Monday, 16 January 2012

Public Relations: What is it and how does it work?

A small introduction for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

By Patrick Agut Klose  []

[Nathan's note: This is the first of what I hope will be a tradition of guest articles. Patrick Klose is a PR student in Spain currently finishing the Spanish equivalent of a Master's degree in PR. I met Patrick through Reddit, and found he had a lot of valuable information to share that was in line with the theme of this blog. So I hope everyone enjoys and appreciates the expertise that he has been so kind as to share today.]

When we hear the words PR strategy or PR campaign mentioned in the news or in business articles it is not strange to imagine that these techniques are only available and intended for multi-million dollar corporations.

But the truth is not only that Public Relations can be used by anyone, no matter how big or small the company, but also that it is essentially a practice that lies at the core of business itself.

What is PR really?

One of the most important aspects of business is the fact that it is not a fixed science. Unlike mathematics where the results of certain operations are predicable, business deals with the public: unpredictable, volatile and imperfect human beings driven by complex values, opinions and emotions.

Public Relations is the practice of managing our image, credibility and reputation by selectively controlling the flux of information between us and our public. 

Despite the most astounding technological advances our society has made we are still dealing with human beings. And these human beings have an important effect on our business. Actually, they decide over the failure or success of our enterprise. And it is not only the end consumer that matters but also all the other persons that are going to have an influence over us at some point of the process: distributors, employees, shareholders, the media, financial institutions, etc.

What do all these people have in common? They are the public.

And all these people, all these different types of “publics”, not only do they want to be satisfied with what you have to offer them but they also require completely different things. And this is where PR kicks in. If we could develop a series of techniques to improve our relationship with these different types of “publics” we could minimize risks, increase our popularity, influence our audiences in a positive way. This is what we call “Public Relations”

Spin doctors, lies, and manipulation

Public Relations is only successful if the information and image our publics perceive matches up with our company's identity. If we claim being ecological but two months later we find a dozen news articles on the national media on how our products pollute the atmosphere we’ll be in trouble. Be aware that you might not be given a second chance by the public opinion. 

Unless we enjoy gambling with the future of our enterprise, Public Relations is a practice that has a deep effect on the company itself. If we are willing to manage our information to appeal to our publics, we must also be willing to make the necessary changes to meet the standing expectations. PR cannot just control the information of our company by making sure that only everything that's good and shines stands out while everything not so bright is shoved under the rug.

Public Relations is for everyone

No matter the size of the business, everyone can profit from Public Relations. It is, after all, a practice that will positively shape the relationship with the eternally unpredictable “human” element.

We can buy thousands of dollars worth of advertising space in the national media, but what's an advert really worth if our brand lacks credibility? We can have the best product in the market, but who will ever buy it if nobody perceives it as such? And finally, how will our business be affected if we can't successfully handle and manage everything that is said or written about us?

Public Relations is deeply ingrained in the act of business and communication itself. It's impossible not to do PR, because everything we do or say will have an effect on our audience. The sooner we learn the tricks on what to do and say and when to do and say it in the most efficient way, the sooner will we be able to collect the benefits of a solid, healthy relationship with the world that surrounds us.

Your company and the media

There are many different techniques and strategies that PR considers. From taking care of your corporate image and identity, passing through crisis management, up to event organization.

But one of the most important aspects is the establishment of a healthy relationship between the organization you represent and the media. Usually you would hire a press agent to take care of these issues, but in the world of startup businesses monetary resources are often scarce and there is no room for such a position.

This is the reason why it is recommended that every company should have at least one appointed person to learn and practice these skills in order to fill in this important gap. There's lots to learn! But don't worry, here are four basic steps to get you started.

1. Make a list 

First of all, and depending on your business, list all types of media that you want to contact. In our case local media is the most important, but it would be a wise choice to include national media in your list as well.

2. Make Friends:

The next step is to call each one of them and ask for the name, email and maybe even phone number of the section and the section's head-journailst of the newspaper where your stories are probably going to appear in. Most of the time it is actually not necessary to call and you just need an email you can get from their website, but if you've got the time do it: call and get trustworthy first hand information.

You'll write all this down and create your own (very valuable) contact list.

3. Learn how to write a press release:

Absolutely anyone can send in a press release or even set up a press conference.

Obviously you need to know how a press release is written, when to send one in, how to avoid being "spammy", how and when a press conference is set up and most importantly "The criteria of Newsworthiness". All this is too extensive to discuss in a single article  and you could fill up whole books with it. But I'll leave you with this list of newsworthy factors

Just remember that you're not the center of the world and you should not strain your relationship with the media by being too "spammy".

Also remember that the list of what is considered important might be different in different countries or cultures or even in different types of media. Know your media!

4. Keep up those relationships:

Finally, an important advantage smaller, local media has is that it's much easier to establish a solid relationship with the journalists working there. Depending on what you're doing and the type of business you have it's not strange to know some reporter by name and that he'll end up knowing you.

A quick phone call might sometimes be enough to alert an editor in your local newsletter of some event that is going on, but even so it is extremely recommended that you provide them with a proper press release and the information they need.

Patrick Agut Klose is finishing his licenciate in Advertising and Public Relations in the Univeristy of Girona, Spain. In his spare time he enjoys reading and writing short fiction stories which he hopes publishing later this year. He has recently started playing Ultimate Frisbee and hopes one day to be able to work in the PR department of either NGO's or charities.


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