PR, our misunderstood member within the family?
Demistifying the crucial role of PR in the business strategy of a company and its unique features that make it different from other areas involved in promotional and sales processes.
Many PR professionals that I have talked to, myself included, have been living with the frustration that people who are not in this industry don’t really know exactly what a PR does. Our friends are not sure what we do, our parents and grandparents are confused when they have to explain to their friends and acquitances what our job is about, even some companies that hire PR professionals don’t really know what the job description should include or leave out and what added value a public relations specialist can bring to the business.
When I was first hired on a PR role by a company and I extatically called my mother to give her the good news, her reaction was: “Oh! Really? I thought your dream was to become a writer, not work in customer relations. Is this about the money? Because if it is, I can help you pay your bills until you can make your dream come true”. My best friend has been telling people for years that I work in advertising and do commercials. Even my husband, until a few months ago, was pretty sure that I work in marketing and PR and marketing are pretty much the same thing. Thank God we got that sorted without any collateral victims.
The truth is everybody knows what a doctor, lawyer, teacher or construction worker does to earn their living, but very few people know what a PR does. That’s partly because PR is not a science, it doesn’t always have clear rules and partly because the lines between PR and other areas, such as advertising, marketing, social media, business development, even sales, are becoming more and more blurred. But what is really PR and why do organizations, politicians or rock stars need it? They need it because it raiseses awarness, helps them build and enhance their reputation, persuades their audiences to become their customers, vote for them or buy tickets to their concerts and influences these audiences to share their messages in order to increase their visibility.
At its core, public relations is about communicating and storytelling. An exceptional PR professional is a great storyteller, able to craft appealing messages and frame them positively and truthfully, even if the background of the story is not that positive.
Effective public relations is ethical and factually accurate. I have heard this story over and over again: brands that went through rough times that made them lose the trust of customers hire a PR professional or PR agency and expect them to fix their image over night, by spreading untruthfull messages in the media, that make them look good. The truth will always come out, even if not immediately and when it does, it could backfire incredibly. A good PR practitioner will not hide the trash under the carpet, knowing that it could always be found by an enthusiastic journalist that has done his or her homework properly. Instead, the aforementioned PR will find ways to control the damage.
Write a story about this important thing that happened to us!
Although PR is a lot about writing stories and spreading them in the media, it is definitely not about writing stories about anything and everything. Not every topic is newsworthy, even if it is an important accomplishment for the organization or client the PR is working for. It can definitely be shared on the social media channels or put into a paid advertorial, but the media will only publish a story about it, if it’s newsworthy. And why is that? That’s because PR is earned media, not advertising, which is paid media.
Good PR professionals will always put themselves in the shoes of a reporter or editor before writing a press release and ask themselves: Is there really a story here? Who cares about it besides myself and the actor of the story? Why would people want to read it, what benefit would it bring to them: useful knowledge, entertainment, warning? Why is this topic important now? Sometimes another topic that is related to the “important thing that happened”, but doesn’t seem that appeling in the first place, could be the interesting story that needs to be told. PR professionals that keep digging and asking questions might find gems that can be turned into very high coverage stories.
I’ve come to you because you work in marketing
I’ve heard this line too, many times, from people who didn’t quite know what I did for a living. And my answer has always been: “No, I don’t! But I do work closely with marketing professionals, so tell me what this is about. Maybe I can recommend you to one.”
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” This shows very clearly that marketing involves communication, but is much broader than public relations, a bigger umbrella. Public relations is only one bit of marketing, the bit that has to do with promotion.
Marketing is all about letting customers know a solution to their problem exists, while PR spreads the news about the benefits of that solution. PR and marketing do overlap and rely on each other, but they have different goals and different tools to reach those goals. They are also most effective when used together.
Or, more simply put, as S.H. Simmons says: “If a young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If the young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is, that’s advertising. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart, and successful her date is, that’s public relations.”
We want to hire a PR to help us grow our business
“We want to hire a PR to help us grow our business!” Not just me, but other PR professionals I know went to job interviews full of enthusiasm and drive to show what they know about building a company’s reputation, only to find out that the employer was in fact looking for a business development professional. This rather happens in smaller companies where marketing, PR and business development functions are combined in one role, usually called Marketing & Business Development Manager or Director.
Why is this bad or wrong? First of all because it confuses customers and second, and, most importantly of all, it is very unlikely that a true professional has the necessary skills sets to perform in three different areas or the time to do properly three jobs in the amount of time in which most people do only one. It’s not realistic, fulfilling for the individual or productive for the company.
There is one core responsibility of business development: growing your business. Every business needs to acquire new customers to grow. Business development professionals are responsible for prospecting and qualifying leads before handing them off to the sales team. What business development and PR have in common is the focus on building relationships, the audiences are different though and so are their roles in a company chart.
Selling products and services is not an easy job. It requires a lot of effort and lots of overlapping areas, but each one of them has a specific function that should never be confused.
- Product development creates the product
- Marketing helps create a demand for the product
- Advertising promotes the benefits of the product
- PR spreads the word about how great the product is
- Business development builds the relationships with potential customers
- Sales sell the product.