donald Trump of USA. He uses Twitter as his primary channel to announce policies and official statements, and the world picks them up.
In these evolving and challenging times, the PR communicator has to observe the following:
First, there is a need to know your medium. Understand the mechanics and the strengths of each of the media platforms, and ascertain which is most suitable for your product or service. When PR and social media marketing, including advertising are combined in an integrated marketing communications campaign, the impact will be powerful.
Second, know the demographics and the individuals you want to target, Once you know who your targeted audience is, find out which media they are interested in, which social media platform are they active on, and then you plan your approach accordingly.
Third, work on the content of your messages to your audience. Be genuine in your outreach and inject creativity. After all you want to them to follow your posts, read and believe in your messages.
Creative ideas do not come easily. Years ago before the advent of social media, a client from Thailand wanted to launch a new brand of high quality mattress in Singapore. The materials were from US but the mattress was assembled in Thailand. The brief was that it wanted to be high up there with existing established brands.
We came up with a brainwave. We informed journalist that they could stay for two complimentary nights in a five-star hotel, where the room’s bed would be fitted with the client’s mattress. The catch was that they had to register at the press conference to pick the dates of their stay on a first-come, first-served basis. The response was overwhelming and the media publicity garnered was several times more than the value of the hotel room for 30 nights. The editor of a lifestyle magazine in response to a question (What is the best PR approach you’ve experienced?) posed by the Marketing magazine said “The most inventive and pleasurable one had to be Mileage Communications’ launch of the luxury bedding boutique. Extremely effective and memorable”.
What are the goals of Public Relations?
Here is a list of what PR can achieve, if its communication goals are executed well:
1 Raise awareness of the organisation
2 Achieve positive impact on sales and revenue
3 Attract the right employees to join the organisation
4 Improve staff relations
5 Maintain strong shareholder and prospective investor relations
7 Overcome and correct misconceptions regarding the organisation, its products and services
8 Manage, mitigate and solve issues and crises
9 Build rapport with the community it operates and serves in
10 Maintain positive relations with the authorities, regulatory agencies, unions etc
In summary, if the business of Public Relations is done well, it will protect the organisation’s reputation and present a favourable image to all its stakeholders.