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Marketing Notes 15 - Public Relations Handout

Marketing Notes 15 - Public Relations Handout

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Published by: Information should be FREE on Oct 07, 2010
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Public Relations by Geoff Lancaster ©
Public Relations is an important and versatile marketing communications tool. It can be employed both within and
outside the organisation. Many feel that public relations is an external marketing tool, with the firm attempting to
communicate with a wide range of external ‘Publics’ in order to cast the organisation in a favourable light in peoples’
minds. This way of thinking is very limited, and fails to appreciate the great value of public relations as an internal
marketing communications tool. Good internal marketing i.e. achieving the right internal organisational culture and
getting everyone ‘pulling’ in the same direction in terms of marketing effort, is a vital prerequisite to effective external
marketing, particularly those based on the concepts of long term ‘relationship’ marketing. Public relations has a vital
role to play in the creation of an effective internal marketing culture within an organisation. In this sense it has seen a
realisation of its importance as a strategic internal communication tool.
Public relations Is a very versatile communications tool and is today used by just about every type of organisation
whether it be a charity, a political party or a commercial organisation. It is concerned with strategic management of
information in such a way that certain publicity objectives are achieved. It is not always the case that positive
publicity is the outcome of a managed public relations campaign, because it is often impossible to achieve a net
positive outcome. For example public relations has a particularly important role to play in ‘crisis management’
scenarios. Where a catastrophe has occurred, especially where people have been injured or lost their lives, it is often a
case of containing the situation, putting a fair and balanced account of events forward to the general public and
mitigating the adverse effects of the disaster to the organisation concerned.
A Brief History Of Public Relations
Public relations (PR) is not new. Its modern day origins in the United States can be traced as far back as 1807 with
President Jefferson’s address to congress, although evidence suggests that the ancient Greeks and Romans gave much
attention to influencing public opinion. PR in the UK began as a Government information and propaganda machine
during World war One and was then used more extensively in World war Two. Industry showed little interest in PR as
a commercial communications tool until after 1945, but thereafter its use increased rapidly over the next 30 years in a
sort of PR explosion. PR’s relatively poor image over these 30 years has been a result amateurish practitioners. In the
1970s the PR profession was referred to by derogatory terms such as the ‘gin and tonic brigade’. People who made up
this ‘brigade’ often carried considerable social influence and were able to ‘open doors’ because they had the right
connections. Their main function seemed to be the ‘wining and dining’ of important clients. The situation has changed
a great deal in the late 1990s and now PR professionals are trained in the art of communications management.
Unfortunately the profession still operates under its earlier shadow.
Public relations has now spread throughout industry and commerce. At first, full time PR appointments were less
common than the use of the services of a PR consultant. Because of this slow internal adoption of professional PR
practitioners by industry and commerce, external public relations firms quickly developed, many of them lacking
skilled staff of sufficient expertise, but merely taking advantage of and exploiting the ‘boom’ in the PR profession.
This phenomenon is common; it happened at the end of the 1980’s when ‘total quality management’ was the latest
‘fad’ and many became experts in the art of TQM virtually ‘overnight’. Consequently, because of the hasty expansion
of PR firms, the poor reputation of PR among journalists, businessmen, politicians and the general public that persists
today, can be traced back to this period of uncontrolled growth. In the last 20 years, however, many PR agencies have
built reputations for highly marketing orientated practices. Many of these firms tend to specialise in consumer PR,
trade relations, corporate PR, financial, industrial, service and technical PR. A number of firms are now offering PR
services for ‘not for profit’ organisations such as charities and politics.
Recent Developments
From the mid 1970’s onwards a change has developed in the role and perceived value of PR, leading to a growth in
this form of communication which has continued right up to the present day. Explanations for the upsurge in public
relations activity are many and varied. Many in the industry identify the late 1970’s recession as a major turning point.
Companies were keen to reduce costs in order to stay in business. As often happens in times of economic downturn,
managers of many firms look to marketing budgets as a ‘first strike’ and regard marketing expenditure as a ‘luxury’
and a cost rather than a necessary investment. Many managers found that PR, with a much broader base and cost
effectiveness, would be preferable to maintaining a conventional advertising budget.
The ‘cost saving’ aspect of public relations is certainly one of the major reasons for the growth of its popularity. Other
factors include the increasing complexity of the business world that has produced a need for more complex
communications to get the commercial or corporate message across. Another possible factor is the growth of fast-
developing new business sectors such as information technology, financial services, travel and leisure which has lead
to a ‘new breed’ of marketing manager who appreciates the value of PR as a communications tool. A further factor is
a recognition that management, especially those working in business to business marketing, of the importance of
creating and maintaining ‘relationships’ with a wide range of people and groups. There has been recognition for a
number of years that in industrial and organisational marketing situations there are complex buyer-seller interactions
involved in the marketing process. Some of these take place in the ‘official’ marketing channels of communications
e.g. between the sales person and the official buyer or at least the purchasing team or committee within the buying
organisation. However, interactions also take place on a less formal basis, amongst technical personnel from both the
marketing and buying firms. It was recognised that these informal buyer seller interactions were just as important as
the more formal contacts and that these too had to be managed and not left to chance. The recognition that
organisational or business to business marketing involved an often complex web of formal and informal, but no less
important, commercial interactions become known as the ‘interactive approach’, and was basically the precursor to
what today is often referred to as the ‘relationship marketing approach’. Of course, throughout its development as a
marketing communications ‘tool’ PR has always been first and foremost an instrument for establishing, crystallising,
cementing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with various groups of people or ‘publics’. It is,
therefore, no surprise that as the recognition of the importance of the interactive and relationship driven nature of
modern marketing practice became accepted and practised by firms. The adoption of public relations as a key
marketing communications tool also grew in stature and importance, particularly in the area of corporate
communications. The role of public relations in achieving sound relationship marketing practices as well as its
contribution to achieving good internal marketing is examined later.
The Role And ature Of Public Relations
Defining Public Relations
The task of defining the exact nature of PR is not easy. A plethora of definitions currently exists, each emphasising a
slightly different approach and each attempting to arrive at a simple, brief and accurate form of words. The difficulty
in developing a single acceptable definition reflects the complexity and diversity of the profession. For the purposes
of this discussion two definitions are useful. The Institute of Public Relations (IPR) states:
‘Public Relations practice is the deliberate, planned and sustained effort
to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organisation
and it’s public’.
The essential features of this definition is that PR practice should be deliberate, planned and sustained; not haphazard,
and that mutual understanding is necessary in order to ensure that the communication between the organisation and its
public’ is clear, i.e. the receiver perceives the same meaning as the sender intends.
An alternative definition is provided by Frank Jefkins who states:
Public Relations consists of all forms of planned communication,
outward and inwards, between an organisation and it’s publics
for the purpose of achieving specific objectives concerning
mutual understanding’.
Jefkins is a modified version of the Institute of Public Relations definition and provides two new elements:
1) ‘Public’ becomes ‘Publics’, since PR addresses a number of audiences:
2) The inclusion of ‘specific objectives’, making PR a tangible activity.
Achieving a marketing orientation through PR
In marketing literature there is a lot about how it is important for an organisation to become ‘marketing orientated’,
‘customer focused’ and adopt the ‘marketing concept’. For a firm to be truly marketing oriented all the staff working
for it have to be so. There is a saying adapted from Buddhist philosophy that states ‘for a forest to be green each tree
has to be green’. This principle also applies to the marketing orientation of the firm for it comes from within the minds
of the people making up the organisation. But how does senior management achieve this change in attitude and bring
about the right customer focused ‘spirit’ within their organisation? Internal PR on its own cannot achieve this, but it
can certainly make a significant contribution.
Communications and Public Relations
Communications is central to PR. The purpose of PR is to establish a two-way communication to resolve conflicts of
interest by seeking common ground or areas of mutual interest. If we accept that this is the primary function of PR,
then we must also accept a further implication. PR ‘exists’, whether implicitly or explicitly, whether an organisation
likes it or not. Simply by carrying out it’s day to day operations, an organisation necessarily communicates certain
messages to those who, for whatever reason, interact with the company, who will then form an opinion about it and
it’s activities. The need for PR is to orchestrate, as far as possible, the behaviour of the organisation and the messages
that result form such behaviour in order to help develop a corporate identity or personality.
PR is not ‘paid for’, unlike advertising, although the marketing firm will have to pay fees if it employs a PR consultant
or a salary if they have an internal specialist. Because PR is not perceived by various publics as a paid for type of
communication, it tends to have greater ‘source credibility’. That is because the ‘write-ups’ in the press or business
journal, television or radio programme etc. are seen as emanating from an independent third party rather than a
commissioned advertising agency. It is often said that the mark of good public relations is that the receiver of the
message does not realise public relations has been employed. If it is obvious that the message has been ‘cooked up’ by
‘spin doctors’ or ‘PR gurus’ then the message looses much of its intended effect. In a sense good PR is in some ways
analogous to good security. If a firm, a film star or a politician are employing security personnel to look after them,
one of the key criteria for success in this line of work is that no one knows or is suspicious that they are anything to do
with security. They simply blend in to the background and are indistinguishable form other members of the public. It
is this anonymity that makes them so effective.
Corporate Identity
The concept of ‘corporate identity’ or ‘personality’ is inextricably linked to public relations. All PR activities must be
carried out within the framework of an agreed and understood corporate personality. This personality must develop to
reflect the style of the top management, since they control the organisation’s policy and activities. A corporate
personality can become a tangible asset if it managed properly and consistently. However it cannot be assumed that all
managers will consider the role of corporate personality when they make decisions. Therefore, the PR executive needs
to be placed so that he or she is aware of all the issues, policies, attitudes and opinions that exist within the
organisation that have a bearing on how it is perceived by outsiders.
The use of the term ‘personality’, rather than the more used ‘image’ term is deliberate. An image is a refection or an
impression that may be a little too polished and perfect. True PR is more than ‘skin deep’. This is important because a
‘PR job’ implies that somehow the truth is being hidden behind a glossy and even false facade. But properly
conducted PR emphasises the need for truth and full information. The PR executive, as a manager of corporate
personality can only sustain an identity that is based on reality. Corporate public relations is concerned with image.
This image is based on a long-term carefully planned programme designed to achieve maximum recognition and
understanding for the company’s objectives and performance.

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