There have been numerous attempts in recent years within our profession to define or redefine public relations, and in fact, most people do not understand what “PR” is. However, in the marketing world, one truth is not in dispute: Mutually beneficial relationships with its key publics are vital to an organization’s success. There’s those words again – “relationships” and “publics.”
With public relations as an essential component of your growth plan, any marketing initiative your brand undertakes has better potential to achieve your objectives. Public relations is vital to marketing success. But what is PR?
Using the acronym VITAL, public relations can be explained (perhaps too simply) like this:
VThe V stands for visibility. In its very basic form, a public relations campaign is designed to achieve visibility for the organization. Of course, all brands, whether people or organizations, already have visibility of some sort. That visibility may be negative, or worse, neutral (invisible), with no mindshare at all. To cut through the clutter of the 6,000 messages we all receive each day, the visibility component of the public relations campaign must be well planned, effectively targeted, creative, memorable, consistent and frequent.
IThe I stands for interest. PR can and should drive interest in the brand. A research-based, well-planned and managed public relations campaign will achieve levels of visibility that will generate interest from and among specific, target audiences or publics. Remember, there is no such thing as the general public. There are only audience segments or groups that we must target specifically to generate interest. Here is where behaviors and attitudes begin to change, which is what you want.
TThe T is all about trial, or better yet, trust. After you have achieved visibility that leads to interest in your brand, message, product or service (or yourself) from a specific target audience, members of that audience may respond to your messaging by trusting you and/or trying your product or service. They may trust your message, and take the action you determined as your objective when you planned your public relations campaign initially. Now, we are getting buy-in, action, trial; more behavior change.
AThe A stands for one of the elements that will define your public relations campaign’s success: Acceptance. You have the right visibility, you have generated interest, there’s a level of trust that may lead to trial, and as the campaign progresses, your goal should be to achieve acceptance of the brand, the person, the product or service, among your target publics/audiences. Embracing your message and accepting your brand promise is one of the key elements of behavior change.
LAnd, now, the great leap, perhaps the most difficult and tenuous stage of a public relations campaign to reach and maintain. The L stands for Loyalty, brand loyalty, loyalty of thought and action, complete – although potentially temporary – behavior change. If you can develop loyalty to your brand and its promise (as provided in your messaging), you have achieved the objective of the public relations campaign as defined in the original plan.
There is a caveat (of course, right?). Be aware that brand loyalty is a delicate state of being, and maintaining the behavior change you achieved with your public relations plan will be your challenge from then on. So, your strategic planning phase before the campaign launch must anticipate the inevitable erosion of loyalty and include tactics to minimize or eliminate that leakage of trust over time.
Audience analysis is the most critical component in any communications initiative designed to motivate a target demographic to take specific action. I’ve written about this extensively, spoken about widely, taught the concepts to groups all over the U.S., and apply the laws of audience analysis rigorously every day to achieve success for my cherished clients. When I am presented with an example of the failure to analyze an audience before crafting potentially motivational messaging, I’m concerned.
The most recent example I found at the baggage pickup-carousels at Tampa International Airport. There, small panels of lighted, electronic billboards at eye-level provide local advertising messages for travelers awaiting delivery of their luggage. Awaiting mine after a recent flight home to Tampa, I caught a brief glimpse of one of the bright, colorful panels for a few seconds. I recognized the My MacDill logo on it. It is quite a powerful and moving logo, featuring an abstract eagle figurehead wrapping around an image of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
My MacDill is the name of the well-crafted public relations campaign celebrating the 75 years that MacDill Air Force Base has been headquartered in Tampa. It was the tagline on the electronic board that concerned me: “My MacDill: 75 Years Serving Tampa Bay” (http://bit.ly/1Ptwg6N).
More than 17.3 million travelers passed through TIA in 2014 (http://bit.ly/1WiRXdK), with more than 600,000 of them international visitors. Analyzing that vast audience, one could conclude that the message proclaiming “75 years of serving Tampa Bay” would motivate these millions of national and international travelers to think … what? That MacDill Air Force Base serves only Tampa Bay.
With so many government policymakers, military leaders, elected officials, international business and political decision makers and visitors of all backgrounds exposed to those TIA message boards, why would we want them to think – even subconsciously – that MacDill benefits just Tampa Bay?
Would it be more effective for the My MacDill’s brand objectives to have that audience of global influencers know that MacDill is an indispensible national treasure that benefits the nation and the world, that it is the headquarters of the planet’s most powerful force focused on ensuring national security and global stability? (When I think of the MacDill I know, I get an image of something like “Pentagon South.”)
Could a more effective message for the international audience surging through TIA annually be something like: “My MacDill: 75 years of serving the nation”?
With the Base Realignment and Closure Commission – BRAC – convening again in a couple of years, MacDill stakeholders need to be very careful about promoting the value of MacDill to the Tampa Bay area only. There are powerful forces in government and the military that don’t care very much about Tampa Bay’s future, and they are coveting that $13 billion and 13,000 jobs the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance figures MacDill generates here annually (in TBDA’s widespread messaging).
So be careful in your creative. Audience analysis is the key component that can help guarantee you’ll hit your communications objectives – or not.
One of the most troubling questions public relations practitioners are asked goes like this: “We just need a news release. Can you do a news release for us? How much would a news release cost?”
As I cringe inside and try to avoid an obvious eye-roll, I attempt to keep my composure as I respond: “Well, there are some things to think about first: What is your objective, how will you measure success, who is your target audience, what is the messaging that will motivate them, what is your call to action, and for gosh sakes, what is your NEWS, who should care and why?”
Often, I hear only silence. The fact is, if you have to ask that question, you really don’t need a news release. You will be wasting your money if you find someone to write one and then “send it out.”
Ah, but here’s a thought: You might actually need an objective-based communications campaign plan. And, if you are talking to a seasoned public relations professional (and we actually have a few here at Clearview Communications and Public Relations Inc.), a news release will absolutely not be part of that plan.
However, your plan may include various appropriate communications initiatives, and several well-crafted and well-thought-out news releases might be part of the plan. Might not. If so, they will be supported by appropriate social media initiatives, audience engagement events, speaking gigs, perhaps videos, radio and television appearances (only after mandatory media interview skills training), op-ed submissions and journalist/blogger deskside interviews or coffees, along with other tactics.
Now, we are getting somewhere. Your plan must include these very basic components:
So, considering all of the above, we now have an organized, structured program for a communications campaign that will motivate your target audiences to take specific action or to change behaviors, is measureable, will provide a return on your investment that is acceptable to you and your agency, and enhance your brand’s positive visibility.
The alternative, that single news release, would have gone deep into the darkness of that black hole where all single news releases go to die, with everyone wondering why nothing happened.