Change is happening in the world of public relations this week; not only am I writing Marketing Week’s first PR column since the magazine’s establishment in 1978, but the profession is finally being honoured with its own award category at the 56th Annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. This is a giant leap for PR mankind. To make the guestlist on the French Riviera after 56 years and to establish a presence in MW after more than three decades is no mean feat.
It is ironic that a profession dedicated to advising organisations how to improve and manage their public image suffers from an often tarnished reputation itself. This may not be wholly underserved/ 70% of the clients that my company takes on admit to having previously had a bad experience of PR. But this is simply down to education and a case of the misdemeanours of the few tainting the good work of the many. In any industry profession there are good and bad practitioners.
When it comes to the crunch, the PR profession is arguably the oldest and most powerful sector of the marketing industry and a critical business skill. PR affects everyone’s daily lives and I’m sure few could argue that pretty much every key event in history has been fought as a battle of hearts and minds. Could anyone argue that Jesus’ disciples were not public relations stars in their authenticity and holistic intent? A more modern take on it? The death of Princess Diana. The whole tragedy turned in to one big PR battle with the royal family on one side, Diana’s brother on the other, and us and the media somewhere in between. Every election of a political leader in the world since time began has been a battle of ideas and words.
Effective public relations is pivotal to every single facet of life and business, playing a continuous role in how reputations are won and lost. That is what is at stake every time marketers try to engage customers with their brands.
So I urge marketers to address the importance of integrating public relations into everything they do for the brands of which they are custodians. I promise you now that well thought out, creative, strategic public relations will have a significant impact on maximising any marketing communications activity.
According to a study by the US Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, more than 75% of the market value of a typical Fortune 500 company is accounted for by intangible assets such as brand value and reputation. If this is true, surely brands cannot afford to overlook the vital role good public relations can play in delivering that value.
Good public relations is an exceptionally powerful weapon in any marketers armoury. Its power and influence (which I view as the art of reputation management) at any level, be it strategic or tactical, is as great as the lack of understanding, awareness and respect the profession often garners.
In these times of deep public distrust, brands in particular have to work far harder to deliver in their role and engage with people. They need to work smarter, not just harder. PR can contribute significantly in the challenge of getting industry and public relationships back on track. Put simply, the role of the marketer is to engender strong, loyal, mutually beneficial and profitable relationships with the customer base of the organisation or brand they are responsible for. This challenge can only be won by reputation as a starting point.
Throughout recorded history humans have “published” with the tools of the day. Be it shouting from treetops, distributing parchment manuscripts by horseback, Second World War propaganda trailers before Clark Gable movies, faxed press releases sharing professional accomplishments, political billboards, annual corporate reports, or Nixon feigning righteous indignation from the Oval Office. Humans have and will always communicate, manipulate, “spin”, all in the spirit of reputation management. And that’s why PR is so important.
As the legendary US investor Warren Buffett said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it.”
According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, “PR is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain good will and understanding between an organisation and its public”. In simpler terms, you could say that PR is the total management of reputation. Note the word “total”: in my opinion PR should encompass every communications activity that an organisation initiates or experiences with any of its stakeholders.
In these challenging times PR is deservedly earning increased recognition. It must be integral to any marketing communications strategy. The profession has a greater contribution to make to brand trust and communication than ever before. The positive and very real opportunities effective public relations presents to any marketing-led business or individual are invaluable and limitless. From getting the most out of your marketing campaign to managing total reputation, PR is a way of life that has been here since the dawn of time and the sun will never set on it.