Public Relations (PR) is a tool which organisations can use to build and maintain image, reputation and relationships with all stakeholders. Just like any another element of marketing, public relations initiatives are more effective when they form part of a marketing plan.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) defines public relations as ‘The function or activity that aims to establish and protect the reputation of a company or brand and to create mutual understanding between the organisation and the segments of the public with whom it needs to communicate.’
Many times, people within organisations take the attitude that, for example, a press release can be used to gain free publicity. Whilst there are times when press releases do come free, they are not always effective when they are ‘one-offs’ as when they form part of a marketing plan. The organisation has to have clear objectives for using PR, with image, reputation and communication with customers, consumers and the public at large, being some examples.
PR is useful for organisations to achieve objectives such as, to communicate their values through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. It can also be used when reaching a milestone within the history of the organisation. A PR plan embedded within the business plan of that same year can include articles aimed to reach the right segments.
An achievement, launch of new products, acquisition of representation (e.g. brands), organisational growth, a move to new premises and other eventualities are PR opportunities which the organisation could use to instil enthusiasm among a younger and more contemporary audience.
When an organisation issues a press release or a news item for publication in the press, it should ensure that it conforms to the general content of the medium in which it is published. A television station or a newspaper needs to have a story with news value in the content which it broadcasts or publishes. It is in the interest of the organisation to capture the attention of the audience with which it wishes to engage. The concept of being customer-centric applies to PR as well because if an organisation is ‘self-centred’ i.e. seeks its own interest, the exercise may become counter-productive in that the reader or viewer may become sceptical to the message which the organisation company wishes to put across. Good PR practices reflect the values which the organisation believes in and the culture within which it operates.
PR can play a vital role in keeping the organisation’s operations on course when it needs to handle a situation, such as when a product is found to be defective to the extent that it would become necessary to organise a product recall. This may present an episode where the organisation would need to protect its reputation. Giving proper instructions and advice communicated to its customers coupled with a well organised recall, can not only save the face of the organisation, but the experience of how the situation was handled, can even earn the support of customers, clients, direct stakeholders and the public in general.
Effective and well-planned PR exercises can contribute positively towards the achievement of the organisation’s objectives.