Author: Ellen Gunning. Ellen is director of Irish Academy Training which provides training courses, nationwide, in communications, business, leadership, marketing and social media.
“If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations” Bill Gates.
Does Bill Gates know something that you don’t? If he thinks public relations is so important, isn’t it worth looking at it for your own business?
Competition for peoples attention is intense – and will become even more difficult in 2017 and beyond. We are all time-poor but information hungry. Think about how you consume information yourself. I look for quick soundbytes which can encapsulate complex theories (Twitter). I also want people to show me how to do things – I’m a terrible woman for not reading manuals (YouTube). I adore debate and love to hear people arguing and defending a position – you can’t beat radio for that. I love to actually see how people react when they are put under pressure – and that’s television. I like to know who else agrees with me (that’s why Facebook invented ‘likes’) and I prefer information to come to me either in my inbox or in blogs. I want instant news as it is breaking! I need to keep up to date with so many things for my business that I am constantly monitoring, taking CPD courses, attending conferences, speaking with colleagues and trying to absorb and develop coherent ‘positions’ about industry trends. Add to that the fact that I want to keep up to date with my hobbies, find time for family and friends, eat well, stay healthy, exercise, relax – and you understand why companies need PR to break through all of that noise and communicate with me.
1. What is public relations?
PR, at its simplest, is communication and every business, organisation, charity, sports club or religious body communicates with people. PR is not advertising – the purpose of advertising is to sell product. Nor is it propaganda – that aims to win you over to a position whether it is right or wrong!
PR is about finding ways of telling people about you, your business, your passion, your products, your attitude to the environment, your treatment of staff, the awards that you have won, the other companies who trust your products or services. PR is about two-way communications. It is about speaking and listening. Good listening is a skill that every business needs – you learn a lot from your customers and potential clients. Good speaking is about interacting with those people and responding to what they are saying to you.
2. What investment is needed?
The two things which you need to invest in, to have good PR, are time and skills. Obviously, just like accountancy or IT, you need to learn certain skills and polish the way that you apply them but PR is also very time intensive. Whether you are writing blogs or liaising with media, polishing a presentation or creating a monthly ezine, it all takes time, but if you are willing to invest in PR, the return can be sizeable.
3. What tools should you be using?
PR practitioners use a really wide range of tools: everything from press releases to exhibitions, third-party endorsement, social media, sponsorship, entertainment opportunities, ezines, blogs, conferences and photo-calls.
4. What are you trying to achieve?
If you are going to invest in PR, you need to know what you want to achieve. There are three things that PR is particularly good at. It can create awareness of you and your business. We all accumulate information about companies from a variety of sources, but this information builds into a feeling of familiarity which will allow them to sell to you later. PR also creates a presence. It allows you to constantly remind people that you are still around and providing excellent products or services. Finally, PR is also great at establishing or enhancing your reputation. Reputations take a long time to build. Think about a brand that you trust. It has a good reputation right? Now think about how you know that? Its hard to pin-point isn’t it? That’s PR.
5. Who are you talking to?
PR targets information and interaction like a bow and arrow. One of the first things you need to do is figure out who are you talking to. Is it customers, employees, the money market, suppliers, influencers, government, competitors or peers? Make a long list of each group that you should be communicating with and rank them in order of importance. This will determine how much time you invest in each. Now look at how you reach them. You are highly unlikely to reach customers and government using the same tools – customers might find you on Facebook, government might need one-to-one lobbying. So, list the tools that each of these publics likes to use. You want to communicate with them using the tools which are convenient and appropriate for them!
People buy from people – how often have you heard that?- so you need to let them know about you and your business. Catching and holding people’s attention is difficult, but all of the research shows that people will not buy from a brand that they do not know – so your business needs to be known.
Over the course of the coming year, I will be sharing insights with you and offering hints and tips about how to get the maximum benefit from applying PR techniques to your own business.