Who Needs A Public Relations Specialist?

An organization’s reputation, branding, profitability, growth, and future success depend on how effectively they reach and motivate their targeted audiences. Public relations specialists are communication and media professionals acting as advocates for businesses, hospitals, medical professionals, corporations, universities, nonprofit associations and other organizations. Their specialty is building and promoting positive relationships with targeted audiences for their client’s.

Entrepreneurs, professional service providers, small business owners and business managers are increasingly looking to Public Relations Specialists for assistance with strategic planning.

What does a Public Relations Specialist do?

PR Professionals or firms handling publicity for individuals or small organizations often deal with all aspects of the job. They are in involved in making and maintaining contacts and relationships, strategizing and planning, and preparation of promotional materials. They either manage or are directly involved in advertising or sales promotional work in support of marketing.

Depending on the organization’s needs, PR Specialists are involved with the following:

  • Media relations
  • Press Releases
  • Press Conferences
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Media Tours
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Interview Preparation and Coaching
  • Governmental Relations
  • Employee Relations
  • Investor Relations
  • Reputation Management
  • Crisis Management & Communications

The Public Relations Process

There are a number of widely accepted “Public Relations Process Models”. One of the more popular is the process model by Sheila C. Crifasi (2000) which uses the acronym “ROSIE” to define a five-step process of “Research, Objectives, Strategies, Implementation and Evaluation.”

As with just about any professional service, the project starts with some due-diligence and analysis. Objectives are defined along with the strategies to achieve those goals. Media tools are selected and prepared at this stage. Implementation includes materials preparation and release. Program success or failure is determined in the Evaluation stage.

In recent years the Internet has greatly contributed to the selection and accessibility of media tools with real time feedback. These tools are highly prized by marketing and public relations professionals because they provide immediate information on a program’s effectiveness.

The principal instrument for most publicity campaigns is the “press release”, which provides the mass media with the raw material and background for a news story. There are several on-line Press Release Agencies with targeted syndicated feeds to thousands of journalists world wide, such as PRWeb (www.prweb.com). The better on-line Press Agents provide the original publicist with continual “real time” feedback, including how many journalists have read the News Release.

The client organization’s website statistics is another valuable online analytical tool is. Most website hosting companies provide options for access to a detailed statistical tool such as WebTrends (www.webtrends.com). Statistics are updated on a daily basis allowing trends to be spotted at the beginning of a publicity campaign. This near real time feedback helps provide the necessary information required by professionals to effectively manage a campaign while maximizing impact and ROI (Return on Investment).

Another popular publicity tool is “article submission”. As with the Press Release, there are also good sources for targeted and syndicated Article Submission on the Internet such as GoArticles (www.goarticles.com). These articles are often picked up by other websites generating valuable links and targeted traffic to a client’s website.

Selecting a Public Relations Firm

When choosing a PR Firm an organization is selecting the professionals who will be molding its image for clients and customers, the public and for the media. Image is reality in many societies, this decision can have far-reaching effects.

Here are some suggestions on how to select a PR Firm:

1. Determine your most important PR needs. For Example; Are you launching a new product or service? Are you in a crisis management situation? Do you need to establish a relationship with investors?

2. Determine how long you will need the PR services if possible. Is it a long term or even permanent goal such as establishing and maintaining a relationship with investors, or is it a short term project such as promoting a break-through surgical procedure? Remember most PR Firms will ask for at least a 6 month commitment in order to become established and demonstrate affectivity.

3. Research PR Firms. Ask colleagues and business acquaintances? O’Dwyer’s Directory is a good Internet resource. If you are looking for someone local, specify the geographical region in your Internet search. Many PR Firms and Individuals specialize. When doing Internet research on PR Firms, some may have “Case Studies” which reveal details about strategic successes.

4. Conduct phone interviews with the person who would be handling the account if you were to select that agency. Strongly consider similar experience and personal or corporate compatibility throughout the phone and in face to face interviews.

5. Ask for and check references. Most PR Firms have an on-line presence which usually sports a client list. New or Small Firms will often be less expensive than larger firms have more resources to throw at a large project with time constraints. Smaller firms tend to specialize and may know your business very well.

6. Conduct meetings with the prospective candidates and present your program requirements. Look for genuine interest and healthy idea generation. Larger Firms may send an account representative to a meeting. Ask to meet with the PR specialist who will actually be doing the work, especially if long term compatibility is important.

The Escalating Demand for Corporate Accountability

The need for professional public relations in an increasingly competitive business environment is igniting demand for Public Relations Specialists by businesses, organizations and institutions of all sizes. The value of a company is measured by its balance sheet, but continued success is determined by the quality of its public visibility.

The escalating public, investor and governmental demand for corporate accountability will continue to place emphasis on building public confidence and favorable client image, which are best managed by Public Relations Professionals.

Solving the Public Relations Puzzle

You often hear people refer to public relations or PR as something positive or negative that a company received in response to an action. “Wow, they got good PR out of that!” But, what exactly does that mean?

The confusion about what public relations is or what it encompasses is not surprising given that the field is so multi-faceted. Research will show that the term public relations is often grouped under marketing and used synonymously with others such as community relations, media relations, public affairs, image enhancement, publicity, and promotion.

In fact, leading experts in the PR field often disagree, offering numerous definitions for clarification. Rex Harlow, a pioneer in public relations education, complied over 500 definitions from a variety of sources ranging from complex essays to simple descriptions. One of my favorites is, “PR stands for Performance and then Recognition.”

In 1981, the Public Relations Society of America attempted to end the confusion, by forming a task force with the mission of defining public relations once and for all. They landed on this concise definition, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to one another. It is an organizations efforts to win the cooperation of groups of people.”

But the real question is, why does this matter? Why should I understand and have a need for public relations in my business? Authors Cutlip, Center, & Broom offer some help to these questions. In the sixth edition of their reference book, Effective Public Relations, They state that public relations is, “the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom it’s success or failure depend.”

This definition is great in that it, first, identifies that public relations does not just happen. It is truly a function that must be created. Second, this definition contains the key phrase, “success or failure.” This is why public relations efforts are so essential. How your company interacts with and represents itself to the world will determine the fate of your company.

We know that the definition of public relations is ever evolving and often disputed. However, there is one clear and common thread that is woven throughout these definitions. They all involve relationships and interactions. Simply put, public relations is all about communication. It is working to produce effective communication designed to influence, provide information, and gain understanding.

Perhaps the most understood public relations action is use of the media to communicate with and promote to target markets. Submitting press releases, gaining exposure, and developing promotional campaigns is something we can sink our teeth into. However, it is important not to confuse advertising and public relations. Advertising is a paid tool that can be used to support public relations efforts. When used effectively together, the two can make a powerful team.

Keep in mind that media relations and publicity are just a few of the many areas of public relations. Effective communications need to occur with all of your “publics” both internal and external. For example, your business cannot function without clear understanding and communication with your bankers, investors, and/or board members. You depend on a relationship with your local community to support your efforts. And, you rely upon your employees to support your image. Public relations involves developing and implementing a successful communication plan to work with and among these groups for the benefit of all.

And, what happens when things don’t turn out as planned? Enter public relations again! Public relations efforts must be pro-active in order to protect the image and reputation of the company. From crisis planning to the simple development of clear responses to community questions, it is in the best interest of the company and their publics to be prepared.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about public relations is that the field itself has a poor image. For some, the term PR tends to conjure up thoughts of deceptive and self-serving rhetoric. They picture obnoxious, celebrity press agents of today who believe that any press is good press. Some picture historical event promoters such as P.T. Barnum, of Barnum & Bailey Circus, who use exaggeration and hype to entertain.

Unfortunately, it is true that not everyone engaging in public relations activities is acting in the best public interest. But it is also important to understand there are wonderful, ethical, and positive public relations actions taking place all around us. In fact, without them, we would be a lost society.

The art of public relations is one that has deep and historical roots. In a sense, it’s as old as communication itself. Government, religion, and business have and always will rely on public relations. Think about it, what would be different in our world if the Catholic Church hadn’t taught its priests to “propagate” the faith? Without communications developed to influence targeted publics, how would we be persuaded to accept the authority of government leaders or to take a position on a public issue? We can even thank event promoters in ancient Athens for building the foundation for special event planning of today. It takes the same basic public relations skills to promote the Olympics then that it does now…now that’s an event!

Public relations efforts are essential to business success and growth. And, opportunities to use public relations activities to better your company and your bottom-line are endless. Ann Landers point out, “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them!” Don’t make this mistake by ignoring the power of public relations. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Public Relations As A Strategic Tool To Integrate With Your Marketing Efforts

Integrated marketing communications is a very effective tool for all businesses. The integration of advertising, marketing and public relations is much more strategic than pursuing each of those elements separately. The old traditional use of advertising as the principal means of promotion for business is no longer effective. In my business coaching experience I have seen too many companies wasting significant resources by following an advertising strategy that does not work because it does not reach their target audience, has an emphasis on the “glitz and technology” rather than an emphasis on content, and is simply misdirected.

Public relations is often overlooked and/or under-valued as part of a strategic marketing plan. Public relations needs to be integrated into a strategic marketing
campaign. The leveraging of public relations will allow your positioning statement (market differentiator) to be integrated into an objective, third party coverage in the media. An article or feature story in one of your targeted business media will be more effective than a traditional ad in the same publication. And with the technology available to us today, especially the Internet, public relations can be an even more powerful strategic tool in your marketing efforts.

So, if the Internet can make your public relations more effective, what are some of the things you should remember to do regarding your public relations efforts on the Internet. Here are a few suggestions from your strategic thinking business coach.

+ Listen, read and learn from what is happening on the web. Research what is out there in the online media.

+ Integrate your public relations material onto your website and make sure you include your website address on all your news releases and all other company communications.

+ Be consistent in all your public relations efforts online and offline.

+ Use a wire service where their distribution provides a great fit for getting your message to your target market. Make sure the distribution includes print, electronic and online media, as appropriate.

+ Expand your news release distribution out directly to your clients, prospects, key influencers and other stakeholders.

+ Understand key words and ensure that they are being used strategically in all your communications.

+ Leverage your Internet coverage. Create re-prints of your positive media coverage and send email links of the coverage to employees, clients, prospects, and other stakeholders.

Adopting a strategy of integrating public relations into your marketing efforts is required to implement a successful marketing campaign. A strategic marketing plan using an integrated marketing communications strategy will greatly increase your company visibility across all communication channels and will earn you more dramatic results.

Public Relations As A Strategic Tool To Integrate With Your Marketing Efforts
By: J. Glenn Ebersole, Jr., Chief Executive of J. G. Ebersole Associates and The Renaissance Group (TM)