Public relations and corporate advertising are integral parts of companies’ overall promotional effort that must be managed and coordinated with the other elements of the promotional mix. However, they don’t always share the specific objectives of product and service promotion but have traditionally been designed to change attitudes towards an organisation or issue rather than to promote specific products.
Companies typically engage in public relations for one or more of the following reasons:
• To boost credibility. The general public generally doesn’t perceive public relations communications in the same light as advertising, i.e. it does not realise that the company either directly or indirectly paid for the PR activities in question. Consequently, PR communications tend to have more credibility than advertising campaigns. The fact that the media outlets reporting the story are not being compensated for providing the information may lead the public to consider the news more truthful and credible than advertisements.
• To build the company’s image. Effective public relations is highly effective when it comes to developing a strong, positive image for an organisation.
• To save costs. The cost of public relations is generally very low, especially in consideration of the potentially far-reaching effects. Although larger companies may have the resources to employ public relations agencies and spend millions of dollars on PR, this form of communication may be the most affordable alternative available for small and medium-sized businesses. Many public relations activities require little more than the time and expenses associated with designing and implementing them.
• To avoid going unnoticed. Public relations messages are typically perceived as news items. As a result, they are not subject to the clutter of traditional ads, which many consumers tend to ignore. A story about a new product launch or ground-breaking innovation, on the other hand, is treated as a news item and is likely to receive attention.
• To reach specific market segments. As some products appeal to only small market segments, it is not usually feasible to engage in advertising or promotions to reach the desired target groups. If the company lacks the necessary funds to engage in promotional activities, the best way to communicate to these target groups is undoubtedly through public relations.
• To generate leads. Reports on technological innovations or new medical discoveries, for example, generally lead to an instant reaction and a multitude of enquiries. These enquiries by potential future customers may provide the company with some quality sales leads.
We also need to bear in mind one major drawback of public relations, however, namely the risk that the communications process remains incomplete. Although public relations messages have the potential to break through the clutter of traditional ads and commercials, the recipient may not make the necessary connection to the associated product, service or company. Many companies’ PR efforts are never linked to the businesses or products behind them in the general public’s mind.
Public relations also runs the risk of failing if it is mismanaged or not sufficiently coordinated with the company’s marketing department. When an organisation’s marketing and PR departments operate independently and don’t coordinate their efforts, there is a danger of inconsistent communications. The key to effective public relations is therefore to establish a solid PR programme that is worthy of public interest, and to manage it properly. To determine if this programme is effective, the company must then regularly measure the effectiveness of its PR efforts.