Public Relations: Offering Businesses a Competitive Advantage

Public relations have been defined as the interaction of a business with their customer base and prospective customers. This interaction can take various forms, including events such as trade shows, marketing promotions, customer relations initiatives, and other such efforts in which the business and the public interact.

Many larger companies have an investor relations department for specialized interactions.

Key Takeaways

  • A strong press release should contain all the relevant facts, presented succinctly, with no misspellings, and will be grammatically correct, reflecting well on the business and engaging the attention and interest of the recipient.
  • Professional public relations consultants and agency account executives will also usually have contacts in the media.
  • Public relations are in many ways the liaison between a company and its customer base and prospective customers.

Is Public Relations the New Marketing?

Public relations is also a catch-all term that disseminates newsworthy information to the media—niche magazines and trade journals, newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet—to get publicity.

To maximize any business's sales potential, large or small, a public relations program should be part of the master marketing plan. Marketing is a vital component of a large sustainable business. Generally, but not always, public relations may be less expensive than advertising, and is best used as a complement to the marketing efforts.

Advertising Expenses vs. Public Relations Programs

Advertising expenses typically include a creative fee for copywriting, art and or photography, model fees, along with additional costs which accumulate even before the costs of buying media—print, broadcast (television, radio, etc.), Internet, billboard, or other.

By contrast, a public relations program (while perhaps less costly) can create a major impact among both established and potential customers for a company's goods and services. Effective public relations can be increased sales, a competitive edge over business rivals, and, eventually, improved profitability.

No matter what a company sells—goods, services, or both—a smart public and media relations program can have big returns and may not necessarily require a big budget.

But there's another aspect of public relations that can be just as important. When things go bad for a company, such as a product recall, a major product liability lawsuit, bankruptcy, or other potentially damaging situations, an effective public relations initiative can minimize or even eliminate the negative fallout. In these cases, public relations is often called "crisis management."

Reflecting the importance of public relations as a marketing tool on a par with traditional advertising is the recent trend of major advertising agencies buying global public relations firms or establishing full-service public relations divisions within their agencies.

What Effective Public Relations Can Accomplish

The following are some of the positive outcomes of a successful public relations department:

  • Attract attention to a company and raise its visibility in a competitive market niche
  • Generate interest in and enthusiasm for a company's goods and or services
  • Create "buzz" in the form of new products or services trend on social media or in social circles
  • Enhance the credibility of a company and polish its image
  • Defuse a crisis if and when it occurs, minimizing its potential damage

Public Relations and Publicity

Newsworthy public relations events or occurrences may get publicity for a business. But the media must be informed of the event or occurrence. This is usually done by sending a news release or press release (the terms are interchangeable) to the media in which the information is intended to appear.

Newsworthy events may include:

  • The introduction of a new product or service
  • An executive's promotion or retirement
  • The opening or closing of a manufacturing plant or retail outlet
  • The acquisition or sale of subsidiaries or new firms
  • Company sponsorship entirely or partially—of a charity event or fundraiser
  • Funding college or university scholarships
  • Demonstrations of new, complex products (for example, phones with new applications)
  • Free services for seniors, children, veterans, or any special group of people, to build traffic and introduce potential customers to a business
  • Contests related to a specific business
  • Special events tied to a specific business (for example, a book store may host a public reading by a celebrated author with a new book)

Whatever the business, there may be some way to attract media attention to the company through an innovative public relations effort.

What Won't Get Publicity

Sales events are not public relations initiatives and are not likely to get media exposure.

No matter how the sales events are promoted—clearance sales, fire sales, bankruptcy sales, lost-our-lease sales, and the like are best publicized through advertising because editors will not, in most cases, regard these as news stories.

Writing the Press Release and Contacting the Media

The news release describing the planned public relations event may be written in-house by a regular business employee. A public relations consultant or agency may be hired to provide that service.

If the news release is written by an outside public relations consultant or agency, competitive price bids may be solicited from several sources. There are several advantages to hiring an outside consultant or agency to handle the news release.

Where a Press Release Goes

Once the release is written, determine in advance where it should be sent. Telephone the media outlets targeted and get the name, e-mail address, and phone number of the editor to whom the story will be sent.

A business-related story like an executive promotion, introducing a new product, opening a new store, or any similar business-related occurrence should be sent to the business editor.

A story unrelated to business, such as sponsorship of a charity event or a contest, should be sent to the city editor or feature editor. There are editors with similar functions at all media, including Internet sites. Releases should be sent via the United States Postal Service and e-mail as a backup, according to the criteria mentioned above.

Crisis Management

Sometimes things go wrong for a firm. Serious problems such as a product recall, a product liability lawsuit, strikes, government shutdowns, or bankruptcies may damage the image of the company affected.

Public relations experts who handle problems such as these are also called crisis managers. When there is a problem, a crisis management team may take the following actions:

  • Address the media and public as soon as possible without stonewalling facts, or delaying disclosures
  • Deal with the media and public with complete candor
  • Retain competent legal counsel if necessary

The Bottom Line

Companies that understand public relations principles and employ them regularly may enjoy a competitive advantage over rivals that are not public relations savvy.

Among the beneficial results of strategic public relations are increased sales, increased customer traffic, a continual "buzz" or talk about a company which is frequently mentioned positively in the media, and a brightly shining image in the eyes of their customers and potential customers.

There are many additional aspects, complexities, and subtleties of public relations. This article is meant to introduce the art and craft of public relations, and much useful additional material is widely available.