Guest post: Demystifying public relations

September 14, 2016 -  By


Having a competitive edge in marketing usually means leveraging all the meaningful tools at your disposal. Surprisingly, public relations is often overlooked–usually because it’s misunderstood or shrouded by misconceptions and myths.

The truth is, public relations is not some communications specialty limited only to Fortune 500 titans dealing with product recalls or consumer issues that spread like wildfire.

Instead, PR is a positive, impact-driving tool for reaching your targeted audiences in ways that produce highly credible, relevant and attention-getting information. In addition, you are usually reaching your customers and prospects at a time when they’re looking for someone to provide solutions.

How does PR create meaningful influence?

One important reason for its effectiveness can be summarized in this key phrase: third-party-endorsement. PR works because it’s often founded on third-party opinion and commentary and respected sources of information. That’s why it can influence customers and drive purchasing decisions. In fact, by taking some basic steps, PR can help deliver such benefit as:

  1. A higher level of exposure for you to attract customer attention.
  2. Industry positioning for you as an opinion leader.
  3. Merchandisable presence for you sales force, mailings, website, social media and more.
  4. Multi-industry outreach to expand sales potentials beyond current targets.
  5. Big results with little cost.

But, the simple beauty of this approach is it can be used by any kind of company, regardless of size, and it can produce benefits in a basic and functional way with minimal investments in budget and time. In fact, because much of your information is carried through the news media, things can happen almost overnight. That’s especially helpful if you want to get out a quick announcement that reaches tens of thousands of potential customers.

What are the common misconceptions about PR?

There are typically several common misconceptions about public relations that keep companies from benefiting from its capabilities. These include:

  1. It doesn’t boost sales.
  2. We are already doing everything we can.
  3. Takes too much time from our current focus.
  4. We don’t have anything new to talk about.
  5. It’s way too expensive.
  6. It’s way too difficult or complicated.
  7. Our internal people would require special skills.
  8. We know more about our products than anybody.

Despite these perceived obstacles, the fact remains that PR can be an outstanding part of any marketing mix because the sales opportunities can be substantial.

In fact, almost any new development within your company can serve as an opportunity to generate announcements.

New hires, promotions, product developments, awards, contracts, conference attendance and myriad other things can be developed into messages to share with your audiences. A PR expert would provide the creative insight to uncover such opportunities or create new ones to sustain momentum. The trick is knowing how they need to be developed, and where and how to get the word out.

Surprisingly, however, these approaches are often overlooked because they’re just seen internally as day-to-day events. But if your audiences don’t know they’re happening, you’re not leveraging the full opportunities for gaining attention. As an added benefit, as a participant in media activities, your company may become sought after by editors who value your contributions from a news standpoint, and new opportunities emerge with little effort on your part.

What’s more, you can pick and choose the announcements you want to make and the timing for their release. That helps to create a sustained level of presence for you and your company, not to mention grabbing some of that valuable attention from your competitors.

How does this all happen?

Simple. A professional PR consultant or agency is usually contacted for an initial conversation, which is followed by a proposal from them that can suit your budget. Once an agreement is reached, the PR pro will take on the responsibility for everything, including:

  • Research for and writing press materials;
  • Creating media lists;
  • Contacting editors;
  • Negotiating third-party involvement to boost credibility;
  • Managing approval processes; and
  • Arranging distribution of materials and providing representative examples of news media appearances.

It may go further than these examples, but the key point is it all becomes seamless as far as your responsibilities are concerned. It is simple, well managed, and will promptly begin showing results.

What does it cost?

Probably the most amazing value about PR efforts is there are typically no placement costs involved. Assuming your material has been developed with a true news value, media outlets will use the material because it has value to the audiences who consume these media.

What’s more, the cost can be limited mostly to the fees for professional services. Since most communications today are done electronically, there is limited need to produce print materials such as press kits, photos, scripts or most anything else. Occasionally there will be some start-up, out-of-pocket costs or others for support services that may be involved. In all cases these are priced out and agreed upon in advance.

What you can do to take action?

Getting started is easier than you might imagine. There are a host of resources available that can provide guidance to put you on the right track from the beginning.

These include, for example:

  1. Contact a PR consultant or agency with experience promoting green industry companies.
  2. Ask for referrals from a PR association or one of their local chapter.
  3. Speak with noncompeting colleagues for referrals.
  4. Reach out to the marketing/communications departments of your local colleges or universities for teachers who may have PR experience and potentially relevant connections.

Once candidates are selected, interview them about their relevant industry background. Also, ask for a client roster and examples of their published works. Make sure to discuss their fee structures and flexibility. Will they bill out on an individual project basis; on an hourly rate; what about setting up a retainer agreement? All of these provide you with ample flexibility to suit your needs.

You also can try to work on one or two initial projects to determine their ability to understand your specific objectives and turn them into real successes. Develop a chemistry with them in which they are involved in your activities. This allows you to test the waters and make refinements. Future growth can be determined once a foundation is established.

Remember, there is nothing to lose by exploring public relations as part of your marketing mix. But, when you see news of your company highlighted prominently throughout the various media channels reaching your customers—and enjoying the resulting inquiries–you’ll know the value you can add to your overall business pursuits.

Sincovich is president of R.J. Sincovich Communications.

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