Public Relations or PR is not a new field; but the term is often loosely used to describe everything from marketing and advertising, to events. Few truly understand what PR entails and how it can create long-term value for a business or brand.
PR people are essentially storytellers. We use persuasive narratives to build mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their target audience. Unlike advertising, which utilises paid media, PR leverages on relationship-building to earn media placements for its clients.
Many businesses prefer to invest in activities which are thought of as generating direct streams of revenue, such as SEO (search engine optimisation), and prospecting via B2B platforms such as LinkedIn. These activities are often done in place of, or while turning a blind eye to, creating opportunities to establish trust and long-term relationships with their target audiences through activities such as PR. This can be a mistake; as consumers very rarely engage with something they don’t know, let alone don’t trust.
Like many other industries, PR has not been left untouched by the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has noticeably shifted the way people interact with businesses, forcing brands and businesses to in turn change the way they interact with their consumers and target audience.
Interestingly, this has opened up some opportunities for PR to shine. Here’s how PR can benefit a brand or business in the long-run.
1. Cost-effective storytelling.
During the pandemic, many businesses were forced to slash their marketing and advertising budgets. Across Europe, ad spends went down by 9% on average in the first half of 2020. This forced businesses to rethink how they engage with their target audiences.
In times like this, PR is able to flex its muscles to complement direct marketing activities. Rather than utilising paid-for media space, PR leverages on compelling editorial narratives to communicate a brand’s key messages and values through free, or earned, media placements.
Related: The Power of Storytelling To Connect Authentically With Your Customers
2. Creating authentic and genuine connections.
People crave genuine connections with other people, and even brands and businesses they support. This trend heightened during the pandemic, as consumers started holding their brands to higher ethical and socially-conscious standards.
Trust has become an important factor when communicating with audiences, and this means that brands must strongly communicate their sense of purpose and meaning through their marketing efforts, without alienating their target audience. Failing to do so properly can cause severe damage to a brand’s reputation, like in the case of a local clothing brand by a Dutch designer.
Read more: "Impressive" Won't Win The Market. Try "Authentic"
3. Navigating against the backdrop of a crisis, such as Covid-19
Communicating against the backdrop of an ongoing crisis such as Covid-19, is different from communicating during peace time. As the ‘voice of reason’ in any business, seasoned PR professionals are aware of the sensitivities needed to navigate a crisis – the various options available, type of communication channels to use, as well as possible outcomes when each of these options are implemented.
One of the important areas of crisis communication is knowing how to contain a crisis in its aftermath, or minimising damage, particularly to the reputation or image of the business. To understand the importance of crisis management – or how the failure to do so can lead to more dire consequences – one only needs to look back to the gaffe by the former chairman of a local public transport operator.
4. Streamlining internal communications.
As businesses grow, it becomes vital to establish proper communications channels to convey information accurately and effectively within the organisation, whether from top-down or bottom-up. A well-oiled PR, and by extension, communications team, can help streamline an organisation’s internal communications, while ensuring they reflect the organisation’s values and objectives.
Corporate communications not only encompasses public relations, but also media relations, internal communications, reputation management, investor and/or government relations, and corporate social responsibility (CSR). This is why it is essential that the leadership of the organisation also includes a corporate communications expert.
5. Enhancing online presence.
Even before the pandemic, PR had started to broaden its focus from targeting traditional media channels to incorporating more online and digital platforms. The pandemic only accelerated this shift. Businesses started turning to more digital platforms during lockdowns, as they were the least impacted by the pandemic.
Influencer marketing forms an important component of this landscape, and many businesses are already leveraging on its benefits. However, one of the keys to a good influencer marketing campaign is ensuring that the content appears less like a sponsored or bought post, and more honest and objective, fulfilling the consumers’ need for genuine connections with a brand.
A well-executed influencer marketing campaign goes beyond plying celebrities with ‘freebies’ and hoping they say something favourable on your product or service on social media. It requires a well thought-out plan that includes engaging with the right influencer which is aligned to the values of the brand, conveying the brand’s key messages accurately, and closely monitoring results, among others. Insight from a PR professional can add considerable value in the success of an influencer marketing campaign.
In a nutshell, PR is an important cog of an organisation’s overall communications machinery. When done well, it can help new brands establish and build their presence on the right footing; while deepening engagement with stakeholders, creating/restoring trust and enhancing reputation for more established brands. Whether done in-house or by an external agency, good PR is essential for good business in today’s world.
The author in this article shares a couple of recent PR crisis. As a business, what can you do to handle a media crisis if faced with one? Pick up tips from this video!