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.
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.