The public relations fairytale

In a fragmented media landscape PR has become Cinderella at the ball. It is key to effective communication of companies' stories, and is stealing the show from advertising and direct marketing

Public relations has long been the Cinderella of the marketing mix, working hard behind the scenes while her sisters steal the limelight.

However, a fragmented media space and the internet have transformed PR into the new belle of the ball. There is no doubt that advertising and direct marketing continue to be effective, but the digital age has changed the dynamics of the communications family and this economic climate is seeing Cinderella come of age.

Markets have become disjointed and consumers more marketing-savvy, making it harder to engage them through advertising and direct mail. There is an ever-rising number of radio and TV channels, and a magazine for everyone (though circulations are falling), but the biggest factor is the internet.

Advertising’s challenge is PR’s strength. PR is about stories – telling yours to those who are interested, listening to what they have to say and relaying their story back to the organisation.
Unlike advertising space, where you pay the privilege for media to reproduce your ad, a good PR story will be picked up by numerous publications, radio stations and TV channels, whether local or national. The vast array of new media has made buying space expensive, but with PR you are buying time; if you have a great story – like Cinderella’s – PR can help you get it told and retold.

While this storytelling ability means that PR agencies have become best known for media relations, the discipline is far broader than that. Certainly the traditional press remains important, but the change in the media landscape means that, for most organisations, there is now a multitude of other communities they need to engage with.

If you can identify people who are interested in your story, they will spread the word for you, increasing the credibility of what you have to say and giving the story a life of its own. The best PR campaigns create independent advocates and a buzz for your brand, even turning your customers into R&D consultants or your sales force.

This makes PR an extremely cost-effective and powerful tool. There is no right way to measure the impact of PR, after all a successful project may keep you out of the press, reassure investors or build brand awareness. How-ever, it is always essential to invest in measuring impact.

Before you start your campaign, discuss ways to measure its effect-ive-ness with your PR agency or the Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication.
PR is about reputation: what you do, what you say, and what others say about you. While there are more ways than ever to reach your customers, it has also never been easier for them to talk about you. You’ve heard it all before: ‘We live in a 24/7 society’, ‘Everyone’s a journalist’, ‘The world is a village’.

All clichés, but the internet has made them a reality and we have two choices. We can either hide in the scullery and hope that when others talk about us they say nice things, or we can go to the ball and join in the conversations.

PR’s ability to tell stories means agencies are rightly advising clients on a range of issues includ-ing crisis management, inter-nal communications, investor rela-tions, digital PR and corporate social responsibility. This success has led to PR’s midnight moment. Given anyone can claim to do PR, how do you find the owner of the slipper among the thousands of PR ‘practitioners’?

The PRCA can save you time and hassle. It has a free service that matches your needs to an agency that not only has the relevant skills for your brief but has also achieved the Consultancy Management Standard, the international accreditation for PR agencies.
Your company has a story, so ask PR to bring your story to life.

Francis Ingham is director-general of the Public Relations Consultants Association

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