Does your organization have a public relations strategy? Do you know how to build one? Or more fundamentally, do you know what public relations really means? For too many businesses, the answer to all three questions is, “Ummmm …. Maybe? Well, OK, no.”
If this is you, don’t worry. You’re certainly not alone. Unfortunately, some companies don’t focus on public relations until it’s too late (thus, the phrase “PR nightmare”). To understand how to create and execute a successful public relations strategy — proactively and preemptively — you first must grasp what PR is and how it applies to your particular situation, profession, and/or industry.
PR is born
The definition of public relations has evolved since its birth in the early 20th century. Today, the Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Your “publics” are your or your organization’s various audiences, including but not limited to your clients, consumers, employees, critics, shareholders, vendors, or the community at large.
Edward Bernays is widely considered as the “father of public relations.” Bernays, who, incidentally, was the nephew of philosopher Sigmund Freud, was born in 1891 in Vienna, Austria and grew up in New York City. As a budding journalist and later as the head of the first PR firm, he applied his uncle Sigmund’s psychoanalytical principles to influence audiences.
One of Bernays’ most successful PR campaigns was one he would grow to regret. In 1929, it was taboo for women to smoke cigarettes in public. Working with psychologists, Bernays discovered that women felt cigarettes were synonymous with male power. He used this perception to build a campaign for the Lucky Strike cigarette brand called “Torches of Freedom,” which equated lighting up to expanding women’s rights, which were, at the time, being hotly debated.
“Bernays was duly convinced that linking products to emotions could cause people to behave irrationally,” says the American Psychological Association’s Lisa Held. “In reality, of course, women were no freer for having taken up smoking, but linking smoking to women’s rights fostered a feeling of independence.”
PR vs. Marketing
Bernays’ Lucky Strike campaign led to a full-blown cultural shift in the way the public thought about women and smoking. It also led to a huge boost in cigarette sales for Lucky Strike. Results like these, though, are the reason so many (super smart!) people erroneously believe that PR is synonymous with, or an extension of, marketing.
“While both marketing and PR have similar processes, they each have a unique differentiator when it comes to the end goal,” says Scott Samson in Forbes. “What it comes down to is what part of the sales funnel they directly engage with and the areas of your business they support.”
As Samson explains, the goal of marketing is to generate leads and increase sales, while the goal of public relations is a longer lasting, more strategic, and more inclusive process. PR supports not only your marketing efforts, but those of your entire organization.
Following in Bernays’ footsteps, today’s public relations experts use data, content, and psychological techniques to influence public opinion in a way that benefits their client or business. They research and analyze the issues and attitudes of their publics and create communication strategies or provide recommendations to leadership on how to best protect or frame their individual or company reputations.
Publics are impacted by effective public relations strategies when they listen to an executive’s speech, read an annual report or press release, or, of course, respond to a marketing campaign with a purchase or to a Facebook message with a like or share.
Basic building blocks
These days you don’t have to be in business to use public relations strategies. You’ve heard of social media influencers, right? Their goal is to intentionally shape the way others think of them by the way they speak, act, move, dress, etc. (i.e. their personal brand). Through their YouTube or TikTok videos, Instagram stories, or Twitter feeds, these influencers convince their publics to do as they do, whether that’s by purchasing their preferred products or emulating their actions.
They can also influence the way a follower thinks about virtually anything, from political issues to music to food trends. Their publics follow and emulate them because whatever the influencer is “selling” also benefits the follower. This is the definition of public relations. No matter what you think about social media influencers (or SMIs, as they’re known in the marketing world), you can’t deny their impact.
So, how do you apply the techniques introduced by Bernays in the 1920s and used by influencers 100 years later to build your own effective public relations strategy? Here at Ad4! Group, we help organizations and individuals do just that, and we’d love to help you as well. However, we’re happy to share a few of our basic strategy-building blocks here:
- Define your objective, or the “why” behind your public relations efforts.
- Carefully craft your message and keep it consistent.
- Identify your audiences, or your “publics.”
- Evaluate all of your PR opportunities, including events and employee relations.
- Create a detailed plan for any contingency or potential crisis.
In our next Red Pencil Blog post, we’ll dig a little deeper into the world of public relations and outline some of the most “influential” strategies and tactics you can use today.