Why public relations is important for business
In this guest post former Daily Telegraph journalist Alex Singleton and author of the PR Masterclass tackles the benefit of public relations for business. By Alex Singleton
The question almost every business wants to know is this: how can you be profitable while building a brand?
There is the business model that says you can lose lots of money for several years, while you lavish money on television advertising. This is all very well but it has a major flaw in it.
Al Ries and Laura Ries argue in The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR that the most successful product launches rely heavily on public relations (PR), rather than advertising.
They say: “Publicity provides the credentials that create credibility in the advertising. Until a new brand has some credentials in your mind, you are going to ignore its advertising.”
In other words, PR needs to come before advertising, and, most importantly, the PR team needs to be in charge of the marketing messages.
Not all companies understand this. Their PR teams are given third-division status. They get the scrapings from the marketing department’s budget.
PR staff are told to answer incoming phone calls from journalists and put out tedious press releases containing the latest corporate clichés. They spam social media with sales messages.
And they are hired with no experience, no qualifications, no membership of a professional body and no commitment to continuing professional development.
This sort of approach always fails. However, the companies that follow it so rarely measure the results that they simply can’t tell what effect their PR is having. Well, in my view, if you can’t measure PR, you can’t manage it.
That some companies don’t hire experienced PR teams is a shame, because when PR is done competently and creatively it delivers results at a cost that no other marketing method can match.
Admittedly, I do not believe the 95,000 websites which Google tells me say that “PR is free”. It costs money to run an effective PR campaign – such as polling costs, PR salaries and your time. But PR can do a lot with relatively small budgets.
What frequently fails to work – unless you’re a major listed company – is sending out press releases giving details of your products or personnel.
Sure, if you announce that you’ve developed a cure for cancer, it will get on the front page of every newspaper in the country. But few companies have the benefit of selling things that are so intrinsically newsworthy.
Instead, good PR campaigns operate like the ones run by All About Tea, a manufacturer of high-quality loose and bagged tea.
It created the world’s largest teabag and unveiled it aboard the HMS Warrior. This provided something a lot more interesting to media than had they issued a press release saying that they have a new blend of Earl Grey. The result of this record attempt? The company secured coverage from the BBC and ITV, in addition to the local press.
Meanwhile, companies which are good at PR find that it acts as preventative medicine in the case of a reputational threat. That’s for two reasons.
Firstly, if you have invested in building a reputation through the media, members of the public (and journalists) will be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. They’ll see that you are in the market for the long term.
Secondly, you’ll have the contacts with the right people, along with in-house experience, that will help you to respond speedily. Findus was slow to communicate during the horsemeat crisis: it didn’t have enough in-house resources or expertise to deal with the unexpected.
Well-trained PR teams don't just promote; they also protect.
Alex Singleton is a former journalist, who’s written for The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Mail Online. He is author of the PR Masterclass published by Wiley. You can connect with Alex via his blog or Twitter @alexsingletonuk.