When the PR problem is not about PR

In a world and an age when there are so many platforms to reach out to consumers, so many different strategies to execute, and an audience base that is ever growing and easily dissatisfied, Public Relations is often misunderstood, written off and trivialised. Supplemented with advertising and marketing that are like the shiny toys in the box, PR is often perceived as the rag doll to be discarded. All of this while PR as a business is actually more dynamic than ever, growing and evolving at a rapid pace. In fact, an industry report by the Public Relations Consultants Association of India foresees the PR sector to be valued at INR 2100 crore by 2020.

Looking at the growing monetary value, it’s clear that the importance of PR is being recognised, but there is a lack of deeper understanding for the finer nuances of PR and how it is vastly different from advertising in both strategy and impact. So, if PR itself isn’t the problem, then what is?

Perceptions of Quantity

Public Relations as a practice relies on a host of metrics. Several of these are qualitative in nature and cannot be measured in absolutes. This is often perceived as a shortcoming of PR, where people expect a quantifiable ROI to prove the impact of a campaign or strategy. The primary objective of PR is to increase brand visibility and reach, and this is the factor that needs to be closely monitored and measured. Unlike advertising where ad views can be directly extrapolated to leads, PR does not aim to provide such a direct correlation between reach and conversion.

Followed by deep market research and an understanding of the audience, PR can indeed be precisely targeted to the appropriate consumer group. However, this reach is organic in nature and is never a hard sell. It depends on the sensibilities of the audience and is a way to leave behind a memory or brand recall without pushing too hard. This is the reason PR is termed as earned media rather than paid media. Though registrations and recommendations are a way to measure conversion, metrics that give a holistic picture of PR success are mostly associated with visibility and engagement. From likes, shares and comments to reads, scroll depth and citations, PR aims to create deep impact on a large scale, by speaking through credible third-party individuals and platforms. When someone from the outside validates a brand, it speaks volumes of the brand itself – and that is why the fact that quantitative measurability is limited in PR is not actually a problem but the by-product of PR’s ultimate objective.

Reluctance to Pursue

For PR consultants, the primary job role is often perceived to be that of a mediator between client and journalist. This is a massive misconception that results in clients being reluctant or fearful to interact with journalists directly, instead choosing to lean on PR professionals as spokespersons. To understand why this direct interaction is sometimes important, let us first better understand what PR professionals actually do.

They are essentially guides in what to say, what not to say, and of course how to say it. There are three basic aspects in which a PR consultant will guide the client. The first is in terms of legalities. Everything stated by a brand on a public platform has to be approved by the legal team to avoid the eventuality of a lawsuit against the brand.

The second aspect is the brand’s voice or personality. The reason PR consultants need to have an in-depth understanding of the brand is because they need to know the brand’s personality and accordingly guide the client to adhere to this public persona that has been crafted over time. A simple misguided quote can cause a deviation from or disturbance to the brand image. In this way, one sentence from a misinformed brand representative can have far-reaching repercussions for the brand as a whole. And so every post of a PR campaign is first run by the brand team.

The third and final aspect is of personal versus professional. Leaders of a company often become the brand ambassadors themselves. As individuals they are entitled to their views and opinions, be it on politics or policy making. However, as the face of the brand in the public spectrum their personal views can be attributed to the company as a whole, possibly negatively affecting the brand image. PR consultants take care of all three of these aspects and work alongside clients to sidestep crises. With all this guidance, clients are actually empowered to represent their brand effectively and positively. Using inputs from the PR team, it is important for the clients themselves to have a personal connect with the journalist to enable more insightful and efficacious communication. This can only happen if the job of PR is viewed as expert guidance rather than mere mediation.

As a business dealing with people from every quarter, PR is complex and multidimensional. In such a realm it is imperative that clients understand PR just as deeply as PR professionals understand their clients. Such a symbiotic relationship will lead to better communication, more effective strategies, and smoother execution, ultimately leading to a significantly higher impact.

Asif Upadhye on Twitter
Asif Upadhye
Director at SPRD
Asif Upadhye is the Director and The Dark Knight at SPRD | Stories.PR.Digital, a new-age Public Relations think tank backed by ideators, wordsmiths and design junkies focussed on delivering bespoke services.

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