Public Relationsby Debbie Leven
- What’s the difference between PR and advertising?
- Is PR all about handling the press and media?
- How is sponsorship decided?
- Why is PR important to an organisation?
- How can you tell if you are getting value for money from your PR activities?
- Is PR a management function?
- What does the PR department want from me?
- A journalist has contacted me directly, what should I say?
- There’s a crisis – how can I help PR handle the incident?
1. What’s the difference between PR and advertising?
Advertising and PR are different elements of the marketing mix and they fulfil different roles. They are not mutually exclusive and organisations may, depending on their product or service, use both at the same time. Advertising will certainly help to raise awareness in key press and media, but it will not build credibility as good PR does.
In advertising, you define and control the message and you know that, providing you pay the agreed amount for the space/air time, the advert will appear as you have defined it (assuming it abides by advertising rules and regulations). By contrast, PR is not paid for in this way. A journalist isn’t paid by an organisation to write a story about that organisation – the article gets published on merit, in other words on its news/interest value. PR influences the message but cannot ultimately control it, because whatever efforts are made, the PR department or consultant cannot guarantee coverage or that the message will be conveyed in the way the organisation desires.
2. Is PR all about handling the press and media?
A press office or PR department will manage press and media relations, but it may have a wider remit. This will very much depend on the size of the organisation (and the role of any separate marketing support), the nature of the business and the organisation’s business and PR objectives. It’s not unusual for PR staff to get involved with a range of tasks and activities:
- Staff communication – producing staff newsletters and so on
- Updating elements of the website or drafting copy for it
- Producing or overseeing the production of brochures, leaflets, annual reviews and display stands
- Organising events
- Coordinating speaker opportunities
- Stakeholder communication
- Representing the organisation at events and exhibitions
- Coordinating the production of branded items
- Crisis management and communication. In a crisis, thinking about and managing the press and media, is just one element of the activities involving PR. It is also important to consider communication with other key groups, as well as the impact on other business activities, such as production, logistics, marketing and so on.
3. How is sponsorship decided?
Any sponsorship activity should be related to the organisation’s overarching objectives. It must support the drive to achieving those objectives. The key factor is the target group the sponsorship activity is aimed at. If an organisation’s key target group is young women between the ages of 16 and 25, then sponsoring an event that mostly appeals to a completely different group may not be the best use of time and money. Equally, it’s more effective if the type of product or service has a natural ‘fit’ with the event or activity. If it doesn’t, then any such link could, potentially, be damaging.
Over the years, sponsorship has changed considerably. Traditionally, events and activities were the focus. Now, it is much more common to see television programmes, such as the weather bulletin or an entertainment programme, being sponsored.
4. Why is PR important to an organisation?
The impression that stakeholders have of an organisation is crucial to that organisation’s future. For the most part, organisations are concerned about their respective reputations and the impact on audiences, such as investors, donors, customers, potential clients, charities, pressure groups, the local community, business contacts and politicians.
Investors may consider PR when deciding whether or not to buy shares and this in turn impacts on the share price. Those considering spending their money buying the organisation’s products or services may be influenced in a number of ways. PR about the product or service will raise awareness. In addition, positive PR about the organisation in general may encourage the potential customer to think about the organisation more favourably in comparison to competitors.
5. How can you tell if you are getting value for money from your PR activities?
In practice, the PR department of your PR adviser will probably use, and combine, a number of methods to evaluate PR:
- Survey of key groups – surveying perceptions before and after PR to assess change
- Website monitoring – matched against PR activity, as mentioned previously
- Attendance at events – if PR is linked to raising awareness of an event
- Tracking where sales leads come from
- Key messages – the extent to which key messages identified as part of the PR activity are conveyed in press and media coverage
- Circulation – figures available for the number of copies sold of a publication
- Readership – it is estimated that up to three people will read a single publication, so the readership figure is calculated by taking the circulation figure and multiplying it by 2.5 to 3
- Opportunities to see – this is calculated by adding up the readership of each piece of coverage.
6. Is PR a management function?
Given the importance of reputation to an organisation, PR should certainly be considered as a management function. As the ‘ears’ and ‘eyes’ of the organisation, the PR department is in touch with what is happening within the organisation as well as having an understanding of how the various key audiences perceive the organisation.
The question of where responsibility for developing the organisation’s identity should lie very much depends on the extent to which senior management understand the importance of the role of identity. Ideally, the PR function should be involved, since the PR department is uniquely placed – understanding the environment in which the organisation operates, the pressures and sensitivities of the particular sector, the organisational culture, how the organisation is currently perceived and the nature of the desired perception.
7. What does the PR department want from me?
To help the PR department you need to be its eyes and ears, to spot opportunities for positive PR, but also to identify activities and incidents that may have a negative impact on reputation. By getting to know staff in the PR department, and having a better understanding of the information they are interested in, it is possible to identify opportunities and problems early. Giving the PR department as much time as possible to research and develop ideas, or devise handling strategies, helps to maximise opportunities and manage and minimise the potential impact of negative publicity.
8. A journalist has contacted me directly, what should I say?
Even though some journalists may have regular contact with the PR department, it is not unusual for them to contact individuals in other departments directly for comment or interview. If a call or contact is unexpected, you should probably refer it to your PR department. Many organisations now have media-handling policies. In some, it can be a disciplinary offence to talk to the press and media without the authorisation of the PR department.
If you are contacted directly by a journalist, you should bear in mind some simple rules:
- Be polite
- Don’t be drawn into answering questions
- Don’t say ‘no comment’
- Don’t agree to go ‘off the record’.
9. There’s a crisis – how can I help PR handle the incident?
You can play an important role in supporting the PR department in a number of ways:
- If you become aware of anything which could impact negatively on the reputation of the organisation, it is important to ensure your line manager knows and that the PR department is made aware, as appropriate. Most organisations have a crisis-handling system in place. It is helpful to remember that different people will assess risk differently. It’s much better to over report – the PR department or your PR adviser will be able to assess the PR risk and the steps that should be taken
- You can act as the ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in your department and report any issues that have the potential for damaging reputation
- Also, certainly with internal communication, if you feel that messages are not being conveyed as effectively as possible, and the responsibility lies with the PR department, then closer working may be helpful.