Public relations, or PR, is the practice of managing and guiding perceptions of your business to attract new customers and strengthen the loyalty of existing customers. Customers’ perceptions can be shaped by direct experiences, the actions and observations of others, and the statements you make in the media and marketplace.
Well-planned PR strategies are powerful tools for business. Unlike marketing and advertising, PR takes advantage of unpaid communication channels such as local and regional media, the internet, business networks and community and customer relationships. Typically PR garners more credibility than paid marketing efforts as the end result is usually produced by a third party.
PR involves communicating with your market to raise awareness of your business, build and manage your business’s reputation and cultivate relationships with consumers. While marketing focuses on promoting actual products and services, public relations focuses on promoting awareness, attitudes and behaviour change.
This guide helps you plan and measure your PR efforts so you can develop business relationship and reputation strategies that work.
Public relations tools and activities
By using proven public relations (PR) tools and activities, you can promote positive attitudes and behaviours towards your business that will help convert interested consumers into customers.
PR tools are very cost-effective, and often give you a greater degree of control than more broadly targeted advertising campaigns. Consider using these PR tools to build your business’s reputation.
Media strategies focus on circulating messages through media channels to manage how your business is portrayed by the media. Your media tools might include releasing media statements and fact sheets, offering on-site media tours to encourage journalists to report positive messages about your business, and using social media to get the attention of journalists and track journalists who report in your market.
By developing good media contact lists and building relationships with key journalists to pitch media releases and story ideas to, you can use local, regional or state media to:
- promote your business
- manage risks, issues or crises affecting your business.
Advertorials are advertisements in the form of news stories or reviews in newspapers. Advertorials allow you to associate your advertising with the credibility of the newspaper.
Many businesses employ advertising or marketing professionals to help them develop TV advertorials — which are commonly used as a form of advertising and product placement.
Social media lets you bypass the media and go straight to your customers. Using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter allows you to follow and be followed by journalists, drive web traffic, manage issues by responding quickly to criticisms or negative perceptions, and increase exposure for your business brand.
Learn more about social media and your business.
Print or emailed newsletters are a good way to promote your business, communicate with customers and keep them informed of new products and services.
Regular newsletters can strengthen your personal connections with customers and reflect your business brand and personality. A well written newsletter offers information of value to your customers.
Brochures and catalogues
‘Take home’ or mail-out brochures or catalogues can help keep your customers thinking about your business and its products and services.
Properly designed brochures and catalogues give customers confidence in you and your brand, and help drive customers to your website or store. Information contained in business brochures and catalogues can be effectively reworked for your website, helping you do business online.
Events are opportunities for business people to gain exposure for their businesses, promote new products or services and make sure accurate information reaches targeted customers.
From a sales point of view, events are a chance to counter customer doubts and build customer confidence. They can also help you research your market and competitors, and build your mailing list. Make sure you go to the event prepared with marketing materials to disseminate and a way to collect information and customer details.
Trade shows are an opportunity for businesses to compete in their industry and share information with people in similar lines of work. Learn more about promoting your business at trade shows and exhibitions.
Speaking at events where customers are likely to attend helps position you as a leader or innovator in your field. As a business owner or leader, building your reputation as an expert also builds the reputation of your business – and draws new customers.
Events are valuable promotional opportunities even if you don’t have top billing as a speaker. You will build reputation simply by having your business name or logo on the event listing, or delivering a presentation about a new product or innovation. Additionally, they provide valuable networking opportunities.
Sponsorships or partnerships
Partnerships and sponsorships are good for business. Supporting a not-for-profit cause can help build feelings of goodwill and loyalty towards your business. Community partnerships may involve an exchange of funds or in-kind benefits to grow a local community organisation in return for benefits that promote your business reputation.
Partnerships can help consumers identify your brand with good business practice and good ethics.
Your staff are ambassadors for your business and brand. Many larger businesses conduct employee relations – building their business culture and team relationships by sharing information, promoting involvement and instilling a sense of pride in business achievement. This can improve teamwork, staff retention and productivity, and ensure that staff are representing your business consistently and with the right messages.
Building good relationships with members of the community where you do business helps build customer loyalty. Find out where the customers in your community live by collecting postcodes at point of sale.
Engaging local stakeholders and decision makers helps build your profile and level of influence, helping you to attract more customers through word-of-mouth and ensuring your business interests are factored into community decision making.
Choosing and applying the right PR tools
Setting clear goals for building your reputation and understanding your target market will help you choose the right public relations (PR) tools for the job. These steps will help guide your PR decisions.
Decide on your PR goals
Think about the type of reputation you want to build for you business. What do you want to be known for? What characteristics will draw new customers to you? What is newsworthy about your business? What are some big ideas to get customers talking about you?
To develop effective PR strategies you need to set SMART goals:
- Specific — state clearly what you want to achieve
- Measurable — set tangible measures so you can measure your results
- Achievable — set objectives that are within your capacity and budget
- Relevant — set objectives that will help you improve particular aspects of your business
- Time-bound — set objectives you can achieve within the time you need them.
Develop your key messages
Develop a series of statements that answer the who, what, where, when and why of your business. These statements are referred to as key messages and can be used as part of your PR material to showcase your business’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Key messages are factual and are usually no longer than one sentence. Typically you should have no more than 5-6 key messages.
Develop a PR budget
Like all marketing tactics, you need to invest money in your PR. Some businesses may choose to appoint a PR agency to handle your PR activity. Effectively you are paying them for their time, usually at an hourly rate. If you choose to conduct PR activities yourself there may be a number of things you may need to budget for, including:
- direct mail of media kits
- promotional items
Set a budget that will help you plan and support your annual investment in PR.
Identify your target audiences
Consider your market research, or refer to your marketing plan, and list your target market segments.
Review the information about who your customers are, how they live and where they get their information from. This information will help you identify your best PR tools and tactics.
Narrow down your best PR opportunities
Always be on the hunt for interesting stories, angles and anecdotes about your business. Identify the ‘material’ that will help build your chosen profile. Make this a habit that is part of the way you and your team think.
Choose material that is topical, interesting, stands out from the crowd, and best fits your target audiences. Matching your PR material to your target audiences will help you choose your most effective PR tools.
For example, you might produce a story about the anniversary of your third-generation family business for seniors in your community through a local newspaper, newsletters for community groups such as Lions or Rotary, and a senior citizens magazine. This may involve a media release with a case study of business growth, with professionally photographed images and by pitching a member of the family as a spokesperson to media.
Tailor PR to your target audience
PR and media tools exist for each of your customer segments. Your task is to match your media to your market. Consider the list of PR tools and activities and choose the best media channels to reach your customers.
Research community groups, websites, publications and local and regional media sources — and start to build records of distribution sources matched to your target markets.
Review social media sources and seek advice from PR professionals if you need direction on how to access your customers through the fast-changing world of social media.
Developing a list of media sources that reach your customer base will help you choose your mix of tools. This is typically referred to as a media database.
For example, you want to promote your outdoor adventure store by generating publicity about a member of your staff who recently won an international rock-climbing competition. You want to target outdoor sports adventurers and youth consumers in your community. You use:
- social media sites to connect with journalists who will release your story
- Facebook and your website to tell your customers about the achievement
- sponsorship of a local community ‘active youth’ project aimed at promoting youth health and fitness — using your staff member as an ambassador
- a community event to raise funds for the outreach project
- a media release to local newspapers publicising the win, the active youth project and your sponsorship
- your own newsletter to promote the story to your own database.
Measuring and improving your PR
Measuring the success of your public relations (PR) activities will help you identify tools and tactics that work and avoid activities that do not produce results.
It’s important to be clear about what you’re looking for when you measure your PR. Before you start, review your PR objectives and consider:
- the target customer segments you have identified
- the business achievements you identified in your PR objectives
- the set of key messages you chose to profile your business.
What to measure and how
Stay focused on your target audiences. This not only helps you direct your PR efforts, it also helps you measure changes in their awareness, attitudes and behaviours as a result of your PR activities.
Types of measurements include:
- the amount and quality of media coverage relevant to your audiences
- the number of times your key messages reach customers
- the number of customers contacting you after picking up brochures or catalogues at trade shows
- people clicking through to your website as the result of web directory listings or your email newsletter
- social media growth
- word-of-mouth referrals
- walk-ups due to increased awareness
- people phoning your business as the result of PR activities
- sales increases.
You may find it helpful to use a table or simple database to list your PR objectives and the outcomes achieved.
Using surveys to measure PR
Many businesses create surveys to answer questions about:
- where customers heard about the business
- how their awareness, attitudes and behaviour has changed as the result of key messages or PR activity.
Using social media and website traffic to measure PR
Businesses are increasingly using social media to measure their online PR. Taking your PR online makes it easier than ever to track communication about your business. Following online media, blog posts, tweets and e-newsletters, for example, allows you to track what consumers and journalists are saying about your business.
Many businesses communicating with state or national audiences use media monitoring services. This may be unnecessary if you are mainly engaged in local public relations activities and can simply record electronic coverage or obtain copies of newspapers or industry newsletters.
To measure website traffic generated by their public relations activities, many businesses use internet statistics or analysis tools. Your website hosting company may offer a simple tool. Alternatively you can track via a search engine alert service. Businesses often use third-party solutions. Learn more about measuring online performance.
Criteria to measure your PR
Keep in mind that you are not just looking for outputs (the quantity of media you produce) but for outcomes (the quality of relevant messages you produce that meet your PR objectives).
Develop a series of questions that help you measure whether you have met your PR objectives. For example:
- Did we reach our target audiences?
- Which of our key messages are reaching our audiences?
- How often are they reaching our audiences?
- Which tools and activities are we reaching them through?
- How many times are those tools and activities successful?
- Which material was taken up by our media channels?
- Did they reproduce our photo, footage or sound bytes?
- What tangible responses to the PR did we receive from our customers?
Your answers to the above questions will help you identify which of your PR activities produced the results you wanted. Keep records about what worked.
Making decisions about your PR
Be careful to evaluate whether the tools, activities and material you used met your goals for building your business’s reputation. If your activities generated positive media but did not reach your customer base, you still have work to do.
Review your market research. The information you have gathered about your customer segments will help you look for ways to better target your audiences. Objectives you’ve identified in your marketing plan may also suit PR tools and approaches. Consider whether it is a PR objective about promoting awareness, attitudes or behaviour change.
Good PR is an ongoing creative process. Be persistent, stay positive and continue looking for opportunities to position your business and encourage consumers to trust, like and use your business.
Public relations ethics and industry links
Public relations (PR) involves communicating in public, which means your business will be subject to a range of ethical and legal considerations. Laws on defamation, privacy and copyright will apply to you when transmitting information or expressing your opinion.
Remember that every message you release influences consumers’ opinions about you. Keep your public statements consistent with your brand and key messages. Try not to distract consumers from your message by commenting on unrelated or unworthy issues. Keep your PR focused and professional.
In some instances though, your PR efforts may be focused on crisis communications where you are managing your reputation because of an issue or situation that has arisen. You may need to issue a media release or be interviewed by the media to provide a response to the situation to help protect your business image and clarify any facts.
Ethical PR principles
Make sure your PR reflects the ethics of your business and be clear on your PR principles. For example, choosing not to make negative comments about customers, competitors or suppliers will strengthen your credibility and reduce risks of damage to your reputation. Consider these ethical PR tips:
- Stay honest and consistent with your messages. Consumers can easily spot double standards, distortions and hypocritical statements.
- Never pay for media coverage. PR trades on independent, third-party reports, stories and information. Paying for good press breaches the standards of PR practice.
- PR consultants offer services, information and advice that can help you position your business.
- Don’t fight your competitors in public. Keeping your criticisms and disagreements with your competitors and suppliers out of the spotlight shows good grace and keeps your PR professional.