by Oct 2, 2018on
The formal practice of public relations can be dated back to the early 20th Century. Since then, “public relations” has been defined in a lot of different ways as its role has shifted in parallel with the demands and expectations of consumers. In 2012, the Public Relations Society of America worked with the public at large to define public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
In other words, it’s about building and maintaining your reputation with anyone who ever has, or will form an opinion about your business (current or potential customers, members of the community, voters, the media, your vendors, industry partners – the list is endless).
From these definitions, it might be easy to write public relations off as a marketing practice only needed by larger organizations, or businesses involved in hot-button issues like politics, energy or health care. But discount the need for public relations at a small or medium-sized business at your own risk. There may be no such thing as bad publicity, but there is such a thing as handling your publicity badly, and one poorly thought out response to a media inquiry could land your brand in hot water for years to come.
Handling the flow of information between a business and the public can take many forms, and indeed should depending on the information being shared and the audience it is being shared with. For example, the language and content used in an announcement about your new retail location will sound very different when shared with the local business journal versus a notice to nearby residents. The business journal will be interested in the number of jobs being created while the nearby residents will want to know how an increased demand in parking may affect their home life.
Let’s take a look at a few of the ways public relations professionals can help shape your business’ reputation.
Public relations professionals spend a lot of their time cultivating relationships with media outlets, publications, and journalists. They spend time researching each journalist’s area of expertise or personal interests to best understand what types of stories he or she may be interested in hearing about. The goal is to craft a well-written press release with a newsworthy angle about your organization that can translate directly into an article or story – saving the journalist valuable time in pulling together the facts or tracking down sources. With the right combination of press release and journalist, an organization can get a substantial amount of “free” press in third-party publications, building a significant amount of brand credibility and trustworthiness.
A press kit can serve a variety of functions, but is primarily used either as a follow up to a press release, or as a way to promote awareness about a new product. The kit contains anything that may help a journalist understand more about the client or their product, including things like executive or business profiles, testimonials, photographs, in-depth product descriptions, product samples, recent press releases or media coverage, product demonstration videos, and (of course) contact information for requesting additional information.
Over time, a good public relations professional will build their client up to be seen as an expert in their respective field. When writing articles, journalists often seek out experts who can be reached and interviewed on a moment’s notice (the news waits for no one!). For example, if a city proposes rolling out free, city-wide Wi-Fi access, a journalist will write about obstacles the city will face, including technology limitations or security concerns. The journalist will thumb through their contacts looking for people who have the credentials and credibility to weigh in on a topic like internet security, and reach out for a comment in person or by phone. These opportunities not only position that person as an expert in the eyes of the reader, but also increases the likelihood of that journalist covering their next press release.
Every business worth its salt will find itself in front of the media at some point or another. Public relation professionals work with anyone at your organization who may need to interact with the media, particularly for radio or television interviews. They will help prepare answers to questions that are likely to be asked, brainstorm ways to guide questions and answers back to the desired messaging, and coach on how to look comfortable without looking casual. An innocent looking interview can turn into an interrogation quickly, and the interviewee needs to be prepared on how to adapt and adjust their responses on the fly.
There are innumerable kinds of public relations crises, some of which are completely out of an organization’s control. Organizations of all types and sizes are encouraged to consider what types of emergencies might affect the organization, their customers or their brand. What impact might a large natural disaster, technical issue, human error or legal concern have on your business? A crisis management plan identifies as many disaster scenarios as possible, and lays out a specific response plan for each, including when customers and the media should be contacted, by whom, and what messaging should be shared. Preparing this information in advance can mean the difference between weathering a public relations storm, or being forced to close up shop.
Although you can do your best to prepare, sometimes things happen that we could have never seen coming. In these situations, it’s incredibly important to have a public relations professional on hand to help guide your organization through the crisis in a timely manner. Depending on the situation, you may need to be making public responses within hours, at any hour of the day. Under this type of stress, it can be easy to give knee-jerk responses that later turn out to be untrue (making you look untrustworthy, even if the intentions were good), or wait too long to respond (making you look uncaring, and giving the public time to form their own opinions of what has happened). A public relations professional will help put together a response and timeline appropriate to the situation, including who will be the organization’s mouthpiece for this issue, and they will respond to questioning.
Public relations is important for every business, in every industry, whether there is a crisis on hand or not. The success or failure of businesses often rests on a reputation that has already been built, and public relations works to build this reputation around the right messaging. If you’re ready to start shaping the public perception of your business, or recognize the need to adjust how your organization is already perceived,!