The role of PR on your business

Nov 22 / Nick O'Sullivan
Saffy: "I'm sorry Mum, but I've never seen what it is that you actually do"

Eddie: "PR! I PR things. People. Places. Concepts."
Public Relations, or PR, seemed to be all the range in the 90’s and 00’s. And yet for many of us, including me, it’s something we had about as much understanding of as Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous. 
Of course at the time I didn’t need to know much about PR, I was in full time education, insurance or the Marines. None of which called for a deep understanding of PR (perhaps with the exception of counter insurgency operations, but that’s another story). Even though my sister worked in PR, I had little idea of what it was she actually did!

These days however, as someone who loves all things leadership and management and who is on a mission to teach good leadership and management to as many people as possible, I was keen to return to this lack of understanding and to address it. I was also motivated to understand it as I now build my own business and PR is something I increasingly find myself asking questions about.

What exactly is the function of PR? Is it something businesses should be engaging with? If so why? When? How? 

Initial thinking 

I was keen to build my business as I was convinced of both our mission and how we intended to fulfil it. I quickly realized a key snag though. If me and my team were the only ones who were aware of it, the extent to which we believed in what we were doing was/is irrelevant. We needed other people to know who we are, what we are trying to achieve and how we aim to achieve it.

This didn’t seem to be marketing – I wasn’t at this stage trying to sell a product or service to anyone – I simply wanted to increase people’s awareness of us and what we were about. Why we were different to anything else we’d ever come across in the leadership and management training space (including our time as students on various courses) and so how we offered an attractive option for people and businesses. So if I wasn’t after marketing, was it PR I wanted? It seemed to fit. 

PR and the ‘Marketing Gap’ 

I started to visualise what it was I wanted to achieve.

As far as I could see, the point of marketing was to make a ‘sale’. Now a sale could be actually selling something for profit, or it could simply be someone signing up to something, but it basically means getting someone to decide to take the next step in engaging with a business, whatever that may be. Marketing is the targeted message to get a potential client or customer to take that step.

However, as I was taught when I left the Royal Marines to start my own financial planning business, people will only buy from you if the trust you, and before they trust you they have to get to know you and then to like you. This means that initially, any marketing effort has to bridge a pretty big gap! Diagram 1 below tries to illustrate this.
This begs the question, what if we could move the start point of making a sale from “don’t know of” my business, further down towards the left, perhaps to the “Familiar with” territory. If the potential client or customer is already familiar with my business, then the marketing effort has to cross a far smaller gap to be able to make the sale. This is shown in diagram 2 below. This is the role of PR. To make sure people know about, are familiar with and ideally like our business and/or products such that our marketing has a small gap to bridge to make a sale. And for those that (like me initially) feel ‘making a sale’ is a phrase associated with ruthless commercialism, just remember that most of us tend to believe our business service or product can genuinely improve people’s lives in some way. It’s why we do what we do. So interpret make a sale as ‘enrich people lives with our product or service’ and perhaps this might sit more comfortably with you. 

When should we be thinking about PR? 

Great question! It turns out that the best answer is from the very start! You know what you started your business to achieve. You know why your business is so awesome. You know why people would be nuts to go anywhere else. And there’s a great phrase, “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to start building a well.”
If you do that, you’ll be too thirsty to actually build the well and die of thirst. Instead, we should be anticipating our need to drink, and building a well as part of the foundations of our business. That means setting the conditions for a favourable sales environment by narrowing the marketing gap, and that’s the role of PR. PR should be regarded as a turbo booster to your marketing plan and very much a part of it. Cars will work without turbos of course, but they’ll be much faster with one!

That being the case, you should be thinking about PR in your strategy development and building it into your marketing plan. Once it’s in the plan, all you need to do is execute it. Of course we could do the execution ourselves, but like I said at the start, I never knew much about PR or how it works. Thankfully there are plenty of marketing and PR agencies out there who can help you with that. 
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