Today’s digitized landscape gives you several channels for outreach, providing you with a variety of options when it comes to communications and PR services. You can develop a strategy to present your story through paid advertising. A plan for your websites, blogs, and social media platforms will give potential customers access to your story on demand. You can also tell your story by executing strategies for public relations and stakeholder management.
Ask a team member or a client to define ‘public relations,’ and you may hear something like ‘people who write press releases, sell stuff, or plan events.’ Others may say, “It’s another form of advertising.” One person we asked said, “We think public relations people write press releases as a form of ‘spray and pray’ communication.” Ouch! The PR industry needs better public relations efforts.
Mis-perceptions also exist about stakeholders. At face value, the term describes someone who has an interest or concern about an issue or an organization and will be affected by decisions made about it. Break the word apart, and you may get an image of a dagger-wielding figure who threatens decision-makers. This darker version suggests a stakeholder has the power to destroy (or save) your future.
We start our explanation of public relations and stakeholder management by contrasting it with the more readily understood medium of advertising. Think about advertising as a presentation that you pay to deliver. It’s a one-way form of communication with your audience. Ideally, your advertising messages will align with your audience’s needs and communication style. But advertising is a monologue.
In contrast, public relations efforts and stakeholder management are conversations. You have dialogues with people to explain your brand’s value, address questions, and encourage them to engage with you. You don’t pay for those conversations; if your content is compelling, people will share it with others because they believe your message and your brand are worthwhile.
The CIPR Communications team examines the scope of public relations and offers guidance on how PR can be used to create connections. We also outline strategies for effectively collaborating with stakeholders who can help you build your brand’s value. From our perspective, public relations and stakeholder management are essential activities for fostering trust in your brand and ensuring its longevity.
We looked to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for the official description of the field: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their public.” While we’re not fans of the word ‘publics,’ we agree with the goal. Notice that the phrase ‘press release’ isn’t included in the definition.
Let’s turn to an example that illustrates the power of public relations:
The challenge: Build awareness of the rollout of Holiday Inn Express brand’s Start Breakfast Bar in Canada.
The campaign: Hockey-rivals—Toronto’s Doug Gilmour and Montreal’s Guy Carbonneau faced off in the READIEST Breakfast Challenge Canada. The two players had three minutes to concoct their game-winning breakfast using some of the 30 ingredients on the Start Breakfast Bar menu. Hockey analyst Mike Johnson refereed and tasted the results. Carbonneau took home the win with a “Power Play Pancake Cup,” – a fluffy pancake cone filled with fresh scrambled eggs and sausage.
Benefits to the public: Fans can watch the competition on Holiday Inn digital and social channels. They can also participate by creating their game-day breakfast combo at Holiday Inn Express hotels nationwide. Guests receive 15 percent off their stay when they book at holidayinnexpress.com/readiestbreakfastchallenge.
Results: Since the campaign launched in April 2019, sales results aren’t in yet. We expect Holiday Inn will happily see bookings pick up.
Was a press release part of the campaign? Absolutely, but it’s the excitement and fun of the story that captured the attention of hockey fans and Holiday Inn guests. The Holiday Inn brand has been buoyed up by the friendly competition and subsequent conversation about the campaign.
We enjoy sharing success stories, but it’s also important to acknowledge the outcomes when public relations blunders occur:
The issue: TD Bank Canada Trust team members said pressure to meet sales goals led to them selling financial services that weren’t needed or requested. Changes made to accounts without customer knowledge violated the Federal Bank Act.
The response: Amid public outcry, TD Bank issued several waves of carefully crafted press releases trying to reassure consumers that the bank could be trusted. Unfortunately, the language in the communications was ‘legalese’ and didn’t reflect the brand’s tone or identity.
Benefits to the public: None. The bank’s focus on avoiding liability instead of legitimizing customer concerns hurt the brand.
Results: The day after the story broke, TD stock fell 5.5 percent, wiping out 2017 YTD gains and marking its worst performance in 8 years.
What was missing from TD Bank’s public response? Aside from the lack of credibility and appropriate tone in the press releases, TD Bank missed the opportunity to have a frank conversation with customers. Acknowledging the problem and apologizing for mistakes is an important start toward rebuilding trust. Should the leadership team have been changed? Would the company benefit from internal work on its culture? We can’t answer those questions definitively, but drastic actions are sometimes necessary for an organization to repair damaged brands.
Our examples demonstrate that successful public relations efforts are much more than a series of press releases. Public relations activities should open the door between your brand and your customers, letting your ‘public’ get to know you and feel connected to you.