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PR Essays: Frank PR - The rules of reaction

PR should really stand for public reactions, because provoking a response from consumers is what brands are about these days - and only PR people can effectively manage the myriad possibilities.

Given a blank sheet of paper and the need to come up with 620 words about something PR-related, I'm struggling; I'm distracted too easily. There's just so much else happening: phones ringing, emails pinging into my inbox, colleagues asking me questions. Plus Twitter, Facebook, Arsenal news alerts, etc, etc.

I then become even more distracted when, as I'm sitting down at my keyboard, cup of Douwe Egberts at my right hand, I can't stop thinking about why the editor wants 620 words? Why not 600 or 650? Or even 625? 620 is a strangely specific number.

So I get more distracted by doing a bit of research. I discover that, according to the Urban Dictionary, 620 is code for being quite rude to someone. Actually, very rude. The sixth letter of the alphabet is f and the 20th is u. I'm sure you can work out what happens when you put those together. So the editor is using code to tell all the PR folk contributing to this supplement where to go?

I'm livid. But I'm also feeling a bit smug, mildly impressed and surprised by my own detective abilities. And then it hits me: there's a cunning parallel here with the challenges marketers face every day.

Like I had the freedom to choose my topic, consumers have a multitude of choices. They are inundated with all sorts of messages, via all types of media, all day and night. There's a barrage of noise, much the same as I encounter in the Frank office. It is a bombardment.

They are distracted; they don't think in a linear way.

In reaching these consumers and influencing them, '620' is the key to it all - because there's nothing like saying 'f ... you' to someone to get a reaction. Admittedly, not always a positive reaction. Think of how you'd react if someone said it to you.

Getting a reaction from a consumer should be the most important aim for those of us in the consumer PR business these days. Everything we try to do for clients should be about getting a reaction for them (a positive one, of course). In fact, I'll go even further and suggest that PR should in itself be re-defined. It should not be so much about public relations any more, but about public reactions.

Previously, it was all about brands trying to get consumers to talk positively about them (at Frank, we coined the term 'talkability' and developed a process to create it). They wanted to create advocacy and this effect has traditionally been perceived as the best form of marketing a brand could hope for. But positive word of mouth is not the only reaction in town these days. It is good, but probably not quite enough.

In a world that is increasingly social-and digital-media-driven, there is a multitude of other reactions that brands should be eliciting from their public: sharing information via blogs, joining Facebook groups and interacting with them; tweeting about the brand, or retweeting what someone else has posted; posting a video of their experience, a review, or any other user-generated content, on YouTube. You could go on. And, of course, brands want consumers to go to their websites and interact with the brand entertainment or content that has been devised, asking questions, exploring and, ultimately, buying the brand's products or services either offor online.

There has never before been so many reactions that PR as a discipline is so perfectly placed to have within its power to be the driving force to engineer (and, now, measure). These are exciting times for PR.

Of course, not everyone will agree with me about public reactions being the new public relations. I would guess, for those who don't, that the number 620 springs to mind.

From Marketing's PR essays supplement, October 2012

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