Understanding PR, the Most Personal Communications Channel

How do you market something that everybody needs but nobody really knows what it is? Public Relations is one of those fields: everybody knows it’s a crucial part of a corporate strategy, but few people can properly explain what PR is. It seems ironic, but it makes sense when you accept that PR isn’t meant to call attention to itself, it’s meant to act as a bridge between an organization and the media, facilitating and shaping the flow of information to accentuate the unique and positive attributes of the organization.

Don’t make the mistake of hiring an agency when what you really need is PR, or assigning PR duties to a marketing team. Marketing is not PR. Think of marketing as direct-to-consumer and PR as focusing on partnerships. The target audience of marketing is the broad base of potential customers – you want to cast a wide net and use your messaging to catch the attention of as many leads as possible – while PR is about business relationships. A good PR specialist knows exactly who they’re talking to and is always working to strengthen that one-on-one relationship.

It is therefore absolutely critical that marketing and PR are aligned, but be careful not to blur the lines between them. While marketing speaks to a broad collective, PR speaks to individuals. One is commodified and mass marketed, the other is crafted and personal.

The Functions of PR

A quick Google search will turn up plenty of DTC ad agencies disguised as PR firms. You can usually identify these by their generic, glossy look that has more in common with TV commercials than with traditional public relations. Many market themselves as full-service marketing, advertising and PR firms, but the result is a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach which does nothing to emphasize the uniqueness of your brand. It’s impersonal – the antithesis of what PR should be.

Every company has a unique voice. PR can help to find that voice and use it to bridge the gap between insider expertise and the media. The right PR specialist will be an expert in your field and have established relationships with industry publications as well as the broader media landscape. They have the knowledge to identify and develop the unique niche and perspective of you and your team and the skills and experience to communicate that perspective to the media.

Media Relations

PR is about relationships. It’s not enough to push press releases through newswire services and hope for the best; even if one gets picked up, the publisher goes through dozens if not hundreds per day and is likely to forget about yours by the time you release another. What people do remember is people. A PR specialist’s job isn’t over when something gets published, they go above and beyond to cultivate positive relations with influential members of the media. The goal is that the next time the media wants to talk to the experts, your organization is at the top of the list.

Company and Executive Profiling

At the end of the day, an organization’s competitive advantage comes down to the expertise of its people. PR specialists identify those unique areas of differentiation and create profiles for both the company as a whole and for its executives. These profiles are then used to position you as the go-to authority in your field. Again, the goal is to get the media to come to you because they know that you not only have the answers, but that you’re also a pleasure to talk to and work with.

Reputation Management

An organization’s reputation is of utmost concern to its PR team. Because they speak directly to influential members of the media, PR specialists are uniquely suited to manage that reputation. A key role of PR is to guide which traits and attributes will be commonly associated with the organization –  including practical qualities like ‘user-friendly’ and more ephemeral ones like ‘fun and exciting’ – and to reduce the perception of negative attributes.

PR is Personal

It’s important to draw a line between what is and isn’t PR. Advertising, marketing, customer communications: that’s not PR. Your expertise and solutions getting covered organically by the media: that’s PR. Marketing is about paying for brand placement. PR is about offering something valuable that no one else can offer so that the media wants to talk about you. The practices that work well in the former don’t cleanly translate to the latter.

The role of PR is to act as the personal relationship that unites the company with publishers, journalists, stakeholders and influencers. Ad campaigns don’t do this – the media can smell hard sells and hashtags from a mile away. Good marketers know how to talk to consumers, but PR is about developing real relationships with people in media and publishing. A PR specialist knows the industry but also knows how the media thinks, what they’re interested in, and how to speak their language.

PR ultimately conveys the central messaging that distinguishes the company from its competitors and communicates the company’s values, but more importantly it positions the people at the company as smart, talented people that you want to have on your side. That’s the unique skill of a PR specialist – don’t take it for granted.

5 Pillars of a Corporate PR Program

“If you’re not appearing, you’re disappearing.” The legendary jazz drummer Art Blakey was describing the struggle for relevance in the entertainment business, but the quote speaks to just about every industry today.

The barriers to entry in any field are lower than ever. There are plenty of positives to this, especially in how it encourages more diverse voices to engage in the market and more creative, unconventional approaches to innovation and problem-solving. On the other hand, this means that sometimes the loudest voices drown out the ones that have the most substance.

You can have the best technology and the most experienced and charismatic people, but that won’t matter unless you can (1) rise above the noise and tell the world about it, and (2) convince the world to believe that you’re telling the truth. How do you do this? With a PR program that checks five key boxes:

1.     Media Outreach, Relations and Coverage

Developing strong media relations is the first for a reason, and each of the remaining items feeds into this one. The power of traditional advertising isn’t what it used to be – it can get your name out there but it won’t convince anybody that you’re the real deal. The goal of media outreach is to get the media to report on what you’re up to in their own words, a perceived stamp of approval that lends credibility to your message.

2.     Content Strategy

Good content should define your brand identity, on both a functional and a personal level. Content is an opportunity to show off. If you really know your stuff, prove it by backing it up with original data and insights. Align your content with industry trends and hot topics, and offer meaningful (and useful) interpretations of those trends that could only come from someone with your unique expertise. At the same time, inject your brand with a unique personality that speaks to your target audience and makes them want to hear more and spend more time interacting with the brand.

Note: Your social media strategy should be distinct from your content strategy and is not a pillar of a corporate PR program. Rather, it’s a tool for amplifying the accomplishments of successful PR and in most cases should be managed in-house. Stay tuned: we will go into more detail about effectively using social media as part of your B2B PR strategy in a future article.

3.     Industry Analysts

High-quality content goes a long way, but it needs to be backed up by industry analysts. Getting your data and insights in front of the right people at, for example, Gartner and Forrester helps to position your brand as an expert in the field. When professional industry analysts trust you as a source, it legitimizes your brand’s credibility and increases brand awareness among partners and competitors.

4.     Speaking Opportunities

As Art Blakey said, be appearing or be disappearing. Speaking opportunities are part performance and part networking, an opportunity for high-level executives to showcase their personal area of expertise and to boost brand visibility. In today’s market, relevance can be a hard thing to hold onto, so speaking regularly at strategically-appropriate events (usually unpaid) can give your brand much-needed exposure in front of the top industry analysts, thought leaders and decision makers in your industry.

5.     Industry Awards

Of the five items on this list, industry awards are the most often neglected. They take a lot of time and money to enter, resources that could surely be better spent within the company, right? But winning awards comes with a myriad of benefits that can be hard to measure directly, including building credibility (which boosts the effectiveness of every other component of the PR strategy), boosting morale and offering free publicity which can strengthen your media relations. Perhaps most importantly, it can have a major impact on talent acquisition, helping you stack your deck with the industry’s best people.

These are the five pillars that make up an effective corporate PR program, each of them working in concert to elevate your brand messaging, identity and visibility.

How to Score Free Publicity for Your Business

Can you remember the last advertisement you saw on the tv, online, on the side of a bus or on a billboard? If you can, ask yourself what it was about the ad that made you remember it. Was it the aesthetics, its sense of humor, its relevance to your life? If you can’t remember the last ad you saw, don’t feel bad – your memory isn’t to blame. It’s not always easy to recall ads because they usually don’t connect with their audience on an emotional level (well, some do, but most do not). We see so many of them on a daily basis that they all seem to meld into one another.

The objective of advertising is to get the customer to discover or create a need for a product or service, and subsequently consume it. Publicity is quite different. On a more overt level, its objective is not to sell, but to connect with a target audience so that they will consider buying whatever it is that it’s selling. The connection forged between company and customers is the main differentiating factor between advertising and publicity.

Another factor that distinguishes publicity from advertising is that the latter will always cost you whereas the prior can be free. This is a great bonus, especially if you are trying to keep operation costs low or if you are a small business just starting out.

Why is publicity important for your business?

Publicity is important for myriad reasons. It can bring traffic to your website as well to your physical store, if you have one. It can get people talking and creating buzz about your business. Good publicity can tell a story of human interest and can reach a wider audience. Advertisements hone in on a targeted demographic, but publicity can reach all sorts of people as long as your story resonates with them on a deeper level, be that emotional, psychological or intellectual.

What can you do to generate publicity for free?

To get publicity for your business, there are many things that you can do. Firstly, you want your website to contain fresh, fun, informative and credible content that is always up-to-date and accurate. It is not enough to merely create an online presence; you have to maintain it and give it room to evolve with the growing needs of your customer base.

The creation and maintenance of an online presence also includes engaging customers through various social media outlets, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. Socializing through social media outlets is a way of life for many people, so capitalize on it and start engaging with your customers in new and exciting ways. Facebook is excellent for creating discourse with your customers and sharing exclusive content, like infographics, memes and blog articles; Twitter is useful for announcements, day-to-day goings-on and promotions; Instagram is excellent for sharing photos and videos of your products and services.

Another fantastic way to generate publicity is to look within your business, and uncover your story. It can be any kind of story, like a “creation story” about how your company came to be, a story about how a customer’s life was improved by your service/product offerings, or even a story about how different people are benefiting from your products and services. Try telling a story that people want to hear, that connects with them on a more profound level than straight-forward advertising.

What do you need to consider when generating publicity?

When creating buzz about your business, there are some key points you need to address in your “story”:

  • A “positioning statement”. This is a sentence that positions you relative to your competition. Tell your audience what makes you stand out from the crowd.
  • Your objectives. What do you hope to achieve through publicity?
  • Your target customers. Who are you trying to gain as customers?
  • Your target media. Which medium do you want to use to reach your customers (e.g. newspapers, social media, blog platform, etc…)?
  • Your story angle. What aspect of your business’ story will you be promoting (creation, customer testimonials, etc…)?
  • Your pitch. How will you sell your story?
  • Follow-up. How will you measure your story’s reception and effectiveness with your audience?

Sometimes, the thought of selling your story can be more daunting than selling your product as it takes a step away from the bottom line of making money. Rather, it aims to connect with a potential customer in hopes that they will see value in what you are selling, and transition from reader to customer.

B2B News Network names Pola Hallquist a marketing influencer

B2B marketers in Canada generate an enormous amount of revenue and activity every year, but unlike marketers at B2C companies, their names are largely unknown in the marketing world.

These dedicated and talented marketers work hard to get someone else’s company recognized. To do this, they keep up on the latest marketing tactics, which over the past decade have gone beyond communicating and simply raising the profile of a company and its products.

Modern marketers employ specialized techniques including account-based marketing and binge marketing. As prominent marketing technologist and Hacking Marketing author Scott Brinker observed, today’s marketers have nearly unlimited opportunities to apply their talents, including websites, mobile apps, social media management, marketing automation, analytics and programmatic advertising. “It’s become so intense that the job of marketing management is now also one of technology management too.”

Yet for all of their work, B2B marketers often get little recognition themselves.

With such demands on them, B2B News Network wanted to shine a little light on this behind-the-scenes crew. So we asked our readers: Who are the fantastic Canadian B2B marketers? Is someone getting your company amazing press, or making a name for your up-and-coming business?

You responded with enthusiasm and with that, we bring you Canada’s most interesting, innovative and influential B2B marketers.

Who she is: Pola Hallquist, Director at Clarity Communications and CEO at Apothecary Communications

Follow her on Twitter: @PolaHallquist

Find her on Linkedin:

A director at Clarity Communications and CEO at Apothecary Communications, Hallquist sees B2B marketing evolving with the increasing access to data.

“The more data available to marketing professionals, the more we will be able to harness better customer insights and the more specific our targeting and content messaging can be,” Hallquist told B2B News Network.

Delivering a highly relevant message to the right audience via the right channel will always be the key to building and maintaining customer loyalty and advocacy, she said.

“In order to do this, companies will need to acquire a deep understanding of their customers and produce content they will find useful in order to keep them engaged and talking about the brand,” she said.

“Understanding your customer and communicating that knowledge to every engagement point is the only path to success. In this way, acquiring customer data will be the key factor in highly effective marketing campaigns.”

With a multitude – and growing number – of communication channels, companies are looking to constantly expand their reach and deliver highly targeted messaging, Hallquist said.

“The current marketing landscape calls for well-versed professionals who are driven by a fast-paced and ever-evolving digital marketplace. The only way to get noticed in such a saturated environment is by monitoring current trends and thinking outside of the box.”

Hallquist works primarily with technology clients in the areas of fintech, ecommerce, artificial intelligence, cyber security and big data.

So how does she keep on top of such complex and rapidly changing field?

“The only way I can is to always be learning (tools of my trade as well as those of my customers and their industries), and to never stop innovating.”

Read the full article here

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