Six Small Steps To Better Public Relations

It’s a pity to see companies in Barbados wasting good money on ineffective public relations, particularly when effective PR wouldn’t cost them any more.

Much of the PR and communication they are putting out today is simply not convincing or believable; in other words it lacks credibility.  But in a discipline supposedly dedicated to influencing opinion, and to earning people’s trust and support, credibility must be considered the Holy Grail.  If people don’t trust a message, they won’t trust the messenger either; and vice versa.

Audiences have learnt to quickly discount the value of communication and behaviour that is clearly self-serving, boastful or apparently driven by personal hunger for status and recognition.  So why do so many companies continue to produce it?

Old beliefs and practices are hard to let go of, but sometimes you have to.  Corporate managers need to embrace a new model of public relations; a more credible and effective model.  For what they are worth, here are six steps to help them get started:

1. Stop believing that public relations is a marketing function.

It’s not, even though marketers have appropriated PR’s tools and tactics to help them sell everything from products to people.  The real mandate of public relations goes way beyond promotion and publicity.  The discipline’s true strategic value lies in helping to build trust with a company’s “publics” through consistent, credible communication and behaviour.  Think about reputation, not image; think about managing issues, not illusions.

2. Stop trying to buy the public’s respect and affection.

A cheque presentation photo, regardless of where the money is going, is probably the most self-serving, shop-worn public relations technique there is for gaining publicity.  Reporters call it the “Shake and Take”.  Some senior executives, and their advisors, continue to find it irresistible, equating charity with corporate social responsibility.

Audiences continue to find it tiresome.  They wonder whether the company would still cut the cheque without the publicity.  Companies’ commitment to causes would be a lot more convincing if they gave time and effort as well as money.

3. Don’t abuse press conferences.

These are events that should be reserved for fast-breaking “hard” news.  Reporters don’t appreciate being called out to cover “fluff”.  Some executives use this device to garner personal publicity while pretending to offer vital and urgent information.  They mistakenly value visibility over credibility.  (Some PR practitioners do this as well, making sure they are highly visible by sitting or standing next to their client.)

4. Accept that editorial space is not for sale.

If you want your press release to run, then send in real “meat and potatoes” news.  Editorial space and time is at a premium, and editors don’t like giving “freebies” to people who submit thinly disguised advertisements.  You are supposed to pay for these.

5. Slipping one past the editor isn’t scoring.

Some PR practitioners hound reporters to run their clients’ releases or trade on past relationships in the newsroom.  This often happens when a release has no real news value, but the practitioner doesn’t want to tell the client so.  But getting a weak release past the editor doesn’t mean you’ve scored with the audience.  In fact, the opposite is often true: most of us can recognize news that isn’t news, and it leads us to question the integrity of those who produced it.

6. Divert PR spending towards employee communication.

Now here is a novel thought: when it comes to earning “public” trust and support, there is no more important “public” than employees.  These are the people whose productivity generates the return on investment that investors are looking for; they are the same people who produce the quality products and services that customers clamour for.

If you really want to use PR and communication effectively, start from the inside and work out.  When you are consistent, candid and credible with the people who work for you – and you will have to be – you will be amazed at how quickly the quality and credibility of your “external” PR and communication will improve.

Originally published on Businessbarbados.com