Brands are no longer objects that we buy or sell. Brands are experiences, and we often share our brand experiences with others. Reflect on a recent memorable experience. Was it your wonderful vacation? Your beautiful wedding? Or a simple walk through the woods or along a beach on a sunny day? You managed that experience. You decided what you wanted, planned it, and then made it happen.
If others joined you on your adventure, you likely still talk about it with your companions. You may bring it up with acquaintances, neighbors, or work colleagues. Did the hotel, chapel, or park ranger pay you to talk about your event? Not likely at all! You drew such immense value from the experience that you willingly shared the story.
The goal of public relations is to bring your brand’s story to life in a way so engaging that others will want to tell it, too. You can express your story through a variety of forums including:
- Press releases
- Social media platforms
- Customer service
- Community events
- Trade shows
- Thought leadership
But just as you had a dialogue with friends about your vacation or your wedding, your brand storytelling will be a conversation. You’ll find out about your audience, listen to their questions, and then explain – or better yet, show – why engaging with your brand will be a great experience. Importantly, you’ll build trust with your audiences by fulfilling your brand promise with each experience.
Ultimately, public relations efforts help you create personal relationships with stakeholders including customers, vendors, industry associations, and advocacy groups. When your conversations with stakeholders are consistent, authentic, and honest, they’ll become brand advocates who help you build your brand’s value.
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.
If you want to transform your public relations program into a tool for building personal relationships, think about how you establish connections and trust with people. When you want to connect with someone, you do the following:
- You actively listen to them, showing you understand and are interested in what they’re saying.
- You empathize with them and share personal narratives that illustrate you understand how they feel.
- You find out more about them; their story is your priority.
- You pay attention not only to what they say but how they say it to gain more insight into their perspectives and emotions.
- You don’t back away from serious or tense moments or try to deflect them with humor. You meet them on their terms.
Public relations should adhere to these relationship guidelines across the variety of ways in which you engage with consumers and customers.
- Press relationships. Yes, press releases will be part of your public relations activities. Make them thoughtful by thinking about the recipients. Writers and editors receive hundreds of emails every week. Let them know you understand what’s important to their readers and support their objectives. Explain why your news will be valuable.
- Social media relationships. We’ve all witnessed the power of the consumers’ social media voices to uplift or tear down brands and individuals. Focus on genuinely connecting with followers, not simply building a follower base. Manage your social media relationships wisely by investing time to a) listen, b) personalize your content, and c) respond thoughtfully and appropriately. Remember, PR is a dialogue with customers about how your company or brand can add value to their story.
- Customer service interactions. The team members who interact with your customers are public relations agents. When they deliver responsive and empathetic service, they demonstrate that you care about your customers’ needs and experiences with your brand. Customers will post, tweet, and blog about their interactions with you. Get your team on board with making sure customers have good news to share.
- Community engagements. Becoming a contributor to and participant in your community shows that you are concerned and interested in making life better for your customers. Yes, you can publish news about your activities, but the true benefit of community engagement is how you deepen your relationships by giving back.
- Industry events. Although trade shows are costly, the spending is usually part of a sales or marketing budget. It’s the public relations activities before or after the event that can help generate returns on that investment. Press releases, targeted e-mail communications, luncheons, or coffee hour events can work to boost awareness of and interest in your brand. Personal contacts via phone or email after the show solidify your commitment to providing value and solutions to prospective customers.
- Thought leadership. Creating relevant, honest, thought-provoking content is another PR activity that can help build brand credibility. You can position your brand or your company as a leader through digital media, at industry events, or through traditional media. As your brand becomes more known and trusted, its value will increase.
Remember to make sure your brand identity is consistently evident across your PR program. Encourage everyone on your team, from customer service teams to third-party vendors, to follow your brand guidelines. You’ll want your brand or company’s presence to be consistent, no matter when, where, or with whom the conversation occurs.
In addition to outlining your approach to public relations activities, your strategy should address how you’ll identify and communicate with stakeholders.