Public Relations and Publicity

What are Public Relations?

Public relations is the management of relationships and communication to establish goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its public. Public relations is more wide ranging than marketing which primarily focuses on markets, distribution channels and customers.

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Marketers primarily focus on customers and distributors but needs and interests of other groups such as those of employees, shareholders, local community, media, government and pressure groups are also important.

By communicating to other groups, public relations creates an environment in which it is easier to conduct marketing. Public relation activities include publicity, corporate advertising, seminars, publications/ lobbying and charitable donations.

A company has to understand the importance of stakeholders other than its customers, suppliers and channel partners. A company’s very existence as a business entity will be in jeopardy if these stakeholders do not have positive perceptions of the company. For instance, it will not be allowed to set up its factories and offices if it has antagonized the community in which the business is to be set up. Public and banks would not finance its operation if it lacks credibility.

Aggrieved media and pressure groups can berate the company to the extent that its suppliers and other partners would not want to do business with it. And all these stakeholders shape customer’s opinion to some extent. In sum, a company would find it impossible to do business if its major stakeholders are aggrieved with it, even if the company has a very good product and marketing program in place.

A company has to be deliberate in managing its relationship with its important stakeholders. It cannot assume that its good practices will ensure good public relations. It has to research the interests and expectations of various stakeholders and serve them. It will be fatal to equate public relations with good corporate communication.

For maintaining a good relationship with important stakeholders, the company has to first serve their interests and then communicate to them that their interests are being served in particular ways. Focusing exclusively on communications would make the whole exercise a gimmick and the stakeholders will see through the facade. Public relations is as real as any other marketing activity, i.e. it is based on achieving something substantial for the stakeholders.

Public relations is a growth area as marketing has recognized its power and value. Increased advertising cost has led to exploration of more cost effective communication channels.

What is Publicity?

A major element of public relations is publicity. It implies communication about a product or organization by the placing of news about it in the media without paying for time and space directly.

Though a company can manage to get talked about in the media without doing anything which is newsworthy, it will not help its cause if the readers or the viewers do not find the story about the company stimulating enough to toke a note of it and register it in their minds. A big portion of the publicity budget is spend on maintaining relations with media with the hope that the media will feature the company more frequently and prominently.

This is wasteful. Instead the company should expend its resources in staging events, building associations, and doing other things depending upon the type of business the company is in, that the public would be genuinely interested in knowing about.

Savvy companies know the triggering points of public and the media attention and conduct themselves in a manner that invites the attention of the public and media. Their publicity endeavor does not end with courting the media. Media, anyway, will carry the stories that its readers and viewers will wont to read and view.

Tasks of Publicity Department

Responding to requests from media which requires availability of well organized information of the company.

Supplying the media with information on events and occurrences relevant to the organization. This requires developed internal communication channels and knowledge of the media.

Stimulating the media to carry the information and viewpoint of the organization. This requires creative development of ideas, developing close relationships with media people and understanding their needs and motivations.

Characteristics of Publicity

One important task is to supply information to important stakeholders. Information dissemination may be through news releases, news conferences, interviews, feature articles, seminars and conferences. Publicity has five important characteristics:

Credible message: The message has a higher credibility than advertising as it appears to the reader to hove been written independently by a media person than by on advertiser. Because of the high credibility it is more persuasive than a similar message in an advertisement.

No media cost: Since space or time in a media is not bought, there is no direct media cost; but someone has to write the news release, take part in interviews or organize the news conference. This may be organized internally by a press officer or publicity department or externally by a public relations agency.

Loss of control of publication: Unlike advertising there is no guarantee that the news item will be published. The decision is in the hands of the editor and not with the organization. A key factor is whether the item is judged to be newsworthy. The item must be distinctive in the sense of having news value. The topic of the news item must be of interest to the publication’s readers.

Loss of control of content: There is no way of ensuring that the viewpoint of the company is reflected in the published article.

Loss of control of timing: An ad campaign can be coordinated to achieve maximum impact. The timing of publication of the news item cannot be controlled.

Photo by: SFU
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