What is public relations and what does public relations do? It’s a question worth asking whether you’re a professional working in it, or a business either considering buying it or wondering whether to continue buying it or not.
It’s also a question that needs posing as there’s a school of thinking that claims public relations is dead, but more of that later when I’ve got a defibrillator handy.
There are many definitions of what public relations is, but it can be distilled into this: creating and protecting reputation and building relationships.
Those who like their public relations definitions more elaborate might prefer the Chartered Institute of Public Relation’s version which states:
Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. It is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.
But what does any of this matter if public relations is dead?
Well, despite the evolution of a host of new methods or channels of communication – among them social media, content marketing, inbound marketing, and so on – the skills being used to deliver the new Jerusalem are very much (in my demonstrably humble opinion) founded in public relations. And I really don’t care whether it’s people who consider themselves professionals in PR, SEO, creative or marketing who are deploying these skills – what matters is delivering the best quality communications to achieve the objective in hand.
And in today’s mixed up world of PR, digital and marketing we are all – or should be – taking the best bits from each other’s disciplines to provide not one pigeon-holed set of practices, but creative communications that persuade and influence.
This is not to diminish the role that media relations still plays in the world of the PR professional. As this recent feature in The Drum demonstrated, Manchester public relations agencies are viewing with glee the opportunities presented by the move of BBC news outlets to Salford’s Media City complex.
what is public relations vis a vis persuasion and influence?
An excellent short video on the “Science of Persuasion” made me question again “what is public relations?” and recognise how much it is involved in the business of persuasion. When cross-referencing the so-called universal principles of persuasion against public relations approaches, the synergies are there:
The principle of feeling obliged to give after receiving: it’s been proven that restaurants giving gifts to customers (such as mints) with the bill increases the level of tip left for the waiter. If the waiter compliments the customers and gives them extra mints, the tip level goes through the roof. This is the “personalised communication” dimension of public relations.
When selling a proposition, you need to convey the benefits, what’s unique about it and what the buyer stands to lose if they don’t take it up. This process of education and focusing in on key messages is public relations too.
“People will follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts”. But how do you present and build the credibility of your organisation’s experts outside of your office confines and to a wider world? Public relations can do that. And, it’s even more effective if a third party acknowledges how credible your experts are – being quoted in the relevant media or mentioned by your customers in case studies will do that. That’s public relations too.
Apparently, people prefer to do business with people who “are similar to them, who pay them compliments and who co-operate with them”. Studies show that building rapport first and finding common ground is the place to start before you start selling or talking business. Effective behaviour in social media channels reflects this concept absolutely – and skills of listening before engaging come straight from the public relations tool kit.
And another recent analysis of the work of the UK government’s behavioural insight team – or “nudge unit” for short – also shows public relations principles at work. Going back to the good, old CIPR definition, it’s about the “planned and sustained” effort to communicate, “earning understanding and support to influence opinion and behaviour”.
So, if you’re working in public relations be assured that you are doing something of value. And, if you’re thinking about buying public relations – because you feel reputation and relationships are important to your organisation and you need to be persuasive with people who matter to you – be assured, you’re thinking along the right lines.
If your business would like to explore the benefits of public relations activity, then please get in touch via this online form, email or that quaint tool, the telephone, in big red numbers at the top of the page.