As a discipline, public relations is enjoying unprecedented attention. Depending on where you sit, PR agencies and their corporate counterparts have hastened the demise of traditional advertising, lured away all the good journalists, and flooded the market with branded content.
Some of these are exaggerated, but it’s a terrific time to be working in PR. The disruptive changes in both journalism and traditional advertising have opened doors and helped drive growth for our business. Now is the time for PR agencies and internal communications departments to reach for those fat brand marketing budgets.
But it’s not always that simple. Even savvy marketing professionals tend to oversimplify PR or reduce it to stereotypes. Sometimes we’re given too much credit, in other cases, PR is a “below the line” afterthought. Besides common myths and misperceptions (no, PR isn’t just about smiling and dialing for media hits) that have been well covered, here’s my list of what marketers should know about public relations as it relates to their role.
PR doesn’t replace sales. Startup businesses sometimes see a PR campaign as a substitute for a robust sales and marketing commitment, but it’s unlikely to do the job. It can help build a reputation, influence stakeholders (like funders and business partners), and even differentiate a business or brand versus competitors. But it doesn’t usually close the deal.
Or drive demand during slow periods. It’s been known to happen, but when it comes to demand generation, earned media is an unreliable tool. If you’re using PR to drive product sales or conversions online, for example, that’s a tall order and it’s unlikely to do the job without paid media or direct marketing tactics. It’s at the top of the funnel where the content resulting from a strategic PR program is likely to have an impact.
PR can and should be measured, but not as advertising. Most PR people will tell you that the “ad equivalent” metric that equates earned media outcomes to ad value is a flawed comparison. If they’re honest they’ll admit it gives an earned media placement too much credit while failing to capture what PR does well.
It’s nearly impossible to PR a sales promotion. It’s far better to bring in the PR team in advance of a special offer or product promotion than to expect them to generate media coverage or social word-of-mouth about a commercial offer. That’s where paid media can do the job better and more credibly.
PR needs good direction. It shouldn’t be relegated to stepchild status; in fact, your PR team, whether internal or on the agency side, can benefit from the same type of creative brief and data-driven audience analysis as any other part of marketing.
PR can’t fix every reputation issue. When a company or brand’s image suffers due to nonexistent customer service or shoddy product quality, no amount of spin will change the situation. Often what we call a “PR crisis” is really a business problem that must be attended to before any effective fire-fighting can be done. A strategic PR campaign works best to promote (legitimate) product attributes or to help restore a reputation after measures have been taken to fix a problem.
Social media isn’t really ownable. At least, not by a given department. Social media can and should support customer service, HR, ad/marketing, and PR functions. I personally think a PR-savvy individual or team should be in charge of social media coordination within the organization. But the broader point is that like any other type of media, social media is a versatile and dynamic tool that touches all stakeholders and customers and should be treated as such.