Public Relations (PR) is essential to any business. PR is your connection to your customers and the outside world. Without a strategic PR policy, you are operating in a vacuum, relying on guesswork to fulfil your customer’s needs.
Defining public relations can be difficult, as PR tends to evolve over time, and is different depending on where in the world you are located. However, a good definition can be found on the Public Relations Society of America’s website:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
Your “publics” are the various groups of individuals your business deals with – employees, customers, business partners, activist groups, legislature, neighbours – all have different needs and different agenda.
It goes without saying that doing business will necessarily involve communicating with your publics in various ways. But why should you have a strategic communications policy to do so?
The Feedback Loop – Market Research and Engagement
As we discussed in a previous blog post, there are two types of communication – one-way or two-way communication. Which one you choose to employ depends on the context and goal of the communication.
As an overall PR strategy, using purely one-way communication will fall short of finding out what your customers want. Without open lines of communication back to you, it is a process of trial and error in determining whether or not your product or service is filling their needs.
By engaging in conversation with your publics, you are able to receive dynamic feedback about your performance as a provider. By allowing feedback to flow, you may realise you have been investing large amounts of time and capital in a product or service that your customers don’t really care about, and neglecting one they believe is vital.
Market research enables you to:
- gauge the areas of real need in your publics
- strengthen areas of your enterprise that are doing well
- defuse small problems before they become big ones
- identify niches you are able to fill
- engage your publics and build your brand reputation.
In the digital age, market research can go far beyond telephone or newspaper surveys and dry statistical analysis.
Some of the tools available to us today are:
- Social media – Facebook can allow for real-time interaction with both happy and dissatisfied customers. Twitter hashtags can be used to obtain instantaneous and pithy survey answers. Instagram can be used to measure the tastes of your publics, particularly if you are in the fashion or design industry. And blogs can be used for in-depth discussion and detailed responses. A robust social media PR strategy is a must for the business of today.
- Email – unlike letter campaigns, email only costs the hosting fees, and can reach publics all over the globe almost instantaneously. Email can be used to share news, ask for feedback, conduct surveys or provide technical support. Additionally, a recent survey found that email is still the preferred method for the majority of consumer transactions. Don’t be afraid of the spam folder – carefully titled and worded emails will find their mark more often than not. (further reading on email)
- SMS – as well as being useful for appointment confirmations and news releases, consider using SMS for simple, one-question surveys. Application-to-person (A2P) SMS systems can allow “Y” or “N” responses to be aggregated and quantified when a quick answer is needed to an important question.
Along with these more modern iterations, more traditional methods such as telephone surveys, letter campaigns and media releases should not be neglected, as these are all still important and useful tools.
By allowing your customers to communicate with you and engaging them in conversation, you will develop a honed sense of what they need and how they want it delivered.
The Unified Image – Brand Consistency
As a business, it is important to present a unified image to your publics. This is more than just ensuring your branding appears on all your correspondence; it is ensuring that the message you send aligns to the vision and goals of your company, and the message you want to send is the one that gets sent every time.
By allowing anyone in your business to speak to either customers, the media, the legislature or activist groups, you are not controlling the message you want to send. These different publics receive messages in a highly context-dependent manner, and therefore need the message tailored to suit their needs. Allowing a staff member who is not trained in liaising with the media, for example, has the potential to catastrophically damage your brand if the message is “spun” against your interests or taken out of context.
It is therefore imperative that a communications policy exists with capable individuals in charge of sending messages to ensure brand and message consistency. This way, the goal of the message will be achieved through the thoughtful selection of medium, voice and channel.
The Closing Gap – Painting a Picture
PR doesn’t have to be reactive. All of us have heard the term “PR nightmare” before, and images of a beleaguered PR executive sweating in front of a swarm of journalists come to mind.
If PR is conducted proactively, it is possible to solve problems before they arise. Further, it is possible to create favourable opinions of your business where none exist, or even change negative opinions.
By proactively conducting market research and initiating the conversation with your publics, you can anticipate their needs and provide solutions before they have to ask. This further strengthens your brand as one your customers can rely on and trust.
The Bottom Line – Take the Lead in PR
Take responsibility for your PR strategy. Proactively build relationships with your publics and anticipate their needs. This will build trust in you as an organisation and ensure your business remains stronger for longer.