Revolutionary Measures

5 things that Public Relations can – and can’t – do

In the 25+ years I’ve been working in public relations I’ve seen the entire industry shift, as digitisation has transformed media relations, content and the channels that businesses use to communicate with their audiences. We’ve moved from a situation where media relations was king to a more nuanced, wider ranging and more interesting world, where PR is more strategic and (hopefully) more valued.

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However, one thing that never changes is that a lot of people I talk to are still not 100% sure what PR can, and cannot do. And while, like many things, what it is achievable can change, here are 5 areas that commonly cause confusion:

1.Immediate PR results take time
To communicate your messages to your chosen audiences, you obviously need to know what you want to say and who you want to reach. And this has to be realistic – you can’t expect a start-up with nothing more than an idea to immediately appeal to a mass consumer audience. It takes time to build a brand, and that requires patience and an ongoing supply of stories that show momentum and are of interest to the people you want to communicate with, whether they are potential or actual customers, partners, investors and/or relevant media. So my recommendation for any company is be patient – we may live in an accelerated news cycle, but it still takes time and sustained effort to get your messages across.

2.Honesty is central to successful PR
Despite the talk about spin and companies using PR to pull the wool over people’s eyes, the profession can only do so much. The public is rightly cynical about companies that have a bad reputation and fail to own up to past mistakes. The first step to turning round perceptions is to be honest and make a real attempt at changing. It has to be genuine, rather than a smokescreen, and that often means cultural change is required. Look at the likes of Uber, which transformed its approach with a new CEO – it may not have rebuilt trust completely, but it is clearly committed to working on it.

3.PR is not just media relations
For many, media relations – talking to journalists and writing/sending press releases is what PR is all about. However, while media relations can be a key part of a campaign, it is not the only tool in the PR box. Reaching the right people, with the right messages, covers a wide range of tactics outside just talking to the press. I’ve seen PR campaigns that involve no media content, or that are focused on getting to customers, employees or influencers directly through other channels outside the press. This does make the boundaries of PR fluid, and the profession should embrace this rather than funnelling resources just down the media relations route.

4.PR can’t guarantee coverage
Time and time again, I’ve had potential clients come to me asking to get into the Financial Times or an equivalent title. That’s despite having no news or messaging that will appeal to that particular audience – or even any reason for actually reaching a certain group. I once had a PR manager ask me to get their company into the print edition of the Daily Mail, as “that’s what the CEO’s wife’s friends read,” and they wanted to something to boast about at the bridge club. Equally, there’s no such thing as guaranteed coverage – a journalist can write a story and then it doesn’t make it into the paper/onto the website due to any number of external factors. So look very closely at any promises from PR agencies that they will get you into certain titles – are they actually able to deliver?

5.PR can’t hide bad news forever
We live in a world where everyone has a smartphone, an opinion and the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences. That means it is extremely difficult to keep bad news out of the public eye over the long-term. As the likes of Sir Philip Green have discovered, even expensive lawyers can’t achieve that. What PR can do is help you communicate your story, but your story has to be believable to start with. Creating a strong, genuine brand reputation, built up over years, is the best defence against any negative news that does arrive. It won’t prevent damage completely, but it will provide a context and the chance to explain and apologise.

The power of public relations is growing as more and more brands make it a core part of their marketing, rather than a tactical add-on. However, it is vital to be clear where its limitations lie – don’t fall for the spin.

March 20, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment