Updated: Jun 2
A few years ago, when people heard the term 'Public Relations' it was often because a luxury brand was launching an expensive new product or a celerity was going through a sticky patch with an ex in a very high profile 'airing-dirty-laundry' sort of fashion. SMEs played it safe and stuck to simple marketing, didn't hire a public relations expert, kept their heads down and left the flashy cameras and pushy press to those who 'deserved it.'
In this week's post, I am going to share with you 4 surprising facts that businesses still don't get about Public Relations. Yep, they are missing a trick, and today, I am going to air a few home truths...
Fact: PR is (STILL) not just for the rich and famous.
Marketing and simple publication advertising were safe places for those who just wanted to shout about their insurance company policies or exiting new wallpaper. That was the beauty of marketing. You paid for it, and if the publication got it wrong, you could shout at them to get it right, and more often than not, they did.
Public Relations was left to those with deep pockets and big egos. Yet thankfully things have change (and not just for PRs but for every business on the planet.) Now, no one can ignore the power of PR. There's nothing more holier than the Holy Grail of Publicity itself and that's have a top press outlet talk about the wonders if your business, seemingly for FREE.
But hang on a minute, what about that little person jumping up and down in the corner waving its arms frantically? Yes, you, marketing! Aren't you important too? (According to marketing professionals, its a resounding 'yes.')
This is the very corner where SMEs get stuck. There IS still a stigma amongst hard working businesses that suggests PR is merely a spoilt child who very often gets too much of the wrong attention. Then, there is a large majority who aren't sure what the difference is anyway (and I DO count a lot of PRs in that category too.)
Put it simply, there is a wonderful old saying from Mandy Brooks from brookscomm who said, "Advertising is what you pay for, Publicity is what you pray for." (The same works for marketing and PR) Yet, it is the latter part of that quote which many of us PRs will squirm over. As much as we agree with it in principle, get PR (Publicity) right, and you don't won't have to pray for it. Those who get it wrong or even half right are the ones who often suffer sore knees.
With marketing and advertising, you hold the ball. You've paid for your half page ad, you've negotiated with the publication. You've signed off the copy and image and you're good to go. The whole exercise has probably cost your business around £200 (depending on who you advertise with) but it's hit and miss (not dissimilar to PR.) Without pointing a proverbial gun to the heads of the readers, a misplaced ad could still cost you dearly with no firm ROI.
Fact: Great PR is hard to achieve but get it right and it wins over marketing any day.
PR on the other hand is harder to come by, but get it right and you potentially have a global audience. Marketing is out and out promotion. 'Buy this product, We are fabulous!' PR, on the other hand is someone else shouting that you're fabulous. More important, that person has an audience who trusts them to speak the truth.
The world is getting harder for PRs. Largely, the public has lost trust in the press and the media in bucket loads. Where PRs were the bridge between client and press, placing their carefully crafted pitches in the hands of reputable journos, now the journos are struggling and as a result, are dwindling in numbers. The press's job to bring to their readers the news, news and nothing but the news, has become something along the lines of pushing treacle uphill.
Marketing is ruthless advertising and there's no getting away from it. It's irritating ads on social media that ram selfishly into news feeds. Its 25 pages of the glossies before you've even got to the contents page. Its aggressive pop ups on YouTube during your favourite vintage re run of Michael Barrymore's Strike It Lucky. Ads Ads Ads, we become blind to them, often not noticing their shameless intrusion into our already stressful lives.
PR on the other hand is sly, sophisticated and subtle like gazing into Derren Brown's dreamy eyes while he steals your wallet. It is sleek and designed so beautifully that you will come away from your PR experience almost feeling a thoroughly more enriched person.
As word consumers, we have our writer favourites - people we love to hang on their every word like honey off a spoon. They aren't just in the papers, they are flashing their thighs on Instagram, wooing us on our favourite chat shows and appearing in Waterstones as the shop managers favourite read for the week. They sell us not just ideas, but dreams, ideals, better lives, better ways of thinking. We trust the words, the images and the emotions PR feed us like hungry chicks begging for the next juicy worm.
Yet I take you back to the beginning of this ramble and recall the words 'PR is not for the rich and famous.' It is for every business. From Joe Bloggs of Down-The-Road Ltd to Sally who makes pom-pom poodles to cover anticipating toilet rolls. From Simon and his sunflower campervans in bright paint to a not so thriving flea market, struggling to make a buck on stallholders. There is a corner, a crack for PR everywhere. Where air can fill a gap, so can a carefully constructed PR campaign.
Fact: Your customers buy from you because they LIKE you.
We buy on emotion and justify with logic later. That's why retail therapy will never die. During Covid-19 lockdowns, all people across the country wanted to do was stand in the rain outside Primark. Not because they wanted new disposable fashion, but they wanted the experience of shopping. Of being able to feel free. Why? Because it makes they FEEL GOOD.
If you can genuinely make someone go from frown to smile, you have a successful business. If you can take them from a place of desperation and make them sleep soundly at night again, you have a business. Most clients think they have the dream product. Sadly, most consumers don't think they do. A PRs job is to sell the product through emotions, feelings and trust. We craft brands and reputations. We tell stories to woo our audiences. We tell a tale of challenges being overcome, of fights and battles won. Of determination and the humble human winning through. That's why films sell and why Hollywood is the most lucrative business in the world.
Marketing will showcase a product. It will talk of its features, it's clean lines and its craftsmanship. It will give you a glossy ad with a bright image and a price, of course and where you can grab your own whatever-it-is.
Fact: PR is 80% storytelling and 20% timing.
PR will tell you the story behind it. It will take you on a journey of discovery, of true heartfelt compassion and make you fall in love with no, not the product, but the person and the people who made it all possible. That's what consumer buy in to. That's what they buy.
I shall leave today with an example of what I mean.
A few years back, I moved to the north of Wiltshire. Not much to say other than, at the time, it was home to Honda. Now, what do you think about, when some one says the word 'Honda?' You might think of a motorbike you once owned or scraped in to. You might have had a past love who owned car in a gawdy metallic green which you always loathed. You might even think of them as a Japanese public multinational conglomerate manufacturer of automobiles - if you want to be fancy.
For me, it's a Japanese man in his garage making piston rings for another company on the other side of town. It's a man who built a little business which burned down or fell victim to earthquakes each time he build a factory. It is a man who started again so many times to build a business that you wondered where he got the strength from. For me, Honda is Mr Soichiro Honda.
When I heard that Honda was leaving their vast factory in Swindon, I felt sad. Not only because the town was going to see a massive loss in employment, but of Mr Honda who started the company all those decades ago, making motorised bicycles for people who wanted to cycle to work faster across town.
I was sold on Honda because of that story. You see, once you hear a story, it's very difficult to forget it. We all remember stories from our childhood: Cinderella, Dumbo, Snow White etc. They are stories that make you feel things. PR is exactly the same. Only PRs tell not fairytales but true stories behind products and services. Its the easy route to building engagement with an audience, of getting them onside. Of making them warm to you.
PR is all about people. Their lives, their back stories and finding something within them that's inspiring, thought provoking and warming. After all, we as human beings look for others who are like us or who we ourselves, would like to be like. It's human nature.
So, as a small business, you don't need a budget to make it big. You just need a story that strikes a chord. So, if you haven't already, give it a try.
Speaking stories, we have two fabulous ones we are sharing with our audiences right now. Why not have a look to see what we mean:
Project Lighthouse - The Story of the London AIDS pandemic - 40 years on.