It is indeed true that a lot of marketing communication practitioners now regard public relations as a fulcrum in the battle to win over consumers’ hearts and minds by creating a positive shift in their attitudes and behaviour. Public relations has a key role to play in every organisation’s marketing mix, no matter how overarching the corporate marketing strategy is.
By Elizabeth Gondo
Public relations is the deliberate, planned and sustained effort by an organisation in order to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics. Depending on the nature of the client’s work, these publics could include clients, potential clients, voters, members of the local community, members of the media, students, parents of students, online fans groups, foreign citizens — the list is endless. It is a management process whose goal is to attain and maintain accord and positive behaviours among social groupings on which an organisation depends in order to achieve its mission. The fundamental responsibility of public relations is to build a hospitable environment for an organisation.
Public relations can also be simply described as 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, support and also influence customer opinion and behaviour. When using public relations, the company does not pay for space or time in the media, rather it pays for staff, which may be a well-known and loved celebrity, a person of high moral and social standing or opinion leaders to circulate praiseworthy information about the company and develop relationships with potential clients.
Due to increased saturation of markets, it has become increasingly difficult to reach customers, hence the development of public relations. Traditional forms of marketing are now yielding lower and lower returns, requiring companies to employ more innovative methods of reaching potential customers. Another driver of public relations has been consumers and other businesses increasingly demanding that organisations behave and think in certain ways. A failure to conduct themselves in these ways can have a detrimental effect on the organisation’s standing within both the industry and public sphere.
The vital role of public relations is because of its ability to manage problems or issues arising against the organisation and to keep the management informed on and responsive to public opinion, thereby keeping abreast of and effectively utilising change. It also defines and emphasises the responsibility of management to serve the public interest. Public relations creates mutually beneficial relationships and also serves as an early warning system to help anticipate trends.
The main objectives for public relations include building awareness for a product or service. Public relations helps to accommodate an increasing awareness of building better relationships with customers and to communicate more effectively with them. In recent years, various new public relations tools and techniques have been identified. Goodman (2001:121) includes creation of web pages, generation of better media products, the creation and building of relationships internally and externally as well as the building of trust in all of the organisation’s audiences as additional public relations tools and techniques. Public relations has a strong impact on public awareness at a lower cost in comparison to traditional advertising. This further complement sales promotion and holds down promotional costs. Public relations is also used to build credibility and stimulate sales force and dealers dispersed around the country.
The following activities, which require a broad understanding of business, management and social sciences, can be carried out by public relations practitioners by means of a public relations programme or public relations campaign. Primary tools and techniques that a public relations practitioner should employ include:
Press relations: This includes releasing news and information about the organisation to the press in the most positive light that helps build brand image for the company and improve sales in case of sales promotions. This also establishes and maintains two-way communication based on truthful information.
Product publicity: Sponsoring various efforts to get coverage of the company and its products in various public events. It also includes intense research into public opinion, attitudes and expectations and advising on necessary action to be taken. Product publicity also includes promoting goodwill with personnel, suppliers and customers.
Identity media/corporate communications: Developing materials with detailed information that promotes understanding of the organisation and its activities by external entities as well as internal employees. The organisation needs to create an identity that can easily be recognised by society. This may include company logo, stationery, brochures, signs, corporate forms, business cards, buildings and performance regulations for employees.
Lobbying: Communicating with legislators and government officials to promote legislation and regulation that helps in growth of the organisation and to defeat legislation that is not in interest of the company. This brings harmony between the private and public interests.
Counselling: Advising management on public perception on the company position and suggesting measures to improve the company’s image. An example of improving an organisation’s image may include improving industrial relations by attracting and hiring competent personnel and reducing labour turnover.
Sponsorship: An organisation can market their products by being a sponsor of any event be it sports or cultural events that gives benefit to the organisation.
Events: The organisation can draw attention to their new product or service by having special events such as interviews, seminars, exhibitions, competitions, and contests in order to reach the wider community.
Sustainable public relations efforts should continually be employed in order for an organisation to stay relevant in the industry and maintain its image in a positive light.
l Elizabeth Gondo is a marketer who holds a BBA in Marketing with IMM. She is also studying to become a chartered marketer. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
*This article was contributed on behalf the Marketers’ Association of Zimbabwe, a leading body of marketing professionals promoting professionalism to the highest standards for the benefit of the industry and the economy at large. For any further information, visit the website on www.maz.co.zw or contact email@example.com