Who made this message?
It is the job of PR agencies and professionals to engage in public relations for their client company. But what is public relations? Well, public relations refers to developing and maintaining communication between an individual/ organisation and the public. This oeganisation could be for-profit or not-for-profit.
But it’s not that simple.
Very often, PR involves the cultivation of FAVOURABLE relations for individuals/ organisations with the public, and especially its target audience.
This could include publicizing something or someone, promoting a positive image about something, dispelling any negative notions that might surface, and sometimes, even trying to make a point-of-view heard in policy formulation so as to ensure a continuing favourable environment.
PR professionals and agencies might promote individuals/ organisations via editorial coverage. As opposed to ads, this is supposed to be free of cost publicity and could reflect in stories in newspapers, magazines, blogs or TV and radio programming.
The promotion and cultivation of favourable relations might also be done through non-traditional media such as Twitter, Facebook or any such platforms.
The Public Relations Society of America defines the management of public relations as:
- “Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organization.
- Counseling management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization’s social or citizenship responsibilities.
- Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims. These may include marketing; financial; fund raising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs.
- Planning and implementing the organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy. Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities — in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.”
WHAT ARE THE CREATIVE TECHNIQUES THAT WERE USED TO GRAB MY ATTENTION?
There is a host of creative techniques and strategies that PR professionals may employ to get your attention. But first, be familiar with the three broad areas that PR professionals operate in. These are:
- Stand alone promotion for event/ activity
This is trying to get people to be aware about any upcoming event and then spreading the word about its success. This could be done using any medium and is a largely short-term affair.
This could include issuing a press release about an awards function or posting related-content on about it on social media.
- Sustained PR campaigns
This is when attempts are made to create excitement and interest in a brand over a long period of time. There’s synergy between PR efforts not only for different events but also on all platforms. This helps create an overall image for the brand in question.
So, when Dove comes up with a campaign to change conceptions of beauty (‘Real Beauty’ campaign [https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=14&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CGUQFjAN&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.com%2F2014%2F01%2F21%2Fdove-real-beauty-campaign-turns-10_n_4575940.html&ei=lnoBVe3cNNCSuQT0woG4Aw&usg=AFQjCNGQBtG1fR2gvPN-7U091A7Ofv2WVg&sig2=FJ7ljSgiqetFvCR3yyKOcw&bvm=bv.87920726,d.c2E]), all its efforts—whether it’s a print ad or TV commercials—try to reinforce the same image and association.
- Damage control exercises
This refers to any communication efforts made to counter any bad press a brand may have received.
So when worms were found and reported in Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolates around 2003[http://www.rediff.com/money/2006/dec/24cad.htm], the following ad was made:
PR professionals can publicise and promote their client through the traditional media and through non-traditional media. They can do this by using any or all of the techniques listed below.
- Issue press releases
- Hold press conferences
- Have “backgrounders”
– meetings to create awareness, cultivate relationships, educate
- Organise special events/ appearances
– Participate in popular contests, shows
- Plan meetings and shows
- Create events for target audience
- Write by-lined articles
– Gives your client’s POV on issue
- Send “pitch” letters or calls to media
– Propose coverage
- Distribute pamphlets, newsletters etc.
- Propagate views, keep relevant discussions alive on social media
- Associate with charities
- ‘Leak’ strategic videos, conversations and documents
Do remember that PR professionals are often asked to think like reporters. They are taught to think about what kind of stories are likely to get coverage. They are persuaded to think of the most gripping angle or exciting tidbit they can give to journalists and to reporters alike. Because that is what ensures coverage.
Read this story to understand some of the ways in which filmstars have been promoting their films of late: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/Filmdom’s+new+PR+trick/1/99348.html
HOW MIGHT OTHERS SEE THIS MESSAGE?
Every time you come across something that might seem like a PR exercise, stop and question: Will everybody see this merely as a PR effort? Can it be something more?
Even if it is a PR effort, is everybody likely to see it just the way you do?
Read this letter by Shehnaz Treasurywala. She had addressed it to Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar and Narendra Modi among others. [http://www.bollywoodlife.com/news-gossip/save-your-women-pleads-shehnaz-treasurywala-in-an-open-letter-to-shah-rukh-khan-salman-khan-and-aamir-khan/]
This was written and circulated days before Treasurywala had a film Main aur Mr. Right scheduled for release. Some believed this was a PR stunt [http://www.niticentral.com/2014/12/12/shenaz-treasurywalas-open-letter-uber-rape-p-r-stunt-273190.html].
How are the men likely to see the contents of this message? And the men that this was addressed to? And the women the letter mentions? And someone who doesn’t agree with the letter’s brand of feminism?
And what about women who don’t wear or don’t want to wear short clothes or go clubbing? Or who don’t even have the means of livelihood to ensure two decent meals?
Every PR effort may signify different things to different people.
WHAT ARE THE VALUES, POINTS OF VIEW, AND LIFESTYLES THAT ARE INCLUDED IN THIS MESSAGE? WHICH ONES ARE OMITTED?
Although PR efforts are geared towards seeking attention for a particular entity, in doing so, they may peddle forth a certain view of the world, a certain lifestyle or a certain value system.
This may depend on the target audience, the product (principle/ service) or person promoted, or on the positioning of the product or service offered.
So, for example, what are the values that this PETA video represents?
Can you think of the points of views that may be in opposition?
What about these two videos that were part of Gillette’s ‘Shave India’ [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8da786b8-37e7-11e3-8668-00144feab7de.html#axzz3U9gPzxBE] campaign? What lifestyles and values are they promoting?
WHY WAS THIS MESSAGE CREATED?
All said and done, public relations is in the business of promotion: promoting an organisation/ individual.
But as compared to other promotional tools, PR outcomes often have a higher credibility associated with them. That’s because consumers know that advertising space is bought. And that there is absolutely no mediation between what a company says and what you see. Credibility is low because advertising has an explicit and visible agenda.
Is PR not strategic communication? It is. But there is always an element of mediation. A reporter, who is not on the pay roll of the PR agency or the client, has no real interest in ensuring favourable coverage for the person/ thing being covered (unless it is an event sponsored by her own media house). They may or may not highlight what the PR agent wants played up. Therefore, such news coverage enjoys high credibility.
- Malaika-Arbaaz Story: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/cover-story/Kaput/articleshow/15802915.cms
Mirror’s defence: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/mumbai/cover-story/Caught-lying/articleshow/15803214.cms
- BJP India Shining campaign
- NDTV show on Narendra Modi’s PR machinery: http://www.ndtv.com/assembly/narendra-modi-the-grand-illusion-507672
- Gillette’s ‘Shave India’ campaign: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8da786b8-37e7-11e3-8668-00144feab7de.html#axzz3U9gPzxBE
- Kareena Kapoor and Size Zero