Let me start by apologising – I’m on my soapbox.  But bear with me.  Anyone who ‘gets’ PR will know exactly what I mean when I say I cringe whenever someone scrolls down to the PR element on the agenda or marketing plan, then looks at me and says ‘You’ll just do a press release won’t you?’ Public relations is often the much-misunderstood, not to mention underrated, element of the marketing mix.  And because of that, it is often denied the level of planning and attention to detail that, say, advertising or direct marketing are given.  After all, you wouldn’t randomly generate an e-shot without defining the audience, sorting out your list, thinking about the creative, getting the messaging right and including that all-important call to action.  And even once you had ticked all those boxes, the e-shot would almost certainly be part of a wider campaign strategy.  Results would be measurable, messaging and tactics would be adjusted as a result.  In short, you would know why you had done it, what you wanted to achieve and you’d be able to assess pretty effectively whether or not it had met its objectives.

Quite understandably, many people are concerned that PR can’t directly affect the bottom line – they want to be able to measure ROI, to justify their PR spend.  There are a number of issues here, not least that PR is indeed measurable, and that’s something I’ll come back to in a future blog.  And of course we all know how badly negative PR impacts the bottom line, and how rapidly!  But surely before we start blaming PR for being difficult to pin down, shouldn’t we agree to afford it the respect we give other elements of the marketing mix?  I think so.  And that means starting with the kind of planning we’d put into any other campaign.

In its broadest sense, public relations is about reputation management – and the cost of getting it wrong can be huge.  It can also be an educator, preparing the market for your new product or service so they buy into your offering.  And in a content-hungry world, it can help inform your audiences, bolstering brand and helping ensure there’s plenty of meaningful information on your website that’s Google-friendly too.

PR deserves a board-level champion, a well-thought-out set of communications objectives, a comprehensive strategy, properly defined audiences, clear messages, a carefully considered media list and, yes, somewhere along the way, sometimes – but not always – a press release.

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