Why PR (Still) Matters

a group of businessmen on cell phones

Public Relations, commonly referred to as “PR”, may bring to mind long articles in a dusty newspaper. Younger consumers are increasingly drawn to digital platforms, and marketers are responding accordingly. Yet even with so much of our lives happening virtually, utilizing traditional and digital PR methods can be a powerful tool for building brand reputation and consumer trust. While PR may sound dry and boring, it can provide the extra boost your marketing strategy is missing. Here’s why PR still matters:

  1. PR Strengthens a Marketing Strategy

PR isn’t complete without marketing but might be what your current marketing efforts are missing. Public Relations is not a stand-alone effort but is one piece of the puzzle in building good brand recognition and reputation. Ideally, it works hand-in-hand with your existing marketing, advertising, and branding initiatives and strengthens your overall marketing strategy.

PR is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Like any good marketing campaign, it should be tailored to your goals and needs. Depending on your intention, a PR campaign can include old-school media options, digital communication, or a combination of the two. PR can include everything from placing articles or press releases in local newspapers to creating events promoting a product to handling the public perception after a crisis. While traditional PR focused more on print media, today it is promoted through digital avenues as well: email releases, social media campaigns and blog posts.

Many people confuse PR and advertising, but they are not the same. Although advertising is undoubtedly an effective way to reach new customers, you should not ignore the power of positive free press. When done well, advertising and PR can work hand in hand to grow your business and reach a wider audience than either method could alone. The biggest difference between advertising and PR is that while both largely serve the same function, PR is free, and advertising is paid.

Unlike advertising, PR is an earned media; you establish a relationship with reporters and media outlets who develop content based on your story. This gives your story more credibility because it was not a purchased ad. PR can be a more economical avenue of promoting your message, with similar results. Advertising provides exposure, but PR can bring exposure and build trust with your audience. While you control the message in an advertisement, you do not have full control over the message that’s communicated with PR, so building strong relationships with the media companies you work with is hugely beneficial.

  1. Building Trust is Evergreen

PR is one of the best ways to build trust with your audience. Anyone can take out an ad, provided they have the budget to do so, but having a reputable third-party say the same thing provides clout that you can’t. It’s the difference between a not-so-humble brag and an honest recommendation from a friend. This doesn’t mean you should stop advertising, but instead, strengthen the message you’re trying to communicate by having it reiterated by a trusted source.

Another benefit of PR is that it builds brand awareness. Having an article placed in a prominent magazine will reach consumers that you would not reach otherwise, and PR placements can last much longer than an ad campaign. Articles, blog posts, and press releases all live on search engines long after you’ve finished running an ad. This creates the potential to reach a new audience even after the initial release or article is shared.

As long as there is a need for businesses to build trust or improve relationships with customers, PR will be relevant. Which is to say, always. Not only does PR help reach new audiences, but it can smooth the waters with disgruntled customers and rebuild trust after a mistake is made. For instance, what happens when a chain known for selling chicken runs out of chicken? That’s exactly what happened to KFC in 2018. Due to the shortage of chicken, they closed hundreds of stores over the course of a week, which was understandably frustrating to their customers. In response, they released a humorous ad owning their mistake and apologizing to their customers. Their timely and memorable response helped them regain customer loyalty and prevent further loss of sales.

  1. PR is a Secret Weapon

PR works to build trust and brand credibility and if done right, can improve profits and sales. PR is all about improving your reputation and communication: what you say, what is said about you, and customer perception of your brand. While PR efforts are notoriously difficult to track, increased awareness of your products and a positive company image can only be a good thing when it comes to your bottom line.

Just because PR is free does not mean it’s the easy way to get in front of consumers. It’s called earned media for a reason. It takes time and effort to build good relationships and make connections with media outlets, but once a PR strategy is underway it serves as the silent superpower that bolsters your other marketing goals. This is especially powerful when things go awry, and you need to make a quick recovery.

  1. Sh*t Happens

In times of crisis, it doesn’t matter how good your social media presence is, and advertising will do little to nothing to save your company’s stock and reputation. That’s where PR comes in. In 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after taking cyanide-laced capsules of Extra-Strength Tylenol. Tylenol’s parent company Johnson & Johnson responded by recalling 31 million bottles of their product and offering a safer replacement option. This move cost them millions of dollars initially but within a year their market value was restored. Marketers predicted that the Tylenol brand would never recover, but because of Johnson & Johnson’s response, Tylenol remains one of the most common household names today. What could have been a PR nightmare established Johnson & Johnson as a company who puts its consumers before profits.

Again, it comes down to trust – not only building a good reputation in normal business operations but showing up with empathy and compassion in times of crisis. While no one asks for a crisis, it doesn’t have to mean the end of your company’s reputation and consumer trust if you handle it correctly. Acting in a timely manner after a crisis is crucial for preserving your reputation, but it can be detrimental if the response feels lackluster or insincere.

BP learned this lesson the hard way in 2010 after the spillage of 200,000 gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Initially, BP got in front of the story by communicating with reporters, but as more details emerged, they made the mistake of not learning all the facts before talking to the press, and then deflecting blame. It wasn’t all mishandled though; they also created a dedicated web page that allowed people to stay up to date with photos, maps, and information on the spill. Quite possibly the best thing BP did during this crisis was to utilize multiple platforms; they used the traditional methods of press releases and articles but included social media and a digital communication strategy as well. Although there were missteps early on, this approach allowed them to communicate with more people and emerge from the crisis with their reputation largely intact.

PR is a powerful tool to have at your disposal. It’s smart to have a PR strategy or strategist in place, especially for large companies. Barolin + Spencer has over 30 years of experience in marketing and media strategy and offers a wide range of services including: media outreach, event marketing, online publicity, press releases, publicity campaigns and executive publicity. Contact us if you’d like to learn more or set up an exploratory meeting.

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