Why is it that PR practitioners have such a difficult time seeing
their outstanding programs reach fruition? That budgets for public
relations pale in comparison to those allocated for traditional
advertising or transaction based marketing? Or that public relations
expertise is excluded from the strategic planning process?
For the legions of public relations professionals who work as consultants
or as in-house staff for small, medium and, surprisingly, many large
size private and publicly held corporations, advancing the case
for strategic PR often feels like pushing water uphill. I am continually
amazed at the general lack of understanding regarding the definition,
expectations and benchmarks for evaluation for the work that we
do. Except for the most recognizable companies there remains a sea
of businesses and not-for-profit organizations who have yet to come
to grips with the power of public relations and then earmark the
necessary human and financial resources to the task.
The tenacity of the public relations professional is such that
we are exceedingly resourceful. I believe that in an effort to demonstrate
the value of public relations in any number of areas: reputation
management, crisis intervention, product introduction, the PR manager
has developed strong skills in doing more for less. Producing results
that outpace expectations allows us to build a greater appreciation
for the power of public relations and to slowly gain acceptance
from the highest levels of management.
We know the drill of arguments to advance our case. The credibility
of third party endorsement and cost efficiency are two key selling
features. Add to this more effective means of measuring the impact
of our programs from a qualitative and quantitative point of view
and outstanding cases that can be leveraged in order to state, "look
what PR achieved for the Body Shop, Viagra and Tickle Me Elmo".
As reported in a recent issue of Sales and Marketing, all
of these brands were built with little or no advertising.
Still, our field remains misunderstood, often maligned and certainly
challenging to define in a 30 second sound bite. To dispel the myths
public relations professionals must take on an expanded role. In
addition to our function as corporate counsel we must continually
seek to inform and educate our employers, colleagues and clients
about PR. This is clearly the only way to gain acceptance from where
all of the management decisions are made. At the top!
Does this seemingly sad portrayal of the lot of public relations
suggest bitterness, envy or negativity? Absolutely not! Public Relations
is quickly surpassing advertising in terms of power and influence,
according to the article in Sales Promotion magazine and the trend
is likely to continue. Consumers, and here I mean consumers of products
and services of all kinds, have become increasingly more sophisticated
and adept in how and where they search for information. The credibility
of third party endorsements adds a powerful dimension to their behavior
and ultimately to their "buying" decisions.
Good PR work is produced with winning conditions starting with
buy-in from the CEO. Make no mistake, public relations is a management
function that must be seen as part of the overall strategic planning
process. The impact of PR can and will be felt in building customer
loyalty, in the success of a fundraising campaign, in attracting
investors and in sensitizing patients to a new drug. The goal of
PR is not to launch a product, create publicity for a plant opening
or minimize the fallout from a crisis. The goal of PR is to help
an organization realize its business objectives.
How can we effect change?
- Clearly identify the role of the PR professional in your organization
as a strategist and business advisor rather than as the implementer
- Insist that PR be part of the business planning process and
be in the loop as to bottom-line objectives.
- Establish performance benchmarks that are meaningful in terms
of the business goals ( not just in generating clips!) and that
will allow the decision makers to see and appreciate return on
investment in terms that relate to the practice of PR.
- Set parameters for what constitutes success that are mutually
acceptable before you get into the tactics. Then work toward reaching
- Remain objective when it comes to the budget you need to produce
results. While we all have stories about pulling a rabbit out
of a hat, limited staff and dollars do not give us the tools to
- Do not promise what you can't deliver. Because so much of what
we do is dependent on third parties over promising leads to disappointment.
Carol Levine, APR, with Communications
MECA, can be reached Toll-free: 1-800-764-MECA, World Wide Web:
www.meca.ca and E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Communications MECA's listing can be found on page 234 of the Summer
1999 issue of Sources.
Relations Strategy as a Valuable Fundraising Tool
is Public Relations?