In this article, we will look at 1) what is public relations? 2) importance of public relations department for a company, 3) how to set up an efficient public relations department, and 4) resources to support small PR departments.
- 1 WHAT IS PUBLIC RELATIONS?
- 2 IMPORTANCE OF A PUBLIC RELATIONS DEPARTMENT FOR A COMPANY
- 3 HOW TO SET UP AN EFFICIENT PUBLIC RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
- 4 RESOURCES TO SUPPORT SMALL PR DEPARTMENTS
WHAT IS PUBLIC RELATIONS?
There is no one generally accepted definition of public relations but there are many different ways to define it. One such definition is:
“The planned promotion of goods, services and images of organizations intended to create goodwill for a person, place or even. Public relations professionals work to build long-term relationships among individuals and institutions.”
Planned and sustained public relations projects are used to create and maintain goodwill and understanding between the organization and its relevant ecosystem.
PR can also be described as the mechanism used to control and manage the spread of information between any organization and the public. Organizations may be businesses, government or non-profit organizations or even celebrities, politicians and other prominent people. Much like advertising, PR is often used as a means of marketing communications but unlike advertising it is done through topics of public interest that do not require payment. A successful public relations campaign or strategy aims to inform the public, customers, investors, partners, employees and other stakeholders about an organization and then persuade them to maintain a certain point of view about the organization.
A public relations professional may work for a PR or marketing firm as well as directly for an organization or individual party.
IMPORTANCE OF A PUBLIC RELATIONS DEPARTMENT FOR A COMPANY
A dedicated public relations unit or department can prove valuable for a company whether it is a large one or a startup. Some of the ways in which a public relations department can support a company or an individual are discussed below.
Public Image Strategy
Every company wants to have a public image or a perception in the eyes of its stakeholders. A PR strategist will work with the top management of a company to decide what this perception will be and how to ensure that it is translated as such to the target audience.
A public relations department will often arrange events or participation in events that will increase awareness of the company’s name and brand among the right audience. These events could be charitable ones such as fundraisers, sponsored events such as a sports tournament or a gala.
Handling media queries and building relationships with the right people within traditional and non-traditional media is a task generally handled by the public relations function. Key tasks in this area include answering questions, disseminating press releases, arranging interviews and placing the right news reports or the right publications at the right time.
With the meteoric rise of social media, this is an entire area to be managed by the public relations teams. Companies increasingly have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and many more. A unified message needs to go out through all these channels and an eye needs to be kept on comments from the public about the organization. These comments can help predict an upcoming problem area or an emerging trend.
Any type of company can find itself in a disastrous situation which can lead to a negative impact on its brand image. Oil companies often have to deal with oil spills, a food company with new research about its ingredients or processing methods or a high-profile personality with a scandal about their personal lives. Quickly getting ahead of the problem and mitigating its effects is a vital function performed by the public relations department with the challenge being to minimize damage and emerge out of the other end to live another day.
HOW TO SET UP AN EFFICIENT PUBLIC RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
A company has several options when deciding how to handle its public relations needs. One option could be to hire a PR firm and outsource the area to them. Within this, the choice would be to go for an experienced and large firm or to pick a smaller firm which may take more interest in the needs of the business.
Another option is to setup a self-contained public relations unit within the company. This method allows the company to completely keep PR strategies on track with the company philosophy and long-term goals. Setting up a PR department is not complicated, but the following steps can be taken to ensure a smooth process.
Step #1: Do your Homework
It is a common misconception to consider PR only necessary for media relations and news coverage. Instead, it is important to consider the integrated marketing strategy needed to take the business to the next level of success. Key questions to answer at this stage include:
- Do you have something to say? A key bit of information to clarify early one is to see what you have to say as a company. It can’t just be about product launches and sponsorships. Meaningful contribution to industry discussions can help leverage a company as a key player within that industry and as an expert with something valuable to say. As a body of work gathers together in this area, any internet searches about the company will show these contributions and add to the company’s credibility.
- Do you have the right expectations? Before working on a formal PR department, it is a good idea to evaluate the expectations you have from this department. Are your expectations realistic? What will be the potential challenges the department will face from outside and within the company and what will the ultimate goal and function of the department be. The expectations will help the department function at the right level between solid goals and an understanding of limitations.
- Do you have a plan for leverage? Related to PR goals, is a plan of action to leverage all the positive PR that is expected to be generated. How will this positive narrative about the company be leveraged through all the right channels to make sure that it reaches the right audience. This is part of the initial working of the department.
- Do you have the right resources? Obviously, the right resources are key to the setup of any company or any part of a company. Apart from the obvious monetary resources, you will need to assess if your other resources are adequate. One of these is the right personnel to take on the work and make sure that every aspect is covered.
Step #2: Clarify your Goals
Taking the cue from the initial homework, the next step to setting up a PR department is to establish what the key overarching goals of the function will be. Every plan, strategy and action will then be formulated with these goals in mind. A public relations department can have a number of goals, which may be prioritized over one another depending on the goals of the company or nature of its business. Some of these goals may include:
- Control the Conversation. One main reason companies put effort into public relations is to ensure that the information that is out in the world can be controlled. It is easier to place the information than it is to control this information and this is why a professional PR person is often required. This control is achieved through specific language and timing, a mix of psychology, art and science. A company in a controversial field such as oil and gas may need to control the conversation about its operations on a day to day basis.
- Control the Flow of Information. For many companies and individuals, public relations may translate only into a press release or two. It is not enough to just send out a release and hope for the best. A well-made press release is just the beginning. Where this release goes and who sees it is the actual challenge.
- Get Information to the right people. Another important goal of a public relations effort needs to be the identification of the right audience for the company’s information to flow to. The next step is to keep a channel open to these people to ensure that the right information reaches them at the right time. If a video game is releasing a new version, the information needs to be put out to opinion makers and key gamers and bloggers who can access a preview of the game and talk it up amongst their peers.
- Increase Name Recognition. A new business may require a public relations department to just work on increasing brand awareness as a key goal. With thousands of products and businesses in the world, it can be a daunting task to make a niche for a new business and a PR expert can help with this key opportunity.
- Increase Business, Clients or Fans. The ultimate goal of the public relations department should be to increase the number of clients or customers of a business through their activities. Not everyone can be brought on board, but the right people need to be and these should be excited for the product that is being sold.
Step #3: Hire the Right People
Once the goals of the department are clear, it is now time to find the right people to run the department. The first step to get in this direction is to define what your ideal character will look like in terms of skills and characteristics. Some key qualities to look for include:
- Strong communications skills;
- Problem-solving abilities;
- Analytic skills;
- “People skills”;
- Strategic planning ability;
- Technical skills.
Some other qualities that can be a bonus are:
- An ability to view your organization from different perspectives;
- Empathy and intuition;
- Passion for perfection;
- A sense of humor, and
Step #4: Leverage your Network
The best way to find the right person is word of mouth referral. A good place to start is business associates, friends, colleagues and associations within the industry. Another idea is to search LinkedIn for PR professionals. Industry experts can be identified from press releases and statements from competitors as well.
- Determine the Fit. Once the right people are identified, they can be asked to come in for interviews to determine if they are the right fit for the job and the company. An excellent PR professional may not fit in with the company culture, while a newbie may be just the right choice. So it is important to meet and assess the fit. Some things to keep in mind is relevant experience, success rate, knowledge of the industry as well as knowledge of and contacts in new and old media.
- Ensure you get the right results from the team. Once a team or a person are hired, it is important to successfully bring them on board and provide them with the right information needed to do their job. This means sharing top management vision, strategy and goals with them as well as helping set goals and expectations for their own unit. Another important point is to establish how emergencies and emergent situations will be handled by identifying a chain of authority.
Step #5: Make a Clear PR Strategy and Plan
With a department now in place, the PR professionals and senior management need to sit down and formulate a formal PR strategy and plan. A successful plan is much more than some media coverage, they are usually more complex and far reaching and require strategic planning, creative thinking, smart budgeting and the ability to plan for unforeseeable situations. Elements of a successful plan include:
- Define Goals and Objectives. The goals here need to be more concretely defined than a simple “to raise awareness.”
- Identify Target Audienc. This will include media as well as other stakeholders such as existing customers, potential customers, suppliers, vendors, community and civic leaders and members among others.
- Develop Strategies and Tactics. Strategy is the overall idea while tactics are specific actions and steps that will be taken to reach a strategic goal.
- Draft Key Message. All key messages of a PR plan need to be consistent across all mediums and for all audiences.
- Draft a Budge. A realistic budget also needs to be allocated to the PR department and this needs to be divided into various heads with some set aside to handle unforeseen situations.
- Develop a Task List and Timetable. For each tactic and action plan that is devised to reach the strategy, there needs to be task breakdown and a timetable so everyone is on board with what needs to be done and when. Deadlines are critical for the success of the PR plan.
- Plan for a Crises. In addition to planning for the everyday affairs, there also needs to be some time dedicated to planning for contingencies and for crises. This will allow the company to react proactively and address challenges as soon as they arise.
- Review and Adjust Plan. High-level strategy statements do not change frequently. However, tactics, tasks and timetables should be reviewed on a regular basis and adjusted whenever needed. Plans should be easily modifiable as the situation calls for it.
- Record Efforts for Future Use. Any PR worthy event or activity should be recorded carefully for possible use at a later time. Controls should be put in place to make this work and a database of photos and event write-ups should be maintained.
RESOURCES TO SUPPORT SMALL PR DEPARTMENTS
It is now possible for even small businesses to effectively manage their own public relations through the use of several tools and platforms that can help leverage all the required resources. A few of these Do-It-Yourself resources are mentioned below.
Localist is an interactive online calendar platform. It aims to help small businesses manage promotional events. The platform offers options such as recurring schedules, venue matching and automatic event merging. An online community of attendees and target audiences can be created for them to add reviews, comments and upload photos. The platform is Google Analytics friendly and costs $19 a month for a starter plan.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO)
This platform provides direct access to reporters, bloggers and journalists from all sorts of publications who require sources. The website sends out queries from its journalists to registered users and if any fit your area of expertise, you can respond. It is free of cost and can help build relationships with these journalists.
This slightly pricey option is meant for PR professionals or marketers. For $179 a month, you can search for journalists by name, keywords, phrases, outlets, twitters accounts, hashtags and other categories. The database has over 20,000 media contacts.
This website helps find leads and discover your biggest social media influencers. This is an invaluable social media management tool that helps manage multiple social media accounts from one dashboard, it also helps monitor top content, likes and shares and links to other modules such as Facebook Insight and Google Analytics. It is free to use for up to three social media profiles.
With the right expectations, the right team and the right tools, a company can effectively manage its public relations needs in house.