Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keeping public relations in the mix

Graphic of mobile phone in a woman's hand.

The prevalence of social media and online marketing has overshadowed the traditional practice of public relations. Today, we often use "public relations" interchangeably with "crisis communications," and while that is a very important component, there is more to PR than addressing questions that you never imagined in your worst professional nightmares.

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as "a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics," which is a fancy way of saying "formal communication between your brand and various audiences." While print and television media are the first publics to come to mind, there are also consumers, professional groups, and community organizations included under that umbrella.

The relationship you build between your brand and your audiences positions you as an expert and a resource. Like any relationship, the public relations one is a marathon, and not a sprint. While "spin" will probably always exist to some extent, by communicating openly and honestly through public relations, you will build trust more effectively than sharing a meme on Facebook.

Some key points of public relations:
  • Message: Your message is a very important part of your brand's public relations. It's very much like a mission, and may very well be interchangeable in many cases. Your public relations message is like an office policy on steroids - it sets boundaries and expectations and provides a focal point. It can be easy, especially once you've developed relationships with media representatives, to drift off-message. By staying focused on it, you convey your message and avoid getting dragged into the fray of any controversy.
  • Media/Audience Relations: Online marketing is advertising, and social media is a conversation (albeit a largely reactive one - you post something and respond to any questions or comments), but media relations requires the ability to think on your feet. Questions in an interview, at a Q & A for a speaking engagement, or as follow-up to a news release have an immediacy to them that other channels don't - you have to answer the question when it's asked without Google or clearing your response with a supervisor. This is when staying on message and believing in your brand come in especially handy. You should be able to answer anything an interviewer throws at you honestly and easily by sticking with your message. If your brand itself or your industry is embroiled in some level of controversy, public relations can again prepare you with a...
  • Communications (aka Crisis) Strategy: Part of your public relations plan should be planning for the worst. If a brand is closely associated with a spokesperson or another organization, the brand manager(s) should have a plan in place should a scandal erupt. A good communications strategy and plan of action will help minimize any collateral damage to your brand, so you must try to imagine the worst and have a plan in place at all times. In other words, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Recently, Subway quickly and efficiently terminated its relationship with a spokesperson and really wasn't tainted by the media storm surrounding said spokesperson. The chances that the powers that be at Subway came up with that plan after they turned on the morning news is slim - you can bet that they had their "just-in-case" plan ready for years.
Square graphic with a teal background with a white crown and "Keep Calm, You Are In Public Relations."
Good advice.

Must-Have, Non-Negotiable Skills:
  • Writing: News releases and statements are the most common public relations writings, but you may also be called upon to write position pieces. If you're not a writer, hire someone for the task. These communications are both more formal and more substantial than social media posts, and you must be able to present your material in a manner reflecting that.
  • Public Speaking: If you're a PR manager, you're going to have to speak in public or on camera at some point. It's important for the audience to see you as confident, so if you're uncomfortable with this aspect, get involved with a group such as Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie. When you are in front of a group, as far as they're concerned you are the brand, so this is ultimately an investment in the brand itself. Speaking in public isn't easy, and not everyone can do it, even with training, so keep the option of hiring a spokesperson open.
  • Creativity and Good Judgement: What could be seen as a PR stunt in some hands could be completely brilliant when executed properly. Be open to new ideas and inspiration, but make sure they don't betray the brand you've spent such time and energy building.
  • Grace Under Pressure: Public relations can be frustrating at times and you're human, so there will be times that your nerves are frayed and you will want nothing more than to cut loose on someone. As long as you never, ever act on that urge you'll be fine. If someone goading you sets off your temper (in person, over the phone, on social media or in email), it may be best to look into hiring a spokesperson or PR manager, as losing your cool just once could damage your brand. Remember, the Internet never forgets anything, and a momentary lapse could haunt you for a very long time.

Meme of John Travolta kissing Scarlett Johanssen.
The Internet never forgets.
Just ask John Travolta.
Public relations is a big job. If you want to put a plan in place, or let an agency handle the duties, contact Brockett Creative Group by calling 315-797-5088 or emailing us here.

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