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The Ideas Distillery
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So why do companies bother with PR?

Why do companies go through all the hassle of PR? I mean, if I sell tables, then surely I just put an advert in the newspaper and people who need a table come to me and by one?


Actually, this was how things started out. In the 1800s, ‘to advertise’ meant to disseminate news: so newspapers which call themselves The Advertiser originally meant that they carried a lot of news, not a lot of adverts. It would be common for an advert in a newspaper to read ‘Colin Smith, seller of tables’. This was announcing that if you were in the market for a table, then Colin Smith was your man. The idea of persuading someone who might not think they needed a table to go out and purchase one is most definitely a phenomenon of recent times.


The fact is that the game has changed. PR is simply about understanding this game, and getting your target audiences to change on a number of levels:


  • To inform them about what you do (‘cognitive change’: a fancy way of saying that they now understand what you do, and what you do differently);

  • To get them to use what you provide (action change);

  • To get them to continue to use what you provide (behavioural change);

  • To convince them that they really are continually getting the best deal from you, and not just in monetary terms (value change).


PR is a lot of things, but there are also things that it is not. PR is often confused with advertising, merchandising, promotion, or any of a dozen other buzz words in the marketing communications vocabulary. But PR is actually about doing something newsworthy that you want to communicate, and then telling your target audience what you have done. At the same time, however, it is a very important part of your marketing strategy. Let me explain…


Advertising is very different from public relations. One key difference is that you always pay for the space and time of an advertisement (or commercial appearing on radio, television, or the Internet). By contrast, editorial coverage generated through public relations is not paid for by the business. The media will pick up and publish the story because they consider it newsworthy, not as a paid advertisement.


But a crucial difference is that, in advertising, you have virtually full control over the message. Because you are paying for advertising, the ad or commercial runs your exact text (called ‘copy’), provided the copy complies with generally acceptable standards for advertising.


In the case of public relations, the media outlet you are targeting is under no obligation to run the story in any form. If a media outlet does decide to run the story, an editor will generally rewrite the news release, or use pertinent information from the news release to create the news. In addition, you have no control over when the release or news will run. All decisions are made by the editor.


So things are not always straightforward. As you can see, public relations is a cost-effective way of getting your story out. But it has to be handled properly: taking the trouble to write effective news releases and to build a relationship with the relevant media will, in time, pay dividends in the form of exposure and prestige. Best of all, public relations usually costs less than a single advertisement.


Since public relations communicates your messages through the news media, all the power of the media is brought to bear when the public – those viewers, listeners, or readers you want to reach – learn about your news.


Think of what this means: high interest level, credibility, implied objectivity, and possibly implied endorsement by the journalist or publication reporting the information. There is also an urgency conveyed when news is reported in the media, and that news has the potential to reach a tremendously large audience.


With exposure comes awareness. An important goal of public relations – in any medium – is to make people aware of what your organisation is, what it offers, and what it does. Never underestimate the value of such awareness. In flashier terms, it’s called buzz.


Creating awareness for your organisation means that you must inform your key audiences about what you offer and how you can meet their needs. Public relations is probably the most valuable tool in accomplishing this. A well-implemented public relations initiative will help present your organisation’s offerings to their best advantage.


Public and news media relations also position you to enter new marketplaces and exposes new products or services to new audiences – all without the expense associated with an advertising programme. A sustained public relations programme allows you to ensure your offerings are in front of appropriate decision-makers. This continuous flow of information creates a constant awareness and a constant influx of inquiries – especially when integrated with other powerful marketing communications tools such as brochures, trade shows, and so on.


And linking PR activities with your marketing activities can have serious benefits. For example, a car manufacturer wanted to launch a new model among potential buyers, using both advertising and PR. From a consumer sample, two research groups were identified: those who had read the publications in which PR media coverage appeared (such as magazine reviews), see TV programmes which reviewed the car, and so on (the ‘PR exposed’), and those who only saw the advertisements (Non-PR exposed).


After eight weeks of the campaign, evidence showed that PR caused a big and widening gap between the ‘PR exposed’ and the ‘non-exposed’, meaning that the TV advertisements were much more effective when used alongside a PR campaign. Analysis by the research firm Millward Brown Précis established that heightened awareness was not caused by other market place activity.


A smaller rise in awareness was noticed among the non-exposed slightly after the advertising. This was attributed to the fact that although not PR exposed themselves, they had been influenced by those who were exposed – the ‘buzz’ effect. The ‘exposed’ had much higher levels of awareness, almost certainly as a result of the combination of PR and advertising.


In another example, a food product was supported by both PR and advertising. At the start of the campaign there was a much higher level of purchase by the ‘exposed’ group, but when the first TV advertising burst kicked in, the ‘non-exposed’ caught up – again the result of the ‘buzz effect’. The subsequent rise among the ‘exposed’, coinciding with the second TV advertising burst, was explained by the fact that the two advertisements were different.


The second one was in line with the PR message, resulting in an effect of a coherent message and more sales.

All this is saying in a roundabout way is that marketing is much more successful when it is being backed up by a PR campaign. One cannot really exist without the other (well it can, but as we’ve seen, not as successfully).




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