Many businesses turn to PR because they’re fed up with seeing their ‘inferior’ competitors always in the news or on social channels. They want a share of the action. “We need a bit of PR” they say. “What, like you need a bit of accountancy, a bit of IT, a bit of operations?” I inwardly groan. That’s because to have this view of PR is to do it, and your business, a massive disservice.
In the right hands, PR can do so much
A properly briefed PR agency can help warm up prospects, drive sales and attract suppliers. It can boost your website’s SEO, improve the quality of the people visiting your website and increase the amount of time they spend there. Great PR can make commercial partners approach you, inspire influencers to talk about you and get customers sharing their experiences of your business and brands.
PR can invigorate your staff to train or sell more
PR can make them want to stay and make others want to join them. Great PR can move the hardest hearts and minds, reassure investors and unnerve your competition.
It can limit the fall-out from a crisis and amplify even your most modest success. PR can take you into new markets and territories and protect your position in old ones. So, if PR can do so much, why are so many satisfied with it delivering so little? Well, the root of the problem is the brief.
Most companies kick off their agency relationship with a communications brief. This is fine as far as it goes, but I want to also know about the business objectives? What are the growth ambitions, where are the key markets, what are the barriers to success, where do you want to be in three and five years time? Without this level of insight, how will your agency know what PR plan your business needs?
But to give a PR agency this start point demands a level of candour and commitment which many companies simply struggle to give. The comms manager is often not equipped to fully answer these questions, and the Board, thinking PR is only press releases, isn’t very interested in getting involved, or perhaps it views with suspicion/irritation a company asking for such insights. So, the PR process becomes relegated and doesn’t get the serious attention it deserves.
This lack of Board involvement reflects a wider problem in UK plc. Far too many senior business people simply don’t see communications as part of their brief. Indeed, an ability to communicate is often seen as an optional extra rather than a CEO ‘must have’.
How often have you heard a CEO described as a ‘great communicator’ as if it’s a real bonus that they have this ability to coherently express their thoughts and ideas with others! You would never expect people to say with the same level of pleasant surprise that the CEO is ‘good with numbers’.
The popular press hasn’t helped matters
When a female PR person is referred to in the media, they are typically referred to as a ‘PR girl’ i.e. young, a lightweight, doing a frivolous job that doesn’t really matter.
If they’re a man, they’re a ‘spin doctor,’ a master manipulator who is pulling the strings. Neither descriptor paints a picture that any serious, senior male or female business leader would want to be associated with.
It’s this lack of belief in great comms as a proper discipline and a real business enabler which leaves it relegated to the shallows – and far away from the business strategy.
PR agencies not measuring up?
The PR industry hasn’t helped itself. Too often it accepts a brief that dodges the business realities. Keen to win the contract, it fails to ask enough probing questions.
Or when it comes to measurement, it’s far too happy to hide behind dodgy metrics; finding ever more sophisticated ways of measuring coverage rather than asking to be judged on the things that matter such as web traffic, audience reach, site links, brand perception, database additions, enquiries, recommendations or sales
So, anyone thinking about deploying PR – take heed
That, ‘a bit of PR’ mentality is far too limiting – and it will seriously limit your business’ bottom line. To get your PR off on the right foot, you need a good PR brief.
For advice on how to brief a PR agency, check out our free online guide.
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