Recently I've been hearing too much about PR, even for a marketer. I either face a PR task, and hence have to deal with the PR department, or I am invited to a workshop dedicated to growing role of PR, or my boss wonders what our PR strategy is in my presence, and to top it up, marketing editions abroad are writing about apparently changing role of PR in light of post recession marketing budget cuts.
For me, PR is a mythical beast. Theoretically, I of course know what it is. From my experience, PR specialists are the ones who prepare press releases, organise press conferences, interact with journalists, are responsible to company reputation management and have a tendency to look lost and thoughtful at the same time. It's as if they are from a different planet. The role they play in business has always been a mystery to me. But what I am discovering lately is that what we understand under PR in Kazakhstan and what PR is in the Western countries are totally different things. Moreover, PR department can and must work in achieving business goals, including marketing goals.
I have summarised my main conclusions, even discoveries, on how PR could be used in marketing. So what is PR like a tool, what does it allow businesses and first of all marketers to achieve?
Discovery ¹1. PR is an effective sales increase tool.
FMCG colleagues will point fingers at me laughing. They have known this forever. They treat PR as a number of tools - from professional 'independent' associations stamping products with their seal of approval and celebrity endorsement to consumer life stories, contests and the latest - work with influencers when several top bloggers are given a product in a hope they will write about it.
Discovery ¹2. Best PR adds value to the target audience.
My favourite example is funding of research, something that is especially underused in Kazakhstan. Its potential value is higher considering that in Kazakhstan there is an overall deficit of publicly available market, products and consumer preferences data. What can be better than a company funding research on an interesting subject (though related to a product) and then sharing the results with mass media in return for a free publication? I am not well familiar with PR industry in Kazakhstan however, perhaps there is no such thing as free publication whatsoever, even for interesting content. In the West, this method is used a lot. In my opinion, research funding is the best example of adding value - to the market, consumers and the company itself.
Discovery ¹3. Digital PR.
Digital PR is all about company reputation management in real time format. For me, this is something out of the sci fi. This is how it works in the West. A company would 'listen' to the consumers online. There are special monitoring programs that allow you to track everything that's being said about the company and/ or brand online, and collate positive or negative ratings, as well as gather qualitative data for further analysis. For example, Yougov site does in the UK compiles such daily ratings for companies and brands. If a company were to notice increase in negative feedback, they would analyse what triggered such response. Service department would get in touch with the most affected customers trying to resolve the issue. Company would publish information on what to do for all affected on its blog. All affected customers would then be offered a special offer - a discount or a freebie. Simultaneously, work would be done on all site and social media pages of the company. And recently PR departments have been coordinating most of these works.
Discovery ¹4. PR is a dialogue.
For me, PR has always been what I saw in Kazakhstan - ill written (because it's paid for) editorial, templated lifeless press release, uninteresting press conference where canapes are the main attraction. Analysing possibilities of PR in the West, I understand that this is a powerful tool in the hands of savvy businesses. Due to popularity of social media, PR is no longer a one way monologue, from top down, it is becoming a dialogue with a customer one on one, on an individual level. This is radically changing PR strategies of the leading companies of the world. Modern PR is something in between marketing and service. I like such approach, as a customer in the first place. Who do you think will overcome potential reputational crisis best - a company that will cascade the information via dry official press release or the one that will send me a personal message through the social network?
Discovery ¹5. Best PR campaigns are low cost campaigns. And they are measurable.
Previously PR and measurability were in totally different dimensions for me, however growing popularity of social and new media is quickly changing this. Digital media is much easier to track. As Marketing Week says, 'Excel tables are replacing the sequins'. This trend is complimented by the fact that traditional media are losing their monopoly to the new media. It's not surprising then that PR in this new sense is becoming ever more popular in the post crisis business world - new PR does not require huge budgets and is effective, as it yields immediate and measurable results. Out of the latest PR stunts, the one that I remembered most was one by Greenpeace where volunteers have taken the key parts of the fuel taps at BP gas stations and then filmed the consequences. The footage was quickly and effectively distributed through new and social media.
It's interesting to see the Russia's view on similar trends http://www.advertology.ru/article82951.htm#109939. So what next for PR in Kazakhstan? I am not an expert. But I can see that new digital advertising and social media agencies are growing quickly. They have young creative teams. If they can offer new creative solutions, future of PR in Kazakhstan may very well be theirs.