Thursday, March 25, 2010

Marketing Strategy : The PR Factor

The PR Factor

Originally Published Here in

In marketing theory and practice, Public Relations have often been a neglected child. Even in the companies’ promotional mix, Public Relations have been given less focus and importance. But in this period of resource constraint, Public Relations have assumed importance that no marketer can afford to ignore.

Traditionally Public Relations department were more concerned with managing media than anything else. This function was characterised by the mundane job of preparing and releasing the press releases and maintaining vital contacts with the media. With the advent of consumerism, corporate began to take serious note of managing the noise about the company and the brand in the media space. Public Relations then assumed the role of crisis management and were put into action whenever such a negative vibes began to surface.

PR never acquired the status of a long term strategic tool for brand promotion. Despite the advantages, marketers were clue-less about using PR as a permanent promotional tool. The fundamental reason is that the power of PR lies in the media. It is a tough task to get the brand /company featured in a newspaper. And it will be a near impossible goal to regularly feature in the media. So virtually marketers believed themselves as powerless in managing their voice in the media space.

But not anymore..

The increasing penetration of internet and the evolution of social media have thrown open new set of opportunities for managing public relations. For that, marketers have to redefine the concept of public relations in the new digital world.

Redefining Public Relations

As the term implies, Public Relations is managing relationship with public. But marketers so far have tried to define Public Relations as managing media. When we redefine PR as managing relationship with public, it is no longer dependent on the media. Media becomes one of the many tools that can be used to reach out to the public.

Why PR was highly dependent on traditional media was because there was no other viable alternative channel to reach the public. Hence traditional media assumed significance as the sole aggregator and distributor of information to the public. Since the audience relied heavily on traditional media, the responsibility of media also increased. All these made the media very powerful. Marketers then tried to manage media so that their message could be given prominence. And now PR has assumed the status of a mere press –releasing mechanism. Companies began to rely on external PR agencies that had the right contacts with the media to get their releases published.

By defining PR as media management is stripping this powerful tool and relegating PR to a necessary evil rather than a strategic tool. When PR is defined as a tool for managing relationship with Public, it acquires strategic importance.

Reaching out to Public

The fundamental objective of PR is to build and manage relationship with the stakeholders. Traditional PR tools like press releases, lobbying, inviting journalists to the factory, press meets etc are all passive actions surrendering the power of information to the traditional media. The assumption is that without media, information flow to the public cannot happen. This assumption has prevented many marketers in identifying and investing in new methods of reaching out to the public.

The internet has opened up a new media which could be effectively used by the marketer to reach out to the public. While television and newspapers are the most effective media to reach masses, marketers have to create new channels and mediums through which they could communicate to the public.

PR is not free.

PR is often defined as a non-paid form of communication and this view of PR has prompted marketers to ignore investing in building PR assets. In a rush to get the ‘free publicity’, marketers tend to spend huge amount of money on short-term publicity stunts that may not have much effect on the brand equity.

Marketer should start to think about investing in Public Relations. Investing means that marketers should be able to built and manage new channels for communicating with the stakeholders. These include creating dedicated PR personnel, toll free numbers, well designed websites and more importantly a long term strategy.

Have a story to tell

PR is about relationships and brands have to first take the initiative in reaching out to the public. Having a toll free number or a website is not enough for a consumer to get in touch with the company. This is where the long term strategy comes into play.

Both the public and the media are fond of stories. Brands need to tell touching stories if it wants to catch the fancy of the media and public. Brands like Apple, Harley Davidson are powerful storytellers and both media and the public are hungry for more stories. Hence the starting point of any PR activity is to create stories. Create a powerful story and media will love you for it.

Harnessing Social Media

Social media has assumed lot of significance in recent times. Marketers are still clueless on ways to use this powerful media to their advantage. Social media have also tilted the power balance of traditional media. Now there is a true democratization of information and media no longer commands the power it had a decade ago.

The challenge is to use the social media for maintaining public relations. Marketers have to be self-less in dealing with social media. Hence candid sharing of information and thoughts can be facilitated through this media which has the power to generate very valuable word-of –mouth publicity.

Be a good citizen

While venturing into PR, it is important for marketers to be good corporate citizens. Brands which strive for good causes have always been the darlings of media and the public. So while creating powerful stories, marketers should pitch for that story which strikes a chord with the public.

Infosys has built its brand not by spending huge money on advertising .It became the media’s darling because it represented a story, it is a good citizen and the management invested in managing the relationship.