There was a time – that perhaps still exists – when corporations sought PR-able ideas from an agency. PR-able as defined was a plan to get their stories into the media that translated into column centimeters. What rarely ever mattered was the message or the TG. What did matter, however, was the size of the write up and therefore the quantum of space that the story occupied in a newspaper or the airtime on a TV channel. This was a quantity versus quality approach limited to the medium of outreach and not outreach itself!
Today, however, PR’s definition is not limited to the above. By the sheer simple definition of PR, it has emerged more so now and should have been integral to the outreach efforts of any entity be it corporations, institutions or even governments. The two words of PR – public and relations – cannot and could not have meant anything less than building relations with stakeholders that influence businesses and other entities and their reputation. If one were to open one’s mind to the expanse that PR actually is, then it would have to have been central to marketing and any form of stakeholder engagement.
Where PR lost its way or the power of what it could have been would mean digging into history and questioning situations and entities that may have sliced away at the definition, limiting it to largely media relations. There is no doubt that media relations in itself is challenging, given the lack of control one may have over a journalist, unlike advertising where one buys space and controls the message.
Still, the media was just one section of a consumer base (that without a doubt is arguably the most powerful) that influences other stakeholders but at no point can replace word of mouth or the fact that consumers are now more exposed to multiple touch points that influence their decision-making.
What has also changed over the years is the empowerment of stakeholders due to the advent of technology that provides them access to information and research giving them greater insight into products, issues and the experiences of other consumers. They may not fall for an ad and the claims that are made as easily as they did.
The great advantage that PR today has is that its true potential can be realised. Being effective communicators and those who believe in the power of engagement, practitioners can sit in prime central positions determining larger campaigns that include multiple touch points. PR practitioners perhaps have a greater realisation of the one-public phenomenon that is more apparent to them than ever was. Having experienced the challenges of media and new forms of reporting such as citizen journalism and spending hours in the digital space listening and talking to consumers directly, the landscape and the area of involvement has grown beyond the limits of column centimeters.
With such levels of engagement, it is possible that a PR consultant sees and hears the consumer a lot more and knows what he experiences, where and when. Being in the people’s business, his sensitivity towards emotions would be greater and hence can be that much more involved in a business of a client. No wonder, PR consultants often sign non-disclosure agreements even before partnering a client.
There are case studies that actually show this change where our firm is now playing a central role in the marketing approach for brands such as Lavazza. Our views go across consumer engagement at cafes, business opportunities, menus in addition to media relations and vendor interaction. Similarly, if one looks at campaigns that Gillette has used, the central point of developing an idea has been a PR agency – Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick – in this instance.
If one commoditises or limits the extent of PR, the return on investment and the impact on the bottom-line would also be limited. The truth is that a product does not exist without a market. The market cannot be bereft of people. PR practitioners who relate to these publics are the ones who are best placed to engage with them ensuring that the existence results in sustainable engagement for the value proposition that a brand or product offers.