Why pay for public relations (PR)?
Public relations (PR) is a low-cost option for getting information out to your audience about your products and services. Apart from the time it takes to get the story you want in front of the relevant media, there isn’t much else to it. In fact, this article probably has the wrong heading – ‘why you shouldn’t pay for PR’ would be more appropriate.
Ok, so I am obviously being flippant ahead of making a point, but this does go straight to the heart of the problem with PR and with marketing in general (PR is part of the wider marketing ‘mix’ – did you know that?). People don’t expect to pay for marketing, or they expect to do lots of it themselves and offload the too-hard parts to an agency (and we are grateful for this of course). But PR, much like branding, digital marketing, content marketing, event management and all the rest, should not be treated as something separate or ‘easier’ just because you can do it yourself.
The marketers among you will know that PR (publicity) is part of the promotional mix as laid down by The Chartered Institute of Marketing and others. It is a key element of the area of marketing that deals with communicating with the audience (prospects and customers). And there are very good reasons for this integrated approach.
How ‘social’ became business as usual
The digital era opened the floodgates to instant communication. We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us what to buy, what to think, how to behave etc. And consumers are no longer just recipients, we send out messages to businesses too, by text, email and social media. We all know the problems this freedom to communicate brings – a text meant for your partner accidentally sent to your mother; a joke email inadvertently copied to your uptight boss. It’s easy to see how the problems we have managing our personal digital footprint spills over into the business world. The lines of communication have become blurred.
PR used to be so easy – your PR executive would write a passable press release for you to approve and, if you were lucky, the news desk picked it up and, hopefully, a positive article about your product/service/event made it into the media. Alright, so it was never quite as simple as that – the PR assistant didn’t understand the product well enough and the news desk ignored your press release, but it worked on a good day. And it had very little to do with the rest of your marketing. (I worked for a UK high street retailer in the 90s and the PR office was totally separate from the marketing function – it wasn’t even in the same town!)
Today, the scene is infinitesimally more complicated – and intricated. Anyone who is responsible now for how their organisation communicates with the outside world needs to manage multiple channels: web, video, social, email, TV, and all of them can instantly communicate your message to the outside world.
When not to take matters into your own hands
Knowing that we can write our own content, do our own PR, and sidestep the media to a greater or lesser extent, is very powerful. But, as already mentioned, it is dangerous. I would also add that it can make you prone to a ‘so what?’ response from an over-communicated with audience. You know that great line in the Disney film: “When everyone is super, no one will be”?
Far better, therefore, to have someone else commend you and this is where the media will always have a part to play. Third-party endorsement, impartiality – call it what you like – but a glowing write-up or social mention about your organisation by a reputable channel is worth its weight in gold, precisely because you can’t pay for it.
For our business-to-business clients – where information is often complex, technical and jargon-ridden, it can be an onerous task drilling down to find the marketing messages that make the product or service hit their audience’s sweet spot. Help with writing good copy about tough topics is why clients come to us in the first place.
Our specialist writers and content management experts are never happier than when they are making nuts, bolts and widgets sound sexy! The challenge of taking a client brief, describing the (often highly complex) product or service in a way that will entice the reader to find out more and/or buy, in words and phrases that are true that client’s tone of voice and in line with their business strategy, is very satisfying.
It is also time-consuming, skilled and demanding. By the time our editors and proofreaders have poured over the meaning and nuance of every line of copy that we produce, we can be quite confident that it is ready to face the scrutiny of your audience – and that includes the media.
It is often just a matter of our PR experts repurposing the copy we have already written for your whitepaper, website or brochure and turning it into a press release. Our practice of integrating clients’ communications saves time and costs too – and it is obvious why when you stop and think about it.
So, yes, it is increasingly ‘noisy’ out there. It is easy to send out your own PR and that’s fine if you are confident to do so, but if you take just one morsel of advice from reading this: don’t have a scattergun approach. If you have paid a professional to write some effective copy, think about how that message can be reworked into other useful communications. That way you will start to develop a consistent tone of voice strong enough to be heard above the online clatter.