Public relations allow companies and other organizations to communicate more effectively with customers, employees and the public in general. The ultimate goal is to put their client’s best foot forward both now and even more into the future.
It’s sometimes confused with simply another type of marketing, there is quite a functional difference between the two. Where the goal of marketing is to increase current sales of products or services, public relations management help to promote an overall image and reputation that will impact that particular market for many years to come.
Let’s look at some of the different types of functions and services they can offer, as well as some of the key services that are unique to this kind of firm.
What are the main functions of a Public Relations firm?
1. General strategic communication
Everything in improving a company’s PR involves sitting down and defining just what brand image and reputation goal are to be and how to make that happen. PR firms need to research everything about the company, such as what the product is, what are the competitors, what is the history of the company and where they want to be in the next few years and beyond.
One clear definition that has to be made from the start, is to make sure the short-term efforts of the PR firm are to elevate the company’s overall reputation and not to drive immediate sales, which is the job of marketing. While there is some overlapping function between marketing and PR, the most effective use of each should be seen as separate and have their own goals. Knowing the differences between PR and marketing goals at the early strategic planning point can make for much more efficient use of time and money when these plans are executed. At the same time, while sales are being made through direct advertising channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and other social media, that same advertising should be constantly boosting brand image while those sales are being made. It is during these early strategy and planning sessions, that both the short term and long term objectives of both PR and marketing aligned and agreed upon.
It’s important to know that PR strategy is ever-changing and ongoing improvements can be made as needed. You should always be looking for new ways to generate positive buzz about the company.
2. Press communication
Building positive press relationships is an ongoing function of successful PR management. Whether it is the function of the PR firm or company staff, having good media relationships with journalists, news outlets, publications are essential. This involves writing regular press releases and making time to speak at public functions, press conferences, and industry trade shows and events. Most of the time, this doesn’t require any advertising dollars being spent and gets you good exposure for your business and it’s products.
Successful PR press communication also means maintaining up-to-date press kits and fact sheets about any updates, or changes to products and the company in general. These changes should be made clear to staff, company-wide, to ensure that PR, marketing and customer service are on the same page. This can positively build the brand, but giving bad information to customers and it only hurts the company’s reputation by making it look lax and disorganized.
3. Crisis management
It is practically inevitable that a company will get hit with some sort of negative news that could not only pose a threat to its image but also potentially hurt its bottom line. This is the time when a fast response by the PR team and top-level management work together to soften its impact and overcome the backlash from the story.
Get ahead of the story and take responsibility for the problem. Any attempt to cover it up or to ignore it will only make the situation worse in the eyes of the public. Use social media and get ahead of the story by fielding any questions and addressing concerns quickly, either in person or through a press release.
It’s always better to apologize and make your company look human and sympathetic to the problem. But take action to resolve it quickly and, most importantly, get your side of the story out there through all available channels and let the public know that you understand and will resolve the matter. This is where a good PR company can use the speed of social media and the press to turn around a potentially harmful situation, to one that actually maintains a good company image and even improves it in the eyes of the public ( refer to “11 steps for PR crisis management”, at techwalker.com, for additional steps for handling these problems) .
4. Internal communication
Employees are also a vital part of a company’s PR strategy. An informed and engaged employee that is in contact with the public can be a tremendous positive tool to promote brand image. Although, the opposite can be true too, as a disgruntled or even just an apathetic employee can ruin that image just as effectively.
A PR plan must include making sure that employees are knowledgeable and understand that the company is purpose-driven. It’s only then that they can feel fulfilled in their job and become that PR tool that supports the ongoing promotion of the brand image. A study conducted by Linked-in, showed that people who see their job as more purpose-driven showed a 64% higher degree of fulfillment in their job, 50% higher likelihood to be in leadership positions and shown to have a 47% greater chance of being promoted by their employers.
The internal communications to keep employees educated and more involved can take the form of employee e-newsletters, employee interactive social media sites and even just company meetings that invite Q&A in a town-hall-style setting.
5. Community management
Social media is a powerful tool for company image promotion. Where social media management uses a company-branded account to reach out and interact with customers, community management, advocate for the brand and interacts and promotes the company to potential new customers from a separate account.
By using a separate manager for the brand, this is seen by prospects as more authentic and credible and more likely for building a greater following on social media. This can lead to more immediate sales of products as well. They also can more quickly identify negative comments as they arise and can better keep it from gaining traction and turning into a crisis.
6. Nonprofit public relations
Non-profit organizations need PR measures to get their story told and give potential donors compelling information about how they are succeeding at helping a social charity or satisfying a medical need. But like the fight over a commercial dollar, the competition over philanthropic donations can be just as intense, so a specialized PR firm can help improve the chances of a non-profit to succeed.
These groups are usually dealing with a much tighter budget, so time and opportunity to get their message out must be even more critical for their survival. The PR team can use effective tactics such as partnering with separate, non-competitive, like-minded groups.
7. Public affairs public relations
A PR firm can address a need for public affairs differently than it would public relations. But it is very important to make a distinction between the two because each requires its own set of objectives and PR strategy for their goals to be realized. Even though they both try to build their standing with the general public, their goals are a good bit different from one another.
Public relations refers to strengthening a company’s connection to the public through paid and free marketing methods. Public affairs, on the other hand, deals with public concerns that usually don’t involve a company’s products or services. This usually includes some type of government services like the Police, legislation, administration policies, etc.
The objective for PR in public affairs to improve the relationship between the community and the specified organization to build and encourage involvement by the community. The typical ads and general message of a public affairs campaign will be shorter, less commercial and geared more to local government and it’s citizenry. The goal is to foster more trust in the relationship between the two groups and try to minimize detracting opinions.
Public Relations Services
1. Reputation management
With the increase in social media speed influence and speed of information posted there, this service has become an ever more important service of PR firms. This means that any negative comments posted can quickly get out of hand and damage the reputation of a company, if not managed early and effectively.
The number of users and consumers is growing steadily every day. Statistica estimates the total social media users to reach over 3 billion by 2021.
Companies have to dedicate more ongoing monitoring of this PR sector and be ready to jump on any negative information and keep it from spreading with aggressive postings that counter these claims. Monitoring also becomes easier with improving software and alerts of some of the social media boards, such as Google Alerts.
2. Crisis management
A PR firm can set up a plan and set of tools that will kick into gear once a crisis has occurred. Starting with an overall event log, the status briefing plan, and a recovery plan. This has also been known to those who have had to deal with contingencies for emergencies faced in IT crises, as identified by Forbes in their article by Curtis Sparrer, which advocated: Preparing, Responding and Recovering.
A vital service provided by PR firms for crisis management is Social media monitoring. The goal is to identify the early warning indicators and prevent or minimize the negative effect of the event. By constantly watching certain indicators, a social media listening tool is invaluable. It monitors certain keywords, hashtags, your competitors, your company mentions, trending topics, sentiment, and other custom alerts. These alerts identify the warning indicators that you probably wouldn’t catch if you had to monitor social media manually.
3. Media relations
This is an important service provided by PR firms because it requires having ongoing media contacts that can be difficult for companies to manage in-house. Just like any other specialist, they will be able to provide press releases in the proper media and with the proper messaging to create the kind of impact that is needed.
Media relations need creativity, diligence in maintaining active relationships and the knowledge of the press and how they operate in handling promotion. If not done right, a company’s time and money could be wasted.
4. Social media
Social media has many working parts and can be overwhelming for in-house staff to manage if they have other marketing duties as well. These services can be very valuable in controlling content, advertising, analytics, tracking, and targeting. The PR management can keep ahead of the latest advancements in social media automation as well, allowing campaigns to roll out faster and with better quality tracking and analytics.
5. Speech writing
Any kind of writing can be difficult. You have to have a good gauge on who the audience will be, keeping organized and staying on topic and making it enjoyable and informative for the audience so they will get the most out of your message. Trying to cover all of these bases sometimes makes even the most intelligent and capable people fall short when it comes to speech writing.
PR firms know how to write effective speeches with efficiency and skill. The speech giver usually has other job-related tasks to accomplish during the work-day, so it is a real benefit to let the experts handle this as well. Plus, if the firm handles other services for the client, such as social media and campaign management, they will have access to information that the speech-giver may never have thought of on their own.
6. Press releases
PR firms write press releases constantly and are one of their bread and butter services. This is a different type of writing format than articles, blogs, and advertisements. A PR company can provide the most effective use of the medium and know how to apply it to social media channels for optimum targeting and distribution.
7. Event planning
Successful event planning with a PR firm can incorporate many different areas of expertise to launch and execute a successful live event or project. The available in-house capabilities include proficiency in crafting media releases to advertise the event to make sure it is seen via local news targeted industry channels, and knowing how to create interest in attending the event.
Depending on how large a venue will be needed they know how to estimate the personnel and space needed and how to accurately hire and book what is needed, so that money won’t be wasted or, even worse, underestimated and causing crowding and dissatisfaction of the attendees.
This is a service that can be difficult for companies that need to extend their reach into different communities that would otherwise go untouched. The gaps between the different communities can be better addressed by PR firms that are familiar with the area and know what is important to targeted groups.
This can take the form of setting up town hall meetings, public forums, and workshops, with online access. When the goal is to reach out multi-culturally, the PR firm can fine-tune messaging, set-up alliances, sponsors and even provide a forum for conflict resolution.
9. Market research
PR firms specializing in market research use data gathering in the form of consumer survey and product testing, to identify and analyze how modifying aspects of the marketing plan of a product or service can change customer behavior and preferences.
They are equipped to design the methodology to gather consumer data and to execute it by choosing the most appropriate methods available. Surveys are a big part of the research and this can be difficult to set up and conduct for companies if they aren’t practiced in it but can be much easier for a specialized PR firm.
10. Media training
This is a service that usually takes the form of teaching company representatives on how to deliver speeches and act as spokesperson for the company. Aside from the technical aspects of delivering a speech, the speaker can be trained to:
- Make your speech effective for the audience so that they will remember the key points of the message
- Deliver key points of the message clearly
- Persuasively and efficiently deal with tough questions
- Realize how public opinion can impact the community and potential customers, etc
11. Internal copy-writing
Like copy-writing for potential and existing customers, writing for your employees is a critical communication function and can be managed more effectively with the services of a professional PR firm. A company’s employees are each an individual representative of the company and need updated information that will be communicated clearly and effectively so that key points of the message will be retained in their memory.
The managing of these internal communications needs to consistent and understood every time it is released. Checking for redundancies and errors is as critical to making a good impression on staff as it is to potential customers. This can be achieved with a managed approach by a PR firm.
It is certainly a truth that today, information and communication are happening faster than in any other previous generation. This fact makes it all the more critical for today’s social media and Internet influenced population to crave professionalism in how information gets relayed to them.
The professional Public Relations firm can bring that consistency in the market. It can also make sure the right audience will always hear the message, so advertising dollars aren’t wasted and the brand image will improve in measured and targeted ways.