The old trope about moving to the “dark side” from the pristine sunny world of the media offers a fun but inaccurate depiction of public relations.
Public relations is essentially the use of communications to build and maintain relationships between an organisation and its stakeholders – customers, suppliers, local government, the general public and so forth.
There is an inaccurate image of PR as a means to block and manipulate news in order to shield organisations and leave stakeholders in the dark, but that’s a lazy distortion. If anything, the opposite is true. There’s more transparency now in business than ever and that’s partly thanks to modern PR.
PR comes in different shapes and forms, with the main ones as follows:
Strategic PR communications
Just as all businesses have a strategy to achieve their objectives, all PR needs to be strategic in a way that aligns with the business ambitions. This is likely to tie in with marketing and advertising, although PR is distinct from both these functions.
For a PR agency to do that, it needs to understand the organisation’s business and strategy, along with key audiences. Sometimes, the agency may have to help the organisation to articulate its strategy and mission, prepare messaging and coach spokespeople on how best to present it. This can include media training.
To support the spokespeople, a PR agency like Sapience will develop interview briefing documents, by-lined articles, blogs, tweets, speeches, video scripts, press releases, company statements and more to help build a corporate narrative.
Within the framework of strategic communications will be separate campaigns with specific goals over a specific time period and usually targeted at a specific audience. PR agencies, such as Sapience, can draw on their experience with a wide range of clients to identify and develop campaign ideas that will work in different situations for clients.
In the PESO model – that’s Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned – for media communications, media relations focuses on earned media.
Strong media relations capabilities are a key requirement for a PR agency. When thinking of target audiences, it is easy and understandable for company executives to focus on customers, shareholders, regulators, bosses on another continent and other stakeholders. But if reaching those audiences is through the media, then having good relationships with reporters and editors, along with understanding the needs of the media is vital.
The media is needed for the dissemination of press releases, pitching interviews and articles; conversely PR agencies are also needed by the media for the news, interviews and articles. Alongside that, PR executives can soft sound reporters with story ideas and explain the types of business their clients are engaged in. This lays the groundwork for future coverage and helps to ensure the quality of the what’s written – and that’s in the interest of both parties.
Of course, it’s normal for published earned media coverage to feed into shared and owned media channels as well.
It’s an old one, but the most important part of any business is its people. It’s vital for employers to maintain good relations with their employees to ensure the smooth running of the business. Open and effective communications are central to that.
Internal communications is becoming an increasingly important part of PR, particularly for global companies that need messaging that works for employees in all locations. A company’s employees need to buy in to the mission and messaging. It creates loyalty, is a source of motivation and can form part of the employer value proposition. Importantly, however, employees are among the biggest advocates – even brand ambassadors – for a company.
Internal communications work can include managing employee surveys and questionnaires, liaising with unions and involvement on dispute resolution, workplace training and awards, well-being programmes, onboarding and recruitment, along with other initiatives.
Reputations take years to build and minutes to destroy. Crises can do just that – destroy reputations. It makes crisis communications a vital area of PR, one can involve all facets of PR work. From an issue such as a cockroach in the canteen through to a data breach or product recall, a company’s reputation is on the line.
A Sapience we believe the art of PR in these situations is to avoid the crisis in the first place. In many situations that is possible by putting effective groundwork in place, but if not, the impact can be mitigated by having up-to-date crisis protocols in place, which would include communications. All of this needs to be done in advance – once a crisis starts, it’s usually too late, while the cost of dealing with it goes up.
The groundwork would include having good media relations, so that the media are more likely to be supportive and seek a response before publishing anything. Good social media monitoring is a vital tool as rumours and news spread quickest through these channels. Crisis protocols would include having both holding and crisis communication statement templates in place, ready for use, along with clarity on the spokesperson, including an escalation process up to the CEO.
The PR agency will help ensure both the timing and the tone of the communications is right. This includes tailoring the appropriate messaging, along with the choice of wording for spoken and written communications – empathetic, understanding, purposeful, not defensive.
Public affairs PR is also known as lobbying. It aims to help build connections and relations with decision-makers, be they regulators, government officials, trade associations, think tanks, business groups, NGOs and others, with a view to helping to shape legislation, decisions and opinions. The objective, of course, is to further the interests of the company or organisation in question.
A PR agency specialising in public affairs will have an understanding of the legislation or issues at stake and will be able to offer insights on the impact of various changes to it. This is often delicate, high-level work which may involve independent research and or counsel from an external policy specialist, for example a WTO dispute lawyer or a former politician.
The work can also involve drafting submissions to government consultations and select committees, preparing briefing documents or arranging meetings, conferences and receptions. The PR team would also help with drafting news releases and articles that present the organisation’s point of view in order to influence public opinion. Media relations and management also forms part of the public affairs PR function.
Investor relations (IR) combines finance, communication and marketing in order to control the flow of information between a company and its investors and stakeholders. Effective investor relations strategies aim to enable companies to achieve the optimum share price by providing financial information to investors in a timely and accurate way as well as providing nonfinancial data to support company valuations.
How companies disclose information is highly regulated in order to protect investors, be they individual investors or pension funds. Missteps can result in fines and reputational damage that may make it harder to raise funds down the line. It means that PR agencies specialising IR need to understand the fiduciary responsibilities of businesses, big or small, and also ensure that financial disclosure rules, which can vary widely according to time and circumstance, are adhered to.
The work includes investor presentation reviews, along with earnings call preparation and management. Financial communications, messaging and sell-side relations also form part of the work. Good agencies will support companies to develop meaningful strategies that prioritise maintaining a loyal shareholder base, ensure clear communications with capital markets will ultimately build long term credibility within the investment community.
Social media communications
Despite social media not necessarily sitting under the public relations umbrella, it does play an important role in communications. Most businesses need a strong online presence because that’s where people increasingly do their research before making buying decisions. Social media channels can be a valuable source of new business leads, are a great way to build the brand and a reliable way to communicate a message to a target market. They can also help to attract new talent.
Many PR agencies, including Sapience, have social media specialists to handle this vital and ever-growing area of communications. The leading social media platforms include LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, while messaging apps such as WeChat also come under the social media umbrella. For many organisations, these platforms are the channels of choice for reach audiences.
Social media, which is shared media, can be used to engage directly with audiences to share news and opinions. It also enables companies to keep an ear to the ground on what’s going in their industry or what been said about them – a great tool in the event of a crisis. Social media channels can be used – with caution – to respond in timely fashion to negative news. Given the journalists use these tools, especially Twitter, to source information, it’s a great way to reach them directly.
Social media can play an important role in reaching local or community audiences. Most organisations look to contribute towards the communities in which they operate, often in a way that aligns with their area of expertise. For example, a financial services company may run programmes to improve financial literacy. Mainstream media will have limited interest in this type of “soft” content, but it remain important and worth knowing for those in the community. Social media has a role to play here.
Social media specialists can advise on the best channels to use for different types of information and can also offer guidance on how to optimise outcomes with the right hashtags, visuals etc. Ideally, they would manage the social media output and monitoring for the client. The nature of it can make the work very intensive, particularly when there’s news about the client.
In short, public relations comes in many forms and they are used depending on business ambitions and strategies. If you’d like some expert support in a PR campaign and would like to find out which the strategies that would suit your business, contact us or call 020 3195 3240.
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