"Let's bring PR in so they'll get us some media coverage for the new launch!"
"Let's make sure we have PR look this over to make us sound better."
"Can you have PR develop a plan to make sure the public thinks we're awesome?"
"Our customers keep complaining about our product – can we get PR in here to help drown that out with good stuff instead?"
"No one is following our Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Pinterest/LinkedIn/Foursquare account – can PR go get us more fans/followers/likes/subscribers/friends?"
We've all heard these things at one point or another in our career because people continue to misunderstand what public relations is. Despite coming up with new definitions, there continues to be a lack of awareness on the part of our clients, colleagues, and friends about what we actually do and the value that we bring to a business. PR isn't:
- Some transactional activity that's thought about only after the advertising campaign is created.
- Something that's brought in after the product is completed and you're gearing up for launch.
- About getting media coverage.
- About making the public think your product is the best or that your company is awesome
- About generating "buzz"
- Something that's going to cover up bigger issues like customer service or product quality
Public Relations is much deeper than all of this. Public Relations is about – you guessed it – building and maintaining relationships with the public, the very public buying your products, walking into your stores, writing about your company, and telling their friends about their experiences. Those users, demographics, markets, and audiences that you and your analysts always talk about? They're actual human beings. Human beings with very loud voices who can, at moment's notice, make or break your business. Your brand isn't determined by what you say you are, but by what you actually do. It's determined by what your customers see and hear from you every day.
The general public has never had more power than they do right now. Yet, businesses continue to try to take the easy way out clumsily advertising, optimizing, and marketing to these people like they're switches that can be turned on and off if we hit the right levers. What most companies don't realize is that not only is the public more powerful than ever, they are also smarter than ever too. Your customers, employees, and partners
want require more than a company talking at them – they want a company that talks with them. They want to talk to actual people. They want companies who care about more than selling more widgets. They want companies who think about something other than their own bottom line.
Paradoxically, organizations continue to look at public relations practitioners – the very people trained in developing and maintaining these relationships that are more important than ever – as little more than an afterthought. "Oh yeah – we're going to need PR to drum up some media coverage too!" Smart organizations are realizing that marketing and advertising can only take them so far. As my favorite book, the Cluetrain Manifesto says –
"We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with."
Successful organizations are integrating public relations earlier and deeper than ever before. Instead of being a key component of their marketing campaigns, PR is now becoming an integral part of their business plans. This integration, while more time-consuming, has many benefits:
- Online communities of advocates who promote your brand not because they're being paid or because they have to, but because they truly love your brand
- Consumers who are more likely to forgive when you inevitably make a mistake
- Employees who truly love your brand and who act as an extension of your marketing department through their everyday work
- People who will pay a little more for your product because they trust you
- Reporters who call you asking for story ideas instead of the other way around
- Organizations who voluntarily cross-promote your products/services because they trust and respect you
- People who will leap to your defense in the face of attacks and criticism
- A corporate voice that sounds authentically human instead of stiff, hollow, and fake
- Content that is entertaining, informative, and/or useful instead of screaming BUY OUR STUFF NOW!!!!
- Issues that never become full-blown crises because of the relationships that have been built with employees, customers, media, and partners
- Corporate counsel that represents the public, not just the bottom line or the shareholder
The public is more powerful now than ever before and good public relations has never been important for your brand. Shouldn't PR become more than a bullet point at the end of the agenda, more than last department to get budget allocations, more than the cherry on top of the sundae? Shouldn't your relationships with the public be a key component of everything you do?