In the first post of this two-part series, we saw how the function of public relations is used to perform two key roles for any public entity – marketing and advocacy. The role of marketing comes into fore whenever PR is directed at an entity’s customers. Also, recall that from a marketing perspective, customers include buyers of a firm’s products and services, its employees and also investors and lenders – virtually any stakeholder who derives an obvious and articulable value from an organization’s operations.
The goal of PR, as with any marketing communications, is two-fold, make customers aware of an organization’s (public entity’s) value proposition as embedded in its products and services (this includes the organization’s value as an employer), and persuade them to choose its products or services over those of competitors, or even close substitutes. These two categories of goals synchronize perfectly to the standard brand building process, and now let us examine these in detail.
Marketers primarily seek to use PR to build high awareness of their products and services at a controlled cost. Unlike advertising where each exposure costs incremental money, PR is not just a cost-effective alternative, but also has certain advantages in building brand awareness among the existing and potential customers. The advantages are derived from the nature of the tool – consumers are deemed more likely to read and respond to ‘earned media’ than the paid-for advertising.
This is the reason why all PR campaigns driven by marketing have an implicit agenda of maximizing the media coverage – more exposures at a controlled cost help increase the brand’s awareness among a large number of existing and potential customers.
At the same time, effective PR can also contribute significantly to strengthening a brand’s image and this is the role all skilled marketers expect PR to play. Let us understand this aspect in a little more detail. By choosing what to communicate through PR, how, and when, all organizations are carefully cultivating a precise, desired image with a chosen set of attributes. The desired brand image may be for a product or service, or it may represent the organization’s brand. For example, an organization seeking to build a corporate brand association of ‘innovative’ would look to drive PR for its R&D efforts; and the one seeking to build a product brand association of ‘reliable’ would drive PR around customers’ long-term ownership or use of its products and services.
Effectively, PR as a subset of marketing therefore seeks to calibrate its message strategy to strengthen the desired image attributes of a brand among the customers. This is precisely the point where PR’s contribution is directly juxtaposed against advertising as a powerful communication tool in the hands of a skilled marketer. This is also the reason why a brand’s PR messaging strategy should always and unequivocally flow out of its positioning strategy – having it any other way means that the function of PR is not completely aligned with the marketing. The end result is either a waste of precious time, effort and resources at best, or campaigns that actually harm the marketing of products or services at worst.
When planned and executed well, PR is an extremely potent marketing tool with the potential to boost brand awareness to atmospheric levels, and also strengthen the desired image attributes. Consider how Virgin group has used PR successfully over the years, or the outstanding Red Bull Stratos campaign. Closer home, consider the use of PR by a young political party like AAP.
It is also important to recognize that PR has its limitations and may not always the best tool for strengthening or working on all desired associations of a brand. In other words, PR is but one tool for building a brand, and often an organization is better served by sending controlled messages through paid media to strengthen, or sometimes protect their brand’s image. This distinction is necessary in the hands of a marketer as also for the external agency partner to drive optimal PR with minimal wastage of time and resources.