So what is PR? This is a question we are very familiar with. By definition, “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” – PRSA. My friends think I am out ushering celebrities along red carpets, my family seems to think we are constantly out holding press junkets answering Q&A’s, and unknowing potential clients think we are out having cocktails all day…if only! In truth, there are numerous slices of the great ‘PR Pie’ so to speak, from event organising, to promotions & sampling, to crisis control, and the list goes on.
As a graduate at the end of the year, there are a million questions that are racing through my head as the clock slowly ticks down the time that will bring my university career to an end. Are my results good enough? Where and when do I apply for a job? Do I apply for an internship or a graduate programme? Am I really ready to enter the world of work when all I can make is a slice of toast? Although it is deemed natural to stress and worry, it really is important to keep a clear head when making large life decisions such as future career choices and the next step after tertiary education. Continue Reading →
The sadist in me salivates over listening to poor call centre employees trying very hard to pronounce our company name, EM Between. If you have ever had a long or unusual name or surname, you will completely understand my pain! Growing up our maiden name was “Connellan”…sounds fairly simple, yes? No! We’ve had our fair share of, “Hello Miss Cornelian…Cannelon, Cone-lan…” the list is endless. So, when my sister started her own business (a whopping 14 years ago) knowing that she (Emma) was in-between, aka, the ‘middle man’ connecting her client’s brands to the media, the obvious choice was…EM Between Communications!
And thus, began the start of her budding Public Relations Consultancy! I love watching people’s expressions when I explain the meaning behind the name, that we are not in-between but EM Between, that “a-haa” moment when the penny drops and the light bulb comes on is priceless! As Shakespeare once said, “would a rose by any other name smell as sweet” Well, in this industry, I do believe that a name is important, and since Emma is the owner/face of the business, I most certainly wouldn’t change it…even if those poor unfortunate cold callers battle to pronounce it (insert evil laugh!) – Nicci Hosking
Just looking at the trial from an unbiased PR point of view, there are any number of clues suggesting that not only is advocate Barry Roux and his defence team on the ball when it comes to uber-nitpicking by boring into the very souls of prosecution witnesses, but they are also masters of the art of public relations, body language and the power of perception.
A powerful tool
For a start there is Oscar’s immaculate pin-striped suit. It must be dreadfully uncomfortable but vitally important to demonstrate respect for the law, the justice system and the judge.
Oscar’s demeanour throughout the trial has been one of tearful and silent humility – a powerful tool these days. Humility has become a trait that no longer portrays weaknesses but rather strength and admiration.
Pope Francis is a living, breathing example of this – as is any PR savvy corporate CEO trying to defend an indefensible cockup in his company. Only politicians seem to not have embraced it.
When Oscar started throwing up into a bucket in the court room, everyone from the judge to the media and public were taken aback. Most were unquestioning and viewed this as stress-related. A few however, questioned whether it was a put-on. Just another bit of PR. Frankly, I was surprised that the prosecution didn’t ask for a medical examination of the accused to ensure that nothing was used to induce vomiting.
The big PR giveaway
But, whether or not the vomiting was put up or not is beside the point because the big PR giveaway in my opinion, was the fact that Oscar and his defence team insisted that he would prefer to stick it out and stay in court instead of being allowed to remove himself as the judge offered. That is called leveraging a situation for maximum PR point-scoring…
I have to say that I also wondered how the bucket got to be put next to Oscar before he started throwing up. Maybe he complained of feeling nauseous or perhaps he knew what was going to happen when the pathologist took the stand.
I remember from my early days as a court reporter, being regaled by attorneys and advocates with stories of the extent to which they leveraged all manner of emotions to help win their cases. And after that years in the marketing and particularly the PR business I tend to look beyond the obvious to read between the lines. Or, as my friend Malcolm Russell put it in his book “reading between the lies”.
The Pistorius case is full of spin, PR and body language. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s perfectly legitimate. Roux himself is clearly giving it his all. He has obviously done his homework and one has to applaud him for his attention to detail.
He is also not shy of publicity, with newspaper photographs of him outside the court surrounded by an adoring public wanting to take selfies with him. In fairly crass terms, the purpose of marketing and particular elements of marketing such as advertising and PR, is to positively manipulate emotions in an effort to win hearts and minds.
It is fascinating to watch just how much PR, spin and emotional manipulation is being presented in this case.
If you cut your public relations budget in these tough economic times, you are doing the wrong thing. Rather cut everything else and keep your PR.
Obviously, PR practitioners would say that – but there is a reason other than simple commercial self-interest. Quite simply your public relations activities, with all they encompass, are the most cost effective and efficient tools in your marketing armoury.
Why? Well let’s start with media relations including social media.
It is well known that the media are way more believable than advertising – and yes, even all the wild rumour-mongering on twitter is founded on news, supposed citizen journalism. The media don’t only provide us with information, they tell us what to think about that information and our world.
We use them to process, to order and make sense of our world, to form our opinions – whether it be about e-tolling, Nkandla, the on-off courtship between the DA and Agang and even which kind of car to buy or which brand to use.
In 2010, a study by academic Dr Robert W. McChesney, and journalist John Nichols found that there were four PR people for every journalist in the US. The ratio of public relations professionals to journalists jumped from 1.2-to-1 in 1980 to 4-to-1 in 2010.
Some 86% of all news stories that were printed or aired by Baltimore media in 2008 originated from what Nichols, the associate editor of Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, called “higher authorities,” such as public relations firms or corporate press releases.
He said (rudely if you are a PR professional or even a journalist) that the study, which was conducted by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press, showed that traditional journalism had been reduced to “stenography”, and saw it as a threat to democracy.
The situation is hardly different in South Africa. Massive retrenchments and rationalisations in media groups are decimating journalism.
All the media rely more and more on people like us to provide them with content and more and more we are producing our own content and distributing it ourselves.
‘Ad? What ad?’
When we media train our clients, we play a little game. We give them a newspaper and ask them to read the front page for a period of time – saying we are going to question them about it. We ask a number of questions and then ask them to identify the three ads on the front page.
According to the newspaper’s rate card those three ads cost R50,000 per day – yet virtually none of our very many trainees even notice them.
We then discuss with them the sources of the stories in that edition of that day. Most of them come not from journalistic excellence – but from announcements made by people like us.
It’s fashionable to talk about the decline in journalism as though it is something new, but that is just nonsense. I was a journalist for 15 years before I crossed to the PR dark side 25 years ago – and trust me it’s not new. I well remember a former chairman of the now defunct Argus company saying one “can find a journalist in any gutter”, such was his love of his employees – and we relied, reluctantly, on the PR industry for just as many stories as journalists of today rely, reluctantly, on us.
What has changed is…
What has changed is social media and the massive, non-advertising-based effect it is having on communication. The skills needed to deal with social media are PR, not advertising skills.
It’s the same in all forms of paid-for media. The age of interruption advertising is over. We are in the age of conversations with individuals who judge us and our products and our actions…We call it the age of reference, not deference:
• What do you do with your PVR? You fast-forward through the ads.
• What do you do with those billboards? You just tune them out.
• You never open the sponsored links after a Google search; and you go to movies late, buying your popcorn so you don’t have to endure the same old dreary ads!
So why would you collectively want to keep on spending R36bn on advertising in a declining economy, when cost-effective alternate “free” or earned media can provide equivalent reach and frequency with 10 times the credibility?
• It makes no sense to cut your PR. Cut your advertising instead.
• Remind yourself that ad agencies don’t advertise – they do PR!
And I haven’t even got into all the other things that PR delivers that advertising doesn’t – like effective social media conversations, proper stakeholder mapping and management with crafted messages and tools for each audience; crisis and issues management, and about a thousand other things.
So give yourself a surprise in this looming downturn:
• Get yourself a decent PR agency. Challenge them to create a strategy for you and put it at the centre of your marketing and communication effort.
• Only buy advertising when you absolutely have to.
You’ll be astounded at the results.
On top of every other function that you need to perform within your business, do you really have the time and resources to function as your own PR as well? Chances are, you don’t. Today we look at the benefits of hiring a PR agency as opposed to handling all your PR yourself.
Here are a few important elements which a PR specialist will add to your businesses’ media relations strategy.
A fresh pair eyes equals a fresh perspective
You and your colleagues may have been mulling over the wording of a press release or how to best pitch a media event to a journalist for a while without being able to give the pitch the edge it needs. An external PR is an outside opinion, who looks at your business with fresh eyes and is able to see public relations opportunities which you may have missed. “Employees become so much a part of the corporate team that they often lose their objectivity. When we come across people like this at client companies we say to ourselves, ‘She’s been drinking the Koolaid for too long,” writes Lucy Siegel, president and CEO of Bridge Global Strategies on the Bridge Buzzblog.
PR’s have invaluable media connections
If you are looking to generate publicity quickly, you will need the expertise of someone who has a network of connections in the media. This person is ideally a seasoned PR professional. Building valuable relationships with journalists is possible but will take some time. On the other hand, an external PR agency will come with those valuable relationships already in place. According to writer, Erin Davis who writes on the Notable blog, “Most of the time, PR people and journalists are even friends. Either way, PR people provide access to an outlet that you may not have so easily available at your fingertips.”
Valuable Writing skills
“Public relations professionals are good writers – it is a part of the job requirement. Their talent in the art of writing, and subsequent way with words, can make anything (i.e. you, your business or your product) sound like the best thing the world has ever seen,” writes Davis. A talent for the written word may not be one your strong suits, and it is an imperative that any press release which gets pitched to the media is well written.
They do PR best
The most important reason to hire a PR agency is, ultimately that nobody does PR better than a specialist PR agency. According to Mary Reed on www.get-your-message-out.com, “[A]s a business owner you probably wear a lot of hats, so inevitably you cannot focus all of your attention all of the time on handling public relations for your business.”
Does your company need a PR agency? No matter who your company is, the answer should always be yes. Having said that, though, the question is too broad. Instead, you should be asking yourself, when should I begin using PR?
Do you understand the competitive landcape?
As Mike Santoro, president of Walker Sands Communications writes on FastCompany one of the steps needed when launching your company is to understand the landscape. “Surprisingly enough, some startups don’t do their homework … It’s imperative you know what else is out there so you can understand how you measure up to the competition.”
If you don’t, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed and out of your depth. Also, a lack of research into the competitive environment will give you unrealistic expectations.
Do you have a working product?
I can understand the enthusiasm that comes with a new product or company. You can’t wait to tell everyone. But hang on. It is no use just jumping into PR and telling your story when you are not sure if your company can deliver.
When it comes to PR, as much as it is a cliché, slow and steady wins the race. Santoro continues: “A good PR firm can initially work with an idea phase product to make it sound interesting and build an early user base, but they can’t give you all of the users or feedback that’s necessary for fine-tuning your product.”
Do you have a compelling story?
Every company needs to have a story. And a compelling one at that. If you find that you don’t, do as Santoro says, develop one. “PR comes into play once you’ve developed a compelling message that is easily understandable and resonates with consumers. At the end of the day, people want to know the ’so what?’”
Erica Swallow, a technology writer agrees in a piece she wrote on Mashable
:“Before sending out any pitches, take time to craft your company’s message. Be able to explain your startup in one sentence so that anyone — techie or not — can understand its purpose,” she writes.
Do you have the right budget?
As much as this question refers more to the subject of which PR firm to chose, it’s still an important that start-up businesses ask it. You need to factor in the cost of doing PR and as Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich writes on SpinSucks, “[i]f you think you’ll just “fit it in,” go back to the drawing board.”
She continues, “You must have a budget (or at least know how much you’re willing to pay) and understand how you’ll get a return on that investment.” It’s an observation that couldn’t be truer.
When considering starting up a business, the most important thing is defining and perfecting the product or service that you will be delivering. Thereafter, there are five aspects regarding the branding and identity of your company that needs careful consideration. Today we focus on the first one – choosing the right brand name.
Many organisations have more than one aspect to their business so the name choosing process can be tricky. However, do not fall into the trap of trying to bring attention to all your services and aspects through your company name. Tito Philips, Jnr, a writer for Naijaprenuersays, “[W]hat you are seeking to achieve is not ‘self-description’ of what your business, product or service is about. But rather, you are seeking to achieve ‘self-imagination’ of what your business, product or service is about.” Jacobs also advises against ‘alphabet soup’, saying. “Unless you are a GE or an IBM with millions to spend on advertising, avoid initials. Real or invented words are many times easier for consumers to remember.”
In addition to the above, you need to attempt to find a brand name which resonates and can function as an advertisement for your brand. This is according to James Dettore, president of the Brand Institute in Boston: “First, it should be able to communicate on its own without a lot of advertising. It has to be easy to pronounce and have neutral to positive associations around the world, or at least in various languages.”
Jacobs also advises against choosing a comfortable or generic brand name: “If it’s comfortable—forget it. Everyone else will. The most successful names over the long-term are often those that are initially the most controversial (think Google, Yahoo!, Chipotle, and Ikea). When you select a name, you are looking for something to punch through the marketplace clutter, not add to it.” When you are a new in the industry, the thought of choosing a name which doesn’t give your client any insight into what you do may seem scary, but once you’ve become established your unique name will be celebrated, as is the case with Google or Yahoo!
Lastly, be aware that you will need to do your research when it comes to deciding on the name that will stick. The first name that pops into your head or that of your colleague will not usually be the best choice. Bill Chiaravalle and Barbara Findlay Schenck from Branding For Dummiesadvise that you need to, “get ready to spend some time and even some money, especially if your brand’s going to span a large market area, compete against major brand names, or support a major vision that will take decades to achieve and therefore will live long into the future”.
Ideally, the best thing to do is imagine where you see your company five years from now. Then, carefully chose a name which reflects the vision and ideals which will get your company to that place.