Public Relations: A Model System
Kathy Callahan is a communications consultant working with the gaming industry. She can be reached at (702) 415-9806, or by e-mail at KBC17400@aol.com.
Cats and dogs. The Giants and the Patriots. The Hatfields and McCoys. Like these famously feuding pairs, do the marketing and public relations departments at your property fall into two distinct camps? Do you have constant turf wars over dominance, influence and budget?
And then throw into the mix the perennial redheaded stepchild of internal communications, often completely left out of the picture. It doesn’t have to be that way, and in the best models, communications and marketing can work together within an integrated system.
Step back for a moment and look at the many audiences to whom your reputation matters. The list may certainly start with customers, but then add in employees, your local community, neighboring businesses, investors, government officials and even nonprofit groups who may rely on your support. It quickly becomes apparent that your company’s image and reputation are shaped by forces much greater than advertising alone.
In an integrated communications approach, there is a seamless link of public relations and marketing, an understanding that public relations, employee communications, marketing, advertising, investor relations, community and government relations all contribute to the overall image of an organization and forge important relationships among an organization and its many stakeholders.
In the best integrated communications environments, these various disciplines step outside the bounds of their traditional silos to work in synergistic relationships, each bringing its own strengths and value in shaping the reputation of your property or company.
Two halves make a wholeIt may be helpful to understand what advertising and public relations each bring to the table before considering how they can work together. Advertising builds awareness and helps craft a well-recognized brand image. Just think of the best-known brands such as Coca Cola, Budweiser or McDonalds, and you can see the power of advertising at work in creating strong awareness for a product. Companies pay well for ads in a set time and place, with absolute control over the message. Consumers, of course, know when they’re seeing an ad and clearly perceive its intended effect to sell them a product or service.
Effective public relations has the ability to connect with consumers and other stakeholders on a much more analytical level, to earn their understanding and support as well as influencing opinion and behavior. In a way, customers are actively co-creating the brand from what they learn about it through public relations. Your public relations team’s success in pitching a story or getting information included in a bigger piece will result in a quite different perception than paid advertising. The result is almost always greater credibility than an ad.
Think about the effect when you place an ad about your great steakhouse, versus the impact of an impartial third-party restaurant review. Which one is likely to have more sizzle with customers and ultimately generate more business? Volvo didn’t gain its reputation of safety through advertising. Instead, it gained consumer trust through publicity from stories like its invention of the three-point lap-and-shoulder safety belt. Advertising helped reinforce the position, but public relations laid the groundwork.
Unlike the shorter lifespan of an ad, a well-placed story can also have an extended shelf life, whether it’s running in other media outlets, being picked up by different publications, or woven into subsequent stories. How many times have you picked up a publication to take a second look at an ad - versus referring again and again to a particularly compelling story?
Employee opinion counts, tooAnd don’t neglect employee communications within this integrated approach. Employees embody an organization’s reputation, and effective internal communications can align their behaviors and values with the goals of the organization. You may run an internal ad campaign on a new benefits feature or an employee recognition program, but employees need the depth of a thorough internal public relations campaign to become fully engaged in any new initiative.
In one of Aesop’s fables, the sun and the wind disagreed about who was the stronger of the two. They saw a man walking down the road, so they decided to settle the dispute by seeing who could make him take off his coat. The wind took its turn first. The harder the wind blew, the more closely the man wrapped his coat around him. The sun then began to shine, and it wasn’t long before the man felt the sun’s warmth and removed his coat.
Like the wind in Aesop’s fable, the harder the sell, the harder the resistance to the sales message. Public relations can work like the sun. It can lead to action and produce results more subtly by presenting its message through an objective third party-the media.
In a blog on “The Art of Branding,” Entrepreneur magazine columnist Guy Kawasaki wrote: “Brands are built on what people are saying about you, not what you’re saying about yourself.”
In the best of all models, bring multiple disciplines to the table on important strategy discussions related to your company’s reputation. Talk about specific audiences, messages and intended outcomes in a big-picture sense, rather than immediately calling on the marketing staff alone. You may be happy to discover that, with this holistic approach, you’ll get the type of response that money just can’t buy.