By Anya Cooklin-Lofting
Ironically, the public perception of public relations is inaccurate. For an industry so concerned with the positive reputation of its clients, its own image in the mainstream has been warped, defined by uproarious recalcitrants like Samantha Jones, Malcolm Tucker and Edina Monsoon. The reality of PR has less to do with shambolic Champagne receptions, ludicrously late nights and even later mornings, and more to do with strategic planning, creative, critical thinking and compelling storytelling.
At its most basic, PR is the framework for the interaction between companies and their customers via the media. When you instruct a PR agency or a consultant, you are trusting them to tell your brand story to the right journalists at the right time to help position your brand, services and products in the magazines your audiences read. This generates awareness in your key demographics and, eventually, commercial gain.
PR holds sway. It is an effective way to authentically spotlight your company from the respected position of third-party endorsers – the press. Unlike advertising, the only financial exchanges should be between you and your PR expert, and the journalist and the media house they’re writing for. In other words, your PR coverage is earned based on the integrity and value of the story you are telling; no money is exchanged between you and the journalist. In this way, investing in PR is one of the most genuine approaches to implementing a meaningful media campaign. It is also one of the most economical: your monthly spend with an agency or a consultant will almost certainly be much lower than if you were to consistently buy media space, especially from high-circulation magazines or websites.
However, high circulation coverage won’t always be a marker of success, as the kind of media coverage you are aiming for will differ greatly depending on the audiences you want to engage. There is no one-size-fits-all option and key performance indicators vary greatly between campaigns and from business to business. More often than not, titles that boast high circulation and a global reach might not be right for your business. For example, a huge, glossy, double-page spread in Vogue could be less successful for your company in terms of conversions or website traffic than a great piece in a niche magazine with a readership that’s more responsive to your services or products.
Despite the distinct qualities and nuances of different campaigns, the uniting ingredient of each is a solid understanding of target audiences. Your PR agency must fully understand the behaviours, passions and pastimes of your existing and prospective customers, such as the magazines or websites they read, their finances, their geography and whether they shop online, in-app or in-store. It would be counterproductive, for instance, to run a print-led campaign for an e-commerce business with an expanding social media following. Similarly, for a company whose target audience subscribes to a specific mix of print newspapers, it would be far more effective to reach out to the editors of the relevant supplements or desks at these titles instead of pursuing influencer PR opportunities on Instagram.
A great example could be a company selling beautiful, handmade handles for kitchen cupboards and drawers. They might hand-craft each product and may not have the facility to ship internationally, choosing instead to focus on their UK customer base, easing pressure on their craftspeople. For this business, the PR campaign should respond to and facilitate these commercial goals, positioning its products in British design magazines read by home renovators, or trade publications read by kitchen designers. They could also look towards home-interest social media accounts with a high engagement for gifting opportunities in return for exposure, tags and mentions. The big brand story in Forbes or in the internationally poured-over FT How to Spend It can wait until the CEO is ready to take their business to the next level, adjusting the objectives of the PR campaign to support this.
Your PR agency or consultant will be able to guide you seamlessly through the process of increasing your share of voice in the right media, be it locally, nationally or internationally. They are often the source of the most creative, dynamic ideas when it comes to storytelling, product launch proposals, events, photoshoots and collaborations. A good agency will support and advise you based on wider industry trends from their vantage point at the centre of the communications world, always at the ready with your brand’s name front of mind. Of course, they’ll be the first to raise a glass to your Absolutely Fabulous successes, too.