Think of public relations and either the political spin doctor Alastair Campbell or the fictional Patsy and Eddie, stars of Absolutely Fabulous, spring to mind. PR can mistakenly be seen as either a necessary evil, in seeing off negative press, for example, or as a ‘nice to have’ and a bit of an indulgence compared to the nitty gritty of above-the-line advertising and sales campaigns.
Put simply, however, PR takes a holistic approach to the marketing of an organisation, and helps build its reputation, from the overall brand perception to the profile of the people who run the company. This is reflected in the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) definition of PR: “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”
Every organisation, whatever the size, ultimately depends on its reputation for survival and success. This can be internal staff and shareholders, or externally, among clients, customers, suppliers, the media and competitors. PR can help all of these stakeholders form the opinion they have about a business, which will help to influence their dealings with a brand and in the longer term will help to determine if they want to support, invest or work with an organisation in the future.
Unfortunately, and rather ironically, to those not involved in marketing and PR, public relations can be misinterpreted as a form of ‘publicity’, whether putting the ‘spin’ in politics or helping to manage the fallout from a celebrity misdemeanour. This rather glamorous persona can also result in some businesses, particularly small or medium-sized organisations or those working within a B2B sector, erroneously concluding that PR is not for ‘the likes of them’.
PR can not only help to convey a positive brand image of any type of organisation – but by using PR specialists, a business can explore new possibilities they may not have discovered on their own. It’s worth noting, too, that public relations professionals have a special obligation to practise their craft ethically, with the highest standards of truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public. Within the UK, members of the CIPR are bound by a Code of Conduct. They make the commitment on joining the organisation and renew this annually with their membership.
Public relations can help to build an organisation’s brand and reputation – while positioning it as a voice of authority. It may be deemed by some senior managers as an expense, but, as the explanations above have confirmed, for most organisations it’s a necessity, not a luxury. This is because it engages and informs key audiences, builds important relationships and brings vital information back into an organisation for analysis and action.
Ultimately, PR has real, measurable impact on the achievement of strategic organisational goals. There are both positive and negative reasons for needing PR, the positive being that you build up your brand name amongst stakeholders, whether they are potential customers or clients or existing customers, your own staff or shareholders. Effective PR communications can also help to boost the bottom line by raising the profile of particular brands your organisation provides or simply publicising the beneficial societal impact of the organisation.
By Cathy Hayward, MD.