The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” (2016, para. 4). Simply put, public relations helps to influence an audience’s perceptions by building relationships and shaping public conversations about a client or company. These public conversations often take place through mass media and social media, which is why public relations professionals need to understand how to work with and write effective messages for the media. Click here for more information on what you can expect in a public relations career.
Public relations professionals are in charge of a wide range of communication activities that may include increasing brand visibility and awareness, planning events, and creating content. Some of them also deal with crisis communication and help to salvage a brand’s integrity and reputation during a negative event. This video from Kate Finley, chief executive officer of Belle Communications, explains what it is like to work at a public relations agency.
Grunig and Hunt (1984) developed four models of public relations that describe the field’s various management and organizational practices. These models serve as guidelines to create programs, strategies, and tactics.
In the press agent/publicity model, communications professionals use persuasion to shape the thoughts and opinions of key audiences. In this model, accuracy is not important and organizations do not seek audience feedback or conduct audience analysis research. It is a one-way form of communication. One example is propagandist techniques created by news media outlets in North Korea.
The public information model moves away from the manipulative tactics used in the press agent model and presents more accurate information. However, the communication pattern is still one-way. Practitioners do not conduct audience analysis research to guide their strategies and tactics. Some press releases and newsletters are created based on this model, when audiences are not necessarily targeted or researched beforehand.
The two-way asymmetrical model presents a more “scientifically persuasive” way of communicating with key audiences. Here, content creators conduct research to better understand the audience’s attitudes and behaviors, which in turn informs the message strategy and creation. Still, persuasive communication is used in this model to benefit the organization more so than audiences; therefore, it is considered asymmetrical or imbalanced. The model is particularly popular in advertising and consumer marketing, fields that are specifically interested in increasing an organization’s profits.
Finally, the two-way symmetrical model argues that the public relations practitioner should serve as a liaison between the organization and key publics, rather than as a persuader. Here, practitioners are negotiators and use communication to ensure that all involved parties benefit, not just the organization that employs them. The term “symmetrical” is used because the model attempts to create a mutually beneficial situation. The two-way symmetrical model is deemed the most ethical model, one that professionals should aspire to use in their everyday tactics and strategies (Simpson, 2014).
Some experts think of public relations more broadly. For instance, they may argue that political lobbying is a form of public relations because lobbyists engage in communication activities and client advocacy in order to shape the attitudes of Congress (Berg, 2009). However, this book focuses on a public relations approach based particularly on writing for the media. Furthermore, the goal is to disseminate communication based on the two- way symmetrical model presented by Grunig and Hunt (1984).
Discussion PointDo you think the two-way symmetrical model is plausible? Consider this example from Dr. William Sledzik, associate professor of journalism and mass communication at Kent State University:“Can we realistically serve multiple stakeholders whose needs conflict? For example, can we represent the interests of loyal employee groups while our shareholders demand layoffs in favor of low-cost offshore suppliers?”
Why Do Companies Need Public Relations?
There was a time when many companies did not see the value of public relations, unless a crisis happened. Even now, some public relations professionals face challenges in convincing key executives of their value to the function of the company.
With the abundance of information readily available to audiences worldwide, companies are more vulnerable than ever to misinformation about their brand. An audience’s attitudes and beliefs about a company can greatly influence its success. Therefore, the public relations professional helps to monitor and control conversations about a company or client and manage its reputation in the marketplace. Viewing public relations as a key management function of a business or an essential strategy to manage one’s individual reputation will help accomplish important goals such as establishing trust among key publics, increasing news media and social media presence, and maintaining a consistent voice across communication platforms.
For more on the impact of reputation on business success, take a look at this article from The Entrepreneur.
Public Relations Versus Marketing Versus Advertising
Many people confuse public relations with marketing and advertising. Although there are similarities, there also are key differences.
Probably the most important difference between marketing, public relations, and advertising is the primary focus. Public relations emphasizes cultivating relationships between an organization or individual and key publics for the purpose of managing the client’s image. Marketing emphasizes the promotion of products and services for revenue purposes. Advertising is a communication tool used by marketers in order to get customers to act. The image below outlines other differences.
Systematic process and planning of an organization’s promotional efforts
Larger umbrella term that includes public relations and advertising
Focused on the promotion of products and/or services in order to drive sales
Audience is primarily customers or potential buyers
Paid media: companies have to pay for marketing efforts
Focused on creating a favorable public image through relationship building and reputation management
Draws attention to public conversations and media coverage. Also diverts attention away from public discussions if damaging.
Audiences varies; not just customers (examples: media, internal employees)
Component of marketing
Earned media: Publicity achieved through pitching or convincing journalists to cover your client or organization
Focused on drawing attention to the product through strategic placement and imagery
Component of marketing (falls under the umbrella of marketing efforts)
Execution of some marketing plans
Paid media: companies have to pay for advertisement creation
Audience is primarily customers or potential buyers
For more information on the differences between marketing, public relations, and advertising, read the following articles:
According to Smith (2013), public relations practitioners can be placed in two groups based on responsibilities: communication managers and communication technicians. Communication managers assist in the strategic planning of an organization’s communication efforts. The broad term “communication manager” includes several similar public relations positions: expert consultant, problem-solving facilitator, and communication liaison. Expert consultants develop a specific communication plan to help achieve organizational goals. Problem-solving facilitators provide crisis management to an organization during an obstacle. Liaisons speak on behalf of the brand and facilitate communication between the organization and its key publics.
Before entering a managerial role, most public relation practitioners begin their career as a communication technician. This can refer to a variety of entry-level positions, including public relations specialist, communication assistant, and junior account executive. Communication technicians write press releases, pitches, feature articles, and other communication materials and assist in event planning. Together, communication managers and technicians play a vital role in relationship building and the management of a brand.
This article from PRSA provides tips to those beginning a career in public relations.
“What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” — Don Draper, fictional advertising executive from the AMC series Mad Men
Advertising, Public Relations and Propaganda
Think Critically About Where Persuasion Becomes Propaganda
Advertising is a relatively straightforward process, right? Companies develop brands and specific products they want to sell. They need to make consumers aware of their brands, products and those products’ features, so they develop creative campaigns to promote them and often pay ad agencies to do the creative work and place the ads in front of mass audiences. The basic definition of advertising is a message or group of messages designed with three intentions: to raise awareness in the population about brands, products and services; to encourage consumers to make purchases; and, ultimately, to inspire people to advocate for their favorite brands. A brand advocate is someone who is so supportive of a product or service that they publicly encourage others to buy it. There are paid brand advocates, of course, but in a networked communication environment, even unpaid individuals with modest followings can become influencers — people who promote products on their social media streams. Consumers who have been so successfully persuaded to purchase and enjoy a product that they try to persuade others to buy it too extend the reach of advertising potentially exponentially.
A company is a business entity that produces several types of product, whereas a brand is a term used to label a specific product or a limited family of products. It is important to differentiate between the two. For example, PepsiCo owns the Pepsi brand but also Frito Lay, Gatorade and Quaker, among others. Under the Pepsi brand, there are several products such as Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Wild Cherry and many other variations around the world. Advertising most often focuses on brands and products rather than the companies and large corporations that own them.
As this chapter progresses, it defines the core concept of advertising and its relationship to public relations in more depth. Then, it discusses the history of advertising. It defines two general strategies or approaches known as “above-the-line” and “below-the-line” advertising before examining in detail the “advertising funnel,” or “purchase funnel.” A few other basic theories are introduced. There are sections on content marketing and other forms of persuasion. The big picture of marketing is briefly addressed before the chapter concludes with sections on public relations and propaganda.
On one level, advertising is a simple concept. Mass media professionals craft messages to help sell products by raising awareness and pushing people to make actual purchase decisions, but in the network society and the age of targeted marketing, the ability to reach individual consumers who fit precise sets of characteristics is incredible. More is expected of advertisers than to put interesting messages in front of the “right people” based on general demographics. Brands may advertise during certain TV shows or publications to reach a particular type of media consumer. This more traditional form of mass media advertising is still a multibillion-dollar industry, but with data-driven targeting capabilities, brands can reach people based not only on general demographic characteristics but on specific behaviors as well. The combination of detailed demographic information, search and digital media usage behaviors and physical world behaviors (such as whether someone has entered a Walmart or Macy’s in the past week) makes advertising in the information age more powerful, sometimes more meaningful and often more ethically questionable than in the past. The level of targeting that is possible is incredible and would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. Advertising has always been about tapping into consumers’ existing needs or about creating a need and inserting a product to fill it. Now, there is a greater ability than ever to identify and create a need not only for interested members of a mass audience but also for specific individuals in real time based on their online and physical world behavior.
The History Of Advertising
Before delving into a discussion about the future of advertising, it might help to survey the history of the field. Advertising in the modern sense emerged between the mid-19th and early-20th centuries. At the same time that the concept of brands was developing, mass-media platforms such as daily newspapers and radio broadcasts grew their audiences and spread their influence geographically. Corporations, conveniently, grew large enough to have massive budgets to spend on advertising. The promotion of products dates back thousands of years, but the modern advertising explosion tracks explosive growth in industrial manufacturing from roughly the mid-1800s through the entire 20th century.
HubSpot has a deck of 472 slides that presents a narrative about the history of advertising. Some highlights are referenced here. One key point made in this visual history is that non-branded newspaper ads would often outnumber branded ads in the early days of the newspaper industry. As uniformity in mass-produced goods became the norm and brand differentiation became possible, so did the need to communicate it.
Ayer & Son is credited with being the first ad agency to work on commission. In other words, it is known as the first modern ad agency. It was founded in Philadephia in 1869. Today there are about 500,000 ad agencies in the world of all shapes and sizes. They employ ever-evolving techniques to try to stay ahead of information weary consumers.
Categorizing Advertising Methods
From the mid-20th century on, advertisers conceptualized their work by breaking it down into one of two strategic categories: “above-the-line” and “below-the-line” methods. Put simply, “above the line” (ATL) refers to methods of advertising that target mass audiences on mass media platforms with messages usually designed from a one-to-many point of view. Often, “above the line” implies that the ad or ad campaign — a series of related ads meant to work in tandem — appears on legacy media platforms. (Recall that “legacy media” has been defined previously in this text to refer to platforms in existence before the transition to digital.) ATL campaigns most often include television, radio and print ads as well as sponsorships. A sponsorship is when a company pays to support an event or a mass media production in exchange for having its brand promoted alongside the activity or content. The organizing concept for ATL advertising, as the term is used today, is that the ads target a mass audience primarily on “legacy” media platforms.
“Below the line” (BTL) advertising refers to more one-on-one marketing approaches which can include targeted social media campaigns, direct mail marketing, point-of-sale ads, coupons and deals, and email and telemarketing appeals. This is not an exhaustive list of ATL or BTL methods, but these examples demonstrate that ATL has more in common with the concept of mass communication introduced in earlier chapters, and BTL has more in common with interpersonal communication, also as previously discussed. This is not to say that BTL messages are crafted one at a time for individual consumers. Rather, the tone, style and method of dissemination of BTL advertising are more personal.
In the 20th century, the term ATL advertising was associated with ad agency work (mostly mass media campaign ads), whereas BTL advertising referred to pamphlets, point-of-sale marketing and other relatively “small” tasks that ad agencies typically did not handle. Now, there are ad agencies of all sizes, and even very large agencies might do BTL marketing. Online advertising and social media marketing have made it possible to target people with personal messages but still purchase the ads on a massive scale. Thus, advertising can be massively individuated — that is, produced for mass audiences but having the appearance of personalized messages — much like social media content. The profit in BTL marketing comes from reaching large audiences with tailored messages at specific times in relation to their previous purchasing and shopping behaviors. So much data exists on individual users and on the behavior of similar people who have made similar purchases that advertisers can try to target people at precisely the right moment to influence their purchase decisions.
ATL and BTL advertising can work hand in hand. Think of a summer soft drink promotion advertised on television and on the radio (ATL) that is also backed up with neighborhood-specific billboards and hyper-targeted Twitter messages with surprise prizes given out (BTL). BTL messages still reach large numbers of people, but they are by definition more tailored than ATL ads. An individual ad in a BTL context may not cost as much as a massive ad buy facilitated by an agency that primarily does ATL advertising; however, BTL advertising can still be costly for advertisers and profitable for ad agencies in the aggregate. For example, an ad agency that does not typically manage multimillion-dollar television ad buys might still put together hundreds of thousands of dollars in targeted social media ads. Rather than displaying one commercial for several months, the BTL social media campaign might be made up of dozens of targeted videos, tweets, influencer posts and online ads. Often software algorithms are used to decide who sees which targeted ad and when.
The Advertising Funnel, And Other Key Concepts
At its heart, advertising is a matter of raising awareness, creating a deeper interest in a product, and encouraging consumers to desire to make a purchase and ultimately to take action. Professional communicators tailor messages in relation to the advertising funnel or purchase funnel, as shown in the image on the left. Brands, either on their own or with the help of advertising agencies, target audiences in different ways at specific points along the funnel to reach their strategic goals. For example, if an unknown brand launches a new product, people need to be made aware of both the brand and product. The brand may need to establish itself with an awareness campaign. If Nike introduces a new Air Jordan, the branding is easily handled. The top of the funnel areas of awareness and interest will not need as much focus as the decision and action areas, the “down funnel” aspects of a campaign for a well-known and well-loved brand.
The image is an illustration of a purchase funnel. It is wide and the top and narrows at the bottom. This indicates a broad marketplace narrowing to the group of actual customers. The funnel is split into four parts labeled Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. Awareness is associated with broad market potential. Interest refers to the somewhat narrower subset of people who are prospective customers. Desire is an even smaller group of people who are real prospects as customers and at the action point, the funnel narrows where the real customers are located. The purpose is to squeeze as many people through the funnel as you can and to be able to identify the level of interest in a given market subset.
Another way to think of this is as a pathway a potential customer makes, also known as the consumer journey. First, the consumer needs to be made aware of the brand and its products. Then, they might take an interest in a particular product as they learn more about its features. They need to move from being interested to desiring a product if they are going to make the purchase. Ultimately, from the advertiser’s point of view, the goal is not only to move the consumer to purchase the product but also to inspire them to advocate for the brand. This is not conceptually complicated. The idea is to move people in straightforward steps toward desired behaviors; however, there are complex processes of cognition and persuasion that underlie consumer decisions.
Consumer behavior is about as unpredictable as other forms of human behavior. There are also ethical concerns. If a product or service proves to be harmful, advertisers and public relations professionals have to decide if and when they will stop marketing the brand. Advertising is challenging enough when products do not raise ethical dilemmas. Promoting harmful products can be damaging socially, professionally and personally. Thus, the world of consumer advertising in the mass media is more complex than the funnel makes it seem, although it is an essential strategic model in the industry. There are two other advertising concepts or theories that this text aims to introduce: the basic rule of seven and the third-person effect.
The Rule Of Seven
The advertising rule of seven is a rule of thumb, or what social scientists call a heuristic, which suggests that people need to see an advertisement seven times before they act on it. Even then, there is no guarantee that seeing something seven times will compel a person to buy a certain product, vote for a particular politician or take any other consumer action. Instead, the point is that consistent messaging is a base requirement for advertising to work.
The purchase decision is ultimately a personal one. You can create the conditions and increase the probability of a product being bought, but it is difficult (perhaps impossible) to predict behaviors based on messaging. Even the most successful advertising and propaganda campaigns only constitute one area of influence on behavior. As previously stated in this text, social institutions such as your family, friends, church and workplace can influence your behavior in tandem with or contrary to what you see and hear in the mass media.
The Third-Person Effect
There is a theory in the study of mass communication called the third-person effect that says we tend to think advertising is effective but we believe that it does not affect us. Note here that social science theories are based on many observable facts. This is not a flight of fancy. Rather, this is a tested theory demonstrated in multiple studies. Here is how the third-person effect works with regard to advertising: You might think upon seeing a clever advertisement, “Sure, that ad probably got someone else to buy the product, but it doesn’t influence me. I’m a savvy shopper. I don’t just go out and buy whatever ads tell me to buy. I’m not Homer Simpson looking at billboards.”
And yet we do know that advertising works at least to influence behavior. It has measurable effects on attitudes, that is, what people think about brands. Advertising influences brand and product awareness in individuals and in groups. We can say with a degree of certainty that some people are directly influenced by some ads some of the time, and we can say that many people are indirectly influenced by ads almost all of the time. For example, you may not drink Coke Zero, but you probably know what it is, and you may know that it is now called Coke Zero Sugar after a name change in 2017. Whether you understand the logic behind the name change or you actually buy the soft drink is another question. Campaigns to make consumers aware of new brands and products have a track record of widespread but still limited success.
Now here is what’s interesting about the third-person effect. Knowing that advertising can influence people’s awareness and purchase decisions, we tend to develop a sort of double delusion where we think other people are probably affected more than they are, and we think we are influenced less than we are. Sometimes we even base our behavior on what we think other people will do after receiving a message in the mass media. It works like this: We hear a message that a winter storm is coming, and we worry that other people will be easily influenced by that news. That worry and not the original message may influence our behavior. The author of the original study noted that if there is news of a possible shortage, people sometimes buy up that item at grocery stores. This has happened as recently as 2008. Rice futures went up and up out of fear that people were stockpiling rice. So, what did people do? They stockpiled rice. Costco and Sam’s Club even put limits on the number of large bags of rice people could purchase.
How does the bread and milk effect work? Following the third-person effect theory, an individual hears about a storm coming to the East Coast of the United States. He thinks that other people are going to feel the need to go out and buy up all of the bread and milk, so, aware of the threat and concerned about their behavior, he goes out and buys bread and milk. Now the concern has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are, in fact, buying up the bread and milk. The question is whether they are buying it up because they are unduly influenced by messages in the mass media, or they are responding out of fear of how other people will behave. You can imagine other people foolishly thinking a winter storm is going to be worse than it is and you can think to yourself you had better buy the bread and milk before those fools, but to them, you have become the fool.
The third-person effect is also a major issue in race relations and partisan politics. We often presume that we know how individuals from other groups will think because we have seen messages in the media and we presume to know how the “other” will respond. The third-person effect is based on three presumptions. First, we assume that other people have seen the messages we have. Then, we presume that they will be influenced by those messages. Finally, we presume that they will behave in certain ways because of the message and because of our preconceptions about different groups. For the theory to work, it does not matter if the “other” is Democrats, Republicans, frat bros, Mexican people, snobby professors or slacker college students. Our assumptions can be completely wrong and we may still find ourselves acting in ways to pre-empt or counteract the imagined behavior of the imagined “other.” There are different degrees of the third-person effect. Researchers have found it is probably strongest in situations where groups have little understanding of one another and where the messages and perceived outcomes are thought to be negative (note the section on Perloff). This is not to overstate the third-person effect. Like other theories related to persuasion in the mass media the behavioral influences it identifies have to contend with other social forces to influence behavior. Still, it is one of the most interesting theories in the field of mass communication, and it can explain why people race out to buy a certain product when they perceive it to be scarce. We do not want anyone to beat us to the bread and milk.
Content marketingrefers to a common practice where brands produce their own content, or hire someone else to produce it, and then market that information as an alternative to advertising. It still moves people along the purchase funnel, but there is usually added value in this type of content. If an advertisement for a mattress describes its features and price, a blog funded by the mattress brand might compare the pros and cons of many different mattresses, perhaps with a bias for the brand. It isn’t always pretty. Content produced for a brand should ethically be labeled as sponsored, but it is not always done. In cases when consumers have discovered that trusted sources were content marketers rather than independent reviewers, the revelations have created public relations problems for the brands. Content marketing done ethically offers financial transparency while providing valuable information and an emotional connection to the product for consumers. It can take the form of blog posts or entire blogs. Such marketing is usually optimized for search engines, which is to say the posts are written to attract search engine attention as well as outside links, which also alerts search engines that this content is valuable. Done well, branded content can be seen as more authentic than advertising content, and it can be cheaper to produce and disseminate. It is difficult to do well, of course.
The most common types of content created in this context besides blog content are social media profiles and posts, sponsored content in social media spaces and even viral video and meme chasing. Brands might have their own social media profiles, or they might support social media influencers to promote their products in a sponsored way. Brands might also use their influencer teams or their own internal marketing teams to follow viral social media trends and to create memes. In a sense, content marketing allows a brand to create a more human profile in digital spaces. In this manner, brands can engage with potential and repeat customers. Brands can foster relationships and encourage brand advocacy among people not being paid to promote their products. Many brands use this form of marketing to engage consumers on a deep level and to offer information and emotion that might not be present in other forms of advertising.
The more you study the bigger picture of marketing— which includes advertising strategies and other research efforts meant to guide advertising strategies as part of larger sales and production strategies—the more you recognize how focused advertising is. It may seem that advertising is the biggest, most important element of the mass communication industry because its revenues fuel other types of mass media production, but advertising is only one piece of the marketing puzzle. Marketing’s four P’s— often described as product, price, place and promotion (or position) — encompass much more than making messages to support brands and products. Marketing professionals worry about all four and consider advertising as just one part of the promotion category. Advertising professionals will often argue that the best branding helps define and redefine the product over time so that the product only exists in consumers’ minds as advertising has described it, but marketing gets into the business of deciding what products to make, how to promote them, whom to market them to and when to stop making them.
There is also a thought process that defines a fifth ‘P’; Public Relations, and that it should be counted separately from the fourth ‘P’ of promotion. This thought highlights the growing value and performance of public relations to the marketing mix.
HubSpot, the advertising company that provided the quick history of advertising early on in this chapter also gets credit for helping to popularize inbound marketing. The idea of inbound marketing is that you bring people in to learn about your product using content marketing and then you can make sales to them in the context of a relationship where they found you rather than vice versa. In a sense, inbound marketing turns advertising upside down by building spaces and inviting consumers in to find what they are already looking for rather than trying to create a need out of the glut of information in digital communication networks. Inbound marketing is advertising’s answer to de-massification. It involves developing consistent messages and content of uses that are so compelling people will come to the brand to experience them. It is the audience-building aspect of advertising. It relates in many ways to the superbug media concept from previous chapters, and it is growing in popularity as people and companies develop new and better ways of avoiding advertising.
An established method of inbound marketing is to write a blog or develop a podcast that attracts audiences who come for information and who stay for the delicious products. To fully understand the power of inbound marketing, ask yourself if you have ever become a brand advocate. Have you ever sung the praises of your new smartphone or told people they had to try a new restaurant? If you have advocated for a brand and sent people looking for it online, you have probably become part of someone’s inbound marketing strategy. In many ways, marketing (particularly content marketing) bridges the concepts of advertising and public relations because it includes content production similar to advertising and it establishes relationships with consumers, which is the ultimate purpose of PR.
The history of the public relations field is often misunderstood. Many think of public relations as organized manipulation made up of corporate, political and even non-profit propaganda. It is often thought of as deception, but this is not always the case. In a society fueled by networked communications, it is becoming less important to ask what messages people receive and more important to ask what messages they seek out, according to Greg Jarboe, author of a brief history of PR. Jarboe worked for a PR firm with offices in San Francisco and Boston, two of the most well-established technology markets in the country. He argues that PR is more about creating a sense of understanding between consumers and brands and that this might be done just as well by the brand in digital spaces just as it is via other mass media channels controlled by other corporate entities. Historically, PR depended on other media platforms such as TV, newspapers and magazines to promote its content. Content marketing means this is no longer the case. Mass media platforms may still be needed to reach mass audiences outside of a brand’s collection of fans and followers, but much goodwill can be generated by maintaining a proactive, positive and professional digital presence.
While it is true that PR often tries to put a good face on companies with all manner of reputations and harmful business practices, it also serves charities, governmental services and small local businesses. Not every institutional organization can have a huge PR budget, but the practices can be taught to just about any small business owner.
The History Of PR And Propaganda
At the core of PR is a simple model developed by Harold Lasswell in the 1940s. Developing an effective PR model was an important war effort during World War II when it was essential to develop theories for how propaganda worked to determine what the Nazis were doing and, if possible, how their propaganda could be stopped. Lasswell’s model asked five simple questions: who (Sender) sent what (Message) through which channel (Channel) to which audience (Receiver) and with what effect. This was a way of breaking down mass influence beyond advertising. In a sense, governmental propaganda is PR, but the client is a country. The S-M-C-R model (often attributed in that particular configuration to Berlo) is the most efficient model for understanding how to break down and analyze messages in the mass media.
Professionals and academics examine and manipulate all four components to isolate which changes correlate with which behavioral effects. S-M-C-R assumes that the sender comes first and the receiver comes last. There is a time element that must be established in researching the effects of mass-mediated messages, but the point is that this simple model of propaganda became the basis for all sorts of media effects studies. Propaganda and PR messaging does not work immediately to bring about drastic changes in behavior. Behavioral phenomena, particularly changes in behavior, are driven by many variables, as we have discussed several times; however, if you want to begin to look at an advertising campaign, film or news documentary to examine its effects, this is the model to start with.
Noise must be accounted for, and in an age dominated by the digital information glut, the opportunity for immediate feedback and engagement must also be considered. Receivers almost immediately become senders in a network. Thus, the S-M-C-R model will often include measures looking at how much noise gets into the system and looking at what happens when receivers immediately start their own S-M-C-R processes. Wherever a message originates, even if it is as simple as clicking “Share” on Facebook, the S-M-C-R model starts again.
More Concepts In PR
For most of the 20th century, the shorthand definition of PR was that it was like advertising only instead of paying a media outlet to run a message, you sent the message out to journalists and other gatekeepers (see Chapter 7) in the hopes that they would share the information as news. Now, PR has to work in a digital media system where news reporters and editors are not the major gatekeepers deciding what information will be made public. PR professionals now need to think about search algorithms, search engine optimization, social media trends, social media platform algorithms, social media influencers and social link sharing sites such as Reddit. Publicity on these channels can be worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. PR often measures its worth in earned media — the amount of free air time on TV or space in major newspapers and magazines that is earned by getting other mass media channels to tell your product’s stories without having to pay for ad space
An example of earned media is when Apple released a new iPhone, and news organizations provided coverage of the lines that wrapped around city blocks as people waited for the latest gadget. For years, Apple earned millions of dollars in earned media by keeping new features a secret and then releasing new iPhones with considerable hype. Free marketing time and space in digital and print publications can help push a brand from being a leader to being legendary. Global PR is a $14 billion industry.
PR can take the form of an event, a product placement, or a skillfully crafted message delivered during a crisis. It is much less about promoting specific brands and more about promoting and maintaining the image of a brand, company or large corporation. Recall that advertising tends to focus on brands and products. PR can focus on the company and the corporate narrative, the story of how the company came to exist and how it represents certain values and ideals — at least in theory.
Sometimes it helps us to understand an element of mass media if we discuss when it all goes wrong. When British Petroleum (BP) had an oil gusher erupt in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, 11 people died, and more than three million barrels of oil leaked into the gulf. It took almost three months to cap the oil gusher. The CEO of BP, Anthony Bryan “Tony” Hayward, lost his job because he made a major PR blunder when he said he just wanted his “life back.” Eleven people were dead. The fishing and tourism industries of Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Texas, ravaged by hurricanes just years before, were being threatened again. This time, though, Mother Nature was not to blame. It was BP, a multinational corporation that up to that point had been working to create a more environmentally friendly image. It took BP years to come back from that disaster, and it was made worse because of poor crisis communications. PR is about promoting good relationships with your consumers, your employees and the communities where your products are made. It is about earning “free” news and social media coverage, but perhaps most importantly it is about managing crises so that people are not given a reason not to buy your products.
The best way to build good PR is to carefully maintain a good reputation over time and to avoid behaviors as an individual, company or corporation that might harm others. The best prevention against bad PR is to follow your industry’s and your own ethical codes at all times, whatever they are. Even if you do this, you might face a PR crisis. For example, a politician might decide to target your brand regardless of whether your business practices are ethical. All the more reason to maintain good longstanding relationships with your consumers.
The first rule of crisis communications is to plan ahead by anticipating the kinds of problems your company might have. Chemical companies should prepare for chemical spills. Sports teams will probably not prepare for environmental disasters, but they may have to prepare for the social media scandals that players sometimes land themselves in. If there is a disaster, the advice is to “be truthful and transparent,” to not say too much and to correct any exaggerations that emerge in the news media and on social media, within reason. Engaging in social media arguments is almost never productive for a brand, unless you have Wendy’s level of Twitter clapback. A major goal of PR efforts during a crisis is to try to make people forget there ever was a crisis.
Journalists often have the opposite interest because reporting on conflict is interesting. Helping people to survive is one of the primary functions of journalism. This explains why negative news gets so much more attention than positive news. No one dies when people do their jobs salting the roads and drivers maneuver safely in snowstorms. When people crash, that, sadly, is news. Journalists know that people care about safety perhaps more than any other issue, so they focus on safety concerns during times of crisis. At these times, PR and journalism can be at odds, but truth and transparency are still advisable to the PR professional. You do not legally have to tell journalists everything that has happened (depending on the circumstances and whether your institution is funded by taxpayers), but if journalists discover a negative impact that you failed to disclose, they will wonder what else you are hiding, and they may give your critics and detractors extra consideration and attention.
PR professionals work to manage story framing. (Recall that framing was defined in Chapter 9.) PR pros often work with journalists to cover negative stories with clarity and honesty rather than trying to hide the facts about a crisis. Finally, in PR there is the need to learn from mistakes and to analyze a company or corporation’s crisis responses. As difficult as it might be to go back and discuss where communication failed, it is essential. Reflection is a critical step in learning and corporations are like any other social institution. They need to learn to survive and to thrive.
Handling Unfavorable Publicity
Handling unfavorable publicity means being honest with consumers and putting public interest first.
Being prepared for harmful situations is imperative. It is important to map out potential negative scenarios and have a PR plan for each one. It is important to have a crisis management team who can handle these situations.
Protecting the integrity and reputation of an organization is important, but putting public interest ahead of the organization’s interest is key to gaining consumer trust and loyalty.
A media reaction plan should include a company media representative as part of the crisis management team. Firms need to show that they are working toward positive resolutions to deflect the negative publicity.
Crisis Management Team A team in an organization that prepares contingency plans in advance, as part of a crisis management plan.
In 1982, Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol medication commanded 35% of the US over-the-counter analgesic market and represented 15% of the company’s profits. Unfortunately, one individual succeeded in lacing the drug with cyanide. Seven people died as a result, so a panic ensued about how widespread the contamination might be. By the end of the episode, everyone knew that Tylenol was associated with the scare. The company’s market value fell by $1 billion as a result. When the same situation happened again in 1986, the company had learned its lesson. It quickly ordered that Tylenol be recalled from every outlet, not just those in the state where it had been tampered with. The company also decided that the product would not be re-established on the shelves until something had been done to provide better product protection. As a result, Johnson & Johnson developed the tamperproof packaging that would make it much more difficult for a similar incident to occur in the future.
Crisis communicationplanning can help a firm deal effectively with unexpected disasters, emergencies, or other unusual events that may lead to unfavorable publicity. Effectively responding to any crisis means both controlling the public narrative and ameliorating any harm done, whether tangibly or to a company’s reputation.
The following principles represent best practices in crisis management: be prepared, do the right thing, communicate quickly and accurately, and follow up.
Although emergencies are by their very nature unpredictable, it is possible to list and prepare for negative scenarios that might occur. It is also possible to set up a communication system that can be activated in almost any emergency situation.
PR Wars | PR And Advertising | PR And Marketing
Besides the conflict during crisis situations between journalists and PR professionals, there are PR battles that go on between competing brands and between non-profits, corporations and government officials all the time. Lobbyists make demands on politicians but also push agendas on mass media and social media platforms. In an age of digital communication, it is cheap and easy to develop detailed, professional messages employing a variety of media types that PR pros can try to spread around the world instantaneously. You should be aware as an information consumer that there are ongoing battles for your allegiance. Corporations engage in PR combat all the time, though they often try to work undetected. This is not to claim conspiracy or to frighten readers. It is simply a matter of fact that PR efforts are ongoing and that attacks within these battles do not always take the form of headlines. They may come in the form of messages from Twitter bots, botnets, collections of fake social media profiles run by software or blogs, or email spam.
You can influence other people by what you read and share, and you are encouraged once again to be aware of where your news sources get their information. Read and think before you share. It has become easy for individuals and fake accounts to publish information into the world’s information glut. Twitter and Instagram followers and Facebook friends can easily be bought. Major political influence is now wielded by fake accounts working to drum up anger and to promote misinformation to sway public opinion. Individual information consumers must take responsibility for their own consumption and for what they spread. Your media health is as important as your sexual health. Protect yourself and those you share information with.
What you need to be able to do is to consider a source, consider how it is presenting its message, and consider the source’s sources. Media literacy is about what enters your mind: what stays in (that is, what is salient) and what goes out. We are all publishers now. Media, society, and culture will always influence you to some degree, but they are also yours to try to control. Mass audiences may be in decline but entities who know how to build mass networks of users and how to successfully, if not always ethically, use their information are only starting to show their power.
Whereas advertising is the paid use of media space to sell something, public relations (PR) is the attempt to establish and maintain good relations between an organization and its constituents (Theaker, 2004). Practically, PR campaigns strive to use the free press to encourage favorable coverage. In their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, Al and Laura Ries make the point that the public trusts the press far more than they trust advertisements. Because of this, PR efforts that get products and brands into the press are far more valuable than a simple advertisement. Their book details the ways in which modern companies use public relations to far greater benefit than they use advertising (Ries & Ries, 2004). Regardless of the fate of advertising, PR has clearly come to have an increasing role in marketing and ad campaigns.
Grunig and Hunt’s Four PR Models
A table describing Grunig and Hunt’s Four PR Models
Type of Model
Traditional publicity model (the press agentry model)
Professional agents seek media coverage for a client, product, or event.
Thong-clad actor Sacha Baron Cohen promotes Bruno by landing in Eminem’s lap at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Public information model
Businesses communicate information to gain desired results.
Colleges send informational brochures to potential students; a company includes an “about” section on its website.
Persuasive communication model (the two-way asymmetric model)
Organizations attempt to persuade an audience to take a certain point of view.
Public service announcements like the one that shows “your brain” and “your brain on drugs.”
Two-way symmetric model
Both parties make use of a back-and-forth discussion.
A company sends out customer satisfaction surveys; company Facebook groups and message boards.
Source: James E. Grunig and Todd Hunt, Managing Public Relations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1984).
Todd Hunt and James Grunig developed a theory of four models of PR. This model has held up in the years since its development and is a good introduction to PR concepts (Grunig & Hunt, 1984).
Traditional Publicity Model
Under the traditional publicity model, PR professionals seek to create media coverage for a client, product, or event. These efforts can range from wild publicity stunts to simple news conferences to celebrity interviews in fashion magazines. P. T. Barnum was an early American practitioner of this kind of PR. His outrageous attempts at publicity worked because he was not worried about receiving negative press; instead, he believed that any coverage was a valuable asset. More recent examples of this style of extreme publicity include controversy-courting musicians such as Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson. More restrained examples of this type of PR include the modern phenomenon of faded celebrities appearing on TV shows, such as Paula Abdul’s long-running appearances on American Idol.
Public Information Model
The goal of the public information model is to release information to a constituency. This model is less concerned with obtaining dramatic, extensive media coverage than with disseminating information in a way that ensures adequate reception. For example, utility companies often include fliers about energy efficiency with customers’ bills, and government agencies such as the IRS issue press releases to explain changes to existing codes. In addition, public interest groups release the results of research studies for use by policy makers and the public.
Persuasive Communication: Two-Way Asymmetric
The persuasive communication model, or the two-way asymmetric, works to persuade a specific audience to adopt a certain behavior or point of view. To be considered effective, this model requires a measured response from its intended audience.
Government propaganda is a good example of this model. Propaganda is the organized spreading of information to assist or weaken a cause (Dictionary). Edward Bernays has been called the founder of modern PR for his work during World War I promoting the sale of war bonds. One of the first professional PR experts, Bernays made the two-way asymmetric model his early hallmark. In a famous campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes, he convinced a group of well-known celebrities to walk in the New York Easter parade smoking Lucky Strikes. Most modern corporations employ the persuasive communication model.
Two-Way Symmetric Model
The two-way symmetric model requires true communication between the parties involved. By facilitating a back-and-forth discussion that results in mutual understanding and an agreement that respects the wishes of both parties, this PR model is often practiced in town hall meetings and other public forums in which the public has a real effect on the results. In an ideal republic, Congressional representatives strictly employ this model. Many nonprofit groups that are run by boards and have public service mandates use this model to ensure continued public support.
Commercial ventures also rely on this model. PR can generate media attention or attract customers, and it can also ease communication between a company and its investors, partners, and employees. The two-way symmetric model is useful in communicating within an organization because it helps employees feel they are an important part of the company. Investor relations are also often carried out under this model.
Either private PR companies or in-house communications staffers carry out PR functions. A PR group generally handles all aspects of an organization’s or individual’s media presence, including company publications and press releases. Such a group can range from just one person to dozens of employees depending on the size and scope of the organization.
PR functions include the following:
Media relations: takes place with media outlets
Internal communications: occurs within a company between management and employees, and among subsidiaries of the same company
Business-to-business: happens between businesses that are in partnership
Public affairs: takes place with community leaders, opinion formers, and those involved in public issues
Investor relations: occurs with investors and shareholders
Strategic communication: intended to accomplish a specific goal
Issues management: keeping tabs on public issues important to the organization
Crisis management: handling events that could damage an organization’s image1
Anatomy of a PR Campaign
PR campaigns occur for any number of reasons. They can be a quick response to a crisis or emerging issue, or they can stem from a long-term strategy tied in with other marketing efforts. Regardless of its purpose, a typical campaign often involves four phases.
Initial Research Phase
The first step of many PR campaigns is the initial research phase. First, practitioners identify and qualify the issue to be addressed. Then, they research the organization itself to clarify issues of public perception, positioning, and internal dynamics. Strategists can also research the potential audience of the campaign. This audience may include media outlets, constituents, consumers, and competitors. Finally, the context of the campaign is often researched, including the possible consequences of the campaign and the potential effects on the organization. After considering all of these factors, practitioners are better educated to select the best type of campaign.
During the strategy phase, PR professionals usually determine objectives focused on the desired goal of the campaign and formulate strategies to meet those objectives. Broad strategies such as deciding on the overall message of a campaign and the best way to communicate the message can be finalized at this time.
During the tactics phase, the PR group decides on the means to implement the strategies they formulated during the strategy phase. This process can involve devising specific communication techniques and selecting the forms of media that suit the message best. This phase may also address budgetary restrictions and possibilities.
After the overall campaign has been determined, PR practitioners enter the evaluation phase. The group can review their campaign plan and evaluate its potential effectiveness. They may also conduct research on the potential results to better understand the cost and benefits of the campaign. Specific criteria for evaluating the campaign when it is completed are also established at this time (Smith, 2002).
Public Relations Tools
Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the flow of information between an individual or an organization and the public. The aim is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about the company and its leadership, products, or political decisions. Common PR activities include speaking at conferences, seeking industry awards, working with the press, communicating with employees, and sending out press releases.
Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to an audience through topics of public interest and news items.
Building and managing relationships with those who influence an organization’s or individual’s audiences is critical in public relations. When a public relations practitioner is working in the field, they build a list of relationships that become assets, especially in media relations. The ultimate objective of PR is to retain goodwill as well as create it; the procedure to follow to achieve this is to first do good and then take credit for it. The PR program must describe its target audience—in most instances, PR programs are aimed at multiple audiences that have varying points of view and needs.
There are several PR tools firms can utilize to ensure the efficacy of PR programs: messaging, audience targeting, and media marketing.
Messaging is the process of creating a consistent story around a product, person, company, or service. Messaging aims to avoid having readers receive contradictory or confusing information that will instill doubt in their purchasing choice or spur them to make other decisions that will have a negative impact on the company. A brand should aim to have the same problem statement, industry viewpoint, or brand perceptionshared across multiple sources and media.
A fundamental technique of public relations is identifying the target audience and tailoring messages to appeal to them. Sometimes the interests of different audiences and stakeholders vary, meaning several distinct but complementary messages must be created.
Stakeholder theory identifies people who have a stake in a given institution or issue. All audiences are stakeholders (or presumptive stakeholders), but not all stakeholders are audiences. For example, if a charity commissions a public relations agency to create an advertising campaign that raises money toward finding the cure for a disease, the charity and the people with the disease are stakeholders, but the audience is anyone who might be willing to donate money.
Digital marketing is the use of Internet tools and technologies, such as search engines, Web 2.0 social bookmarking, new media relations, blogs, and social media marketing. Interactive PR allows companies and organizations to disseminate information without relying solely on mainstream publications and to communicate directly with the public, customers, and prospects. Online social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter ensure that firms can get their messages heard directly and quickly. Other forms of media include newspapers, television programs, radio stations, and magazines. Public relations people can use these various platforms and channels to publish press releases. It is important to ensure that the information across all channels is accurate and as complementary as possible.
The amount of money spent on traditional media channels has declined as more and more readers have turned to favor online and social media news sources. As the readership of traditional media shift to online media, so has the focus of many in public relations. The advent and increase of social media releases, search engine optimization, and online content publishing and the introduction of podcasts and video are related trends.
Sponsorship is often used as part of a public relations campaign. A company will pay money to compensate a public figure, spokesperson, or “influencer” to use its logo or products. An example of sponsorship is a concert tour presented by a bank or drink company.
Product placement is basically passive advertising in which a company pays to have its products used prominently in a photograph, film, or video message or during a live appearance. The most common use of product placement is in films where characters use branded products.
Both product placement and sponsorship decisions are based on a shared targetmarket. No matter the public relations vehicle, there must be a common buyer that all parties want to reach.
Examples Of PR Campaigns
Since its modern inception in the early 20th century, PR has turned out countless campaigns—some highly successful, others dismal failures. Some of these campaigns have become particularly significant for their lasting influence or creative execution. This section describes a few notable PR campaigns over the years.
Diamonds For The Common Man
During the 1930s, the De Beers company had an enormous amount of diamonds and a relatively small market of luxury buyers. They launched a PR campaign to change the image of diamonds from a luxury good into an accessible and essential aspect of American life. The campaign began by giving diamonds to famous movie stars, using their built-in publicity networks to promote De Beers. The company created stories about celebrity proposals and gifts between lovers that stressed the size of the diamonds given. These stories were then given out to selected fashion magazines. The result of this campaign was the popularization of diamonds as one of the necessary aspects of a marriage proposal (Reid, 2006).
Big Tobacco Aids Researchers
In 1953, studies showing the detrimental health effects of smoking caused a drop in cigarette sales. An alliance of tobacco manufacturers hired the PR group Hill & Knowlton to develop a campaign to deal with this problem. The first step of the campaign Hill & Knowlton devised was the creation of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) to promote studies that questioned the health effects of tobacco use. The TIRC ran advertisements featuring the results of these studies, giving journalists who were addressing the subject an easy source to quote. The groups working against smoking were not familiar with media relations, making it harder for journalists to quote them and use their arguments.
The campaign was effective, however, not because it denied the harmful effects of smoking but because it stressed the disagreements between researchers. By providing the press with information favorable to the tobacco manufacturers and publicly promoting new filtered cigarettes, the campaign aimed to replace the idea that smoking was undeniably bad with the idea that there was disagreement over the effects of smoking. This strategy served tobacco companies well up through the 1980s.
Taco Bell Targets Mir
When the Russian space station Mir was set to crash land in the Pacific Ocean in 2001, Taco Bell created a floating vinyl target that the company placed in the Pacific. Taco Bell promised to give every American a free taco if the space station hit the target. This simple PR stunt gave all the journalists covering the Mir crash landing a few lines to add to their stories. Scientists even speculated on the chances of the station hitting the target—slim to none. Ultimately, the stunt gained Taco Bell global advertising (BBC World, 2001).
PR As A Replacement For Advertising
In some cases, PR has begun overtaking advertising as the preferred way of promoting a particular company or product. For example, the tobacco industry offers a good case study of the migration from advertising to PR. Regulations prohibiting radio and TV cigarette advertisements had an enormous effect on sales. In response, the tobacco industry began using PR techniques to increase brand presence.
Tobacco company Philip Morris started underwriting cultural institutions and causes as diverse as the Joffrey Ballet, the Smithsonian, environmental awareness, and health concerns. Marlboro sponsored events that brought a great deal of media attention to the brand. For example, during the 1980s, the Marlboro Country Music Tour took famous country stars to major coliseums throughout the country and featured talent contests that brought local bands up on stage, increasing the audience even further. Favorable reviews of the shows generated positive press for Marlboro. Later interviews with country artists and books on country music history have also mentioned this tour.
On the fifth anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1987, Marlboro’s PR groups organized a celebration hosted by comedian Bob Hope. Country music legends the Judds and Alabama headlined the show, and Marlboro paid for new names inscribed on the memorial. By attaching the Marlboro brand to such an important cultural event, the company gained an enormous amount of publicity. Just as importantly, these efforts at least partially restored the stature that the brand lost due to health concerns (Saffir, 2000).
While advertising is an essential aspect of initial brand creation, PR campaigns are vital to developing the more abstract aspects of a brand. These campaigns work to position a brand in the public arena in order to give it a sense of cultural importance.
Shift From Advertising To PR
Pioneered by such companies as Procter & Gamble during the 1930s, the older, advertising-centric model of branding focused on the product, using advertisements to associate a particular branded good with quality or some other positive cultural value. Yet, as consumers became exposed to ever-increasing numbers of advertisements, traditional advertising’s effectiveness dwindled. The ubiquity of modern advertising means the public is skeptical of—or even ignores—claims advertisers make about their products. This credibility gap can be overcome, however, when PR professionals using good promotional strategies step in.
The new PR-oriented model of branding focuses on the overall image of the company rather than on the specific merits of the product. This branding model seeks to associate a company with specific personal and cultural values that hold meaning for consumers. In the early 1990s, for example, car company Saturn marketed its automobiles not as a means of transportation but as a form of culture. PR campaigns promoted the image of the Saturn family, associating the company with powerful American values and giving Saturn owners a sense of community. Events such as the 1994 Saturn homecoming sought to encourage this sense of belonging. Some 45,000 people turned out for this event; families gave up their beach holidays simply to come to a Saturn manufacturing plant in Tennessee to socialize with other Saturn owners and tour the facility.
Recently Toyota faced a marketing crisis when it instituted a massive recall based on safety issues. To counter the bad press, the company launched a series of commercials featuring top Toyota executives, urging the public to keep their faith in the brand (Bernstein, 2010). Much like the Volkswagen ads half a century before, Toyota used a style of self-awareness to market its automobiles. The positive PR campaign presented Toyotas as cars with a high standard of excellence, backed by a company striving to meet customers’ needs.
Studies In Success: Apple And Nike
Apple has also employed this type of branding with great effectiveness. By focusing on a consistent design style in which every product reinforces the Apple experience, the computer company has managed to position itself as a mark of individuality. Despite the cynical outlook of many Americans regarding commercial claims, the notion that Apple is a symbol of individualism has been adopted with very little irony. Douglas Atkin, who has written about brands as a form of cult, readily admits and embraces his own brand loyalty to Apple:
I’m a self-confessed Apple loyalist. I go to a cafe around the corner to do some thinking and writing, away from the hurly-burly of the office, and everyone in that cafe has a Mac. We never mention the fact that we all have Macs. The other people in the cafe are writers and professors and in the media, and the feeling of cohesion and community in that cafe becomes very apparent if someone comes in with a PC. There’s almost an observable shiver of consternation in the cafe, and it must be discernable to the person with the PC, because they never come back.
Brand managers that once focused on the product now find themselves in the role of community leaders, responsible for the well-being of a cultural image (Atkin, 2004).
Kevin Roberts, the current CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, a branding-focused creative organization, has used the term “lovemark” as an alternative to trademark. This term encompasses brands that have created “loyalty beyond reason,” meaning that consumers feel loyal to a brand in much the same way they would toward friends or family members. Creating a sense of mystery around a brand generates an aura that bypasses the usual cynical take on commercial icons. A great deal of Apple’s success comes from the company’s mystique. Apple has successfully developed PR campaigns surrounding product releases that leak selected rumors to various press outlets but maintain secrecy over essential details, encouraging speculation by bloggers and mainstream journalists on the next product. All this combines to create a sense of mystery and an emotional anticipation for the product’s release.
Emotional connections are crucial to building a brand or lovemark. An early example of this kind of branding was Nike’s product endorsement deal with Michael Jordan during the 1990s. Jordan’s amazing, seemingly magical performances on the basketball court created his immense popularity, which was then further built up by a host of press outlets and fans who developed an emotional attachment to Jordan. As this connection spread throughout the country, Nike associated itself with Jordan and also with the emotional reaction he inspired in people. Essentially, the company inherited a PR machine that had been built around Jordan and that continued to function until his retirement (Roberts, 2003).
An important part of maintaining a consistent brand is preserving the emotional attachment consumers have to that brand. Just as PR campaigns build brands, PR crises can damage them. For example, the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 became a PR nightmare for BP, an oil company that had been using PR to rebrand itself as an environmentally friendly energy company.
In 2000, BP began a campaign presenting itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” rather than British Petroleum, the company’s original name. By acquiring a major solar company, BP became the world leader in solar production and in 2005 announced it would invest $8 billion in alternative energy over the following 10 years. BP’s marketing firm developed a PR campaign that, at least on the surface, emulated the forward-looking two-way symmetric PR model. The campaign conducted interviews with consumers, giving them an opportunity to air their grievances and publicize energy policy issues. BP’s website featured a carbon footprint calculator consumers could use to calculate the size of their environmental impact (Solman, 2008). The single explosion on BP’s deep-water oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico essentially nullified the PR work of the previous 10 years, immediately putting BP at the bottom of the list of environmentally concerned companies.
A company’s control over what its brand symbolizes can also lead to branding issues. The Body Shop, a cosmetics company that gained popularity during the 1980s and early 1990s, used PR to build its image as a company that created natural products and took a stand on issues of corporate ethics. The company teamed up with Greenpeace and other environmental groups to promote green issues and increase its natural image.
By the mid-1990s, however, revelations about the unethical treatment of franchise owners called this image into serious question. The Body Shop had spent a great deal of time and money creating its progressive, spontaneous image. Stories of travels to exotic locations to research and develop cosmetics were completely fabricated, as was the company’s reputation for charitable contributions. Even the origins of the company had been made up as a PR tool: The idea, name, and even product list had been ripped off from a small California chain called the Body Shop that was later given a settlement to keep quiet. The PR campaign of the Body Shop made it one of the great success stories of the early 1990s, but the unfounded nature of its PR claims undermined its image dramatically. Competitor L’Oréal eventually bought the Body Shop for a fraction of its previous value (Entine, 2007).
Other branding backlashes have plagued companies such as Nike and Starbucks. By building their brands into global symbols, both companies also came to represent unfettered capitalist greed to those who opposed them. During the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, activists targeted Starbucks and Nike stores for physical attacks such as window smashing. Labor activists have also condemned Nike over the company’s use of sweatshops to manufacture shoes. Eventually, Nike created a vice president for corporate responsibility to deal with sweatshop issues.2
Adbusters, a publication devoted to reducing advertising’s influence on global culture, added action to its criticisms of Nike by creating its own shoe. Manufactured in union shops, Blackspot shoes contain recycled tire rubber and hemp fabric. The Blackspot logo is a simple round dot that looks like it has been scribbled with white paint, as if a typical logo had been covered over. The shoes also include a symbolic red dot on the toe with which to kick Nike. Blackspot shoes use the Nike brand to create their own antibrand, symbolizing progressive labor reform and environmentally sustainable business practices (New York Times, 2004).
Relationship With Politics And Government
Politics and PR have gone hand in hand since the dawn of political activity. Politicians communicate with their constituents and make their message known using PR strategies. Benjamin Franklin’s trip as ambassador to France during the American Revolution stands as an early example of political PR that followed the publicity model. At the time of his trip, Franklin was an international celebrity, and the fashionable society of Paris celebrated his arrival; his choice of a symbolic American-style fur cap immediately inspired a new style of women’s wigs. Franklin also took a printing press with him to produce leaflets and publicity notices that circulated through Paris’s intellectual and fashionable circles. Such PR efforts eventually led to a treaty with France that helped the colonists win their freedom from Great Britain (Isaacson, 2003).
Famous 20th-century PR campaigns include President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, a series of radio addresses that explained aspects of the New Deal. Roosevelt’s personal tone and his familiarity with the medium of radio helped the Fireside Chats become an important promotional tool for his administration and its programs. These chats aimed to justify many New Deal policies, and they helped the president bypass the press and speak directly to the people. More recently, Blackwater Worldwide, a private military company, dealt with criticisms of its actions in Iraq by changing its name. The new name, Xe Services, was the result of a large-scale PR campaign to distance the company from associations with civilian violence (Associated Press, 2009).
The proliferation of media outlets and the 24-hour news cycle have led to changes in the way politicians handle PR. The gap between old PR methods and new ones became evident in 2006, when then–Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a friend during a hunting trip. Cheney, who had been criticized in the past for being secretive, did not make a statement about the accident for three days. Republican consultant Rich Galen explained Cheney’s silence as an older PR tactic that tries to keep the discussion out of the media. However, the old trick is less effective in the modern digital world.
That entire doctrine has come and gone. Now the doctrine is you respond instantaneously, and where possible with a strong counterattack. A lot of that is because of the Internet, a lot of that is because of cable TV news (Associated Press, 2006).
PR techniques have been used in propaganda efforts throughout the 20th century. During the 1990s, the country of Kuwait employed Hill & Knowlton to encourage U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf region. One of the more infamous examples of their campaign was a heavily reported account by a Kuwaiti girl testifying that Iraqi troops had dumped babies out of incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals. Outrage over this testimony helped galvanize opinion in favor of U.S. involvement. As it turned out, the Kuwaiti girl was really the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador and had not actually witnessed any of the alleged atrocities (Parsons, 2005).
Lobbyists also attempt to influence public policy using PR campaigns. The Water Environment Federation, a lobbying group representing the sewage industry, initiated a campaign to promote the application of sewage on farms during the early 1990s. The campaign came up with the word biosolids to replace the term sludge. Then it worked to encourage the use of this term as a way to popularize sewage as a fertilizer, providing information to public officials and representatives. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted the new term and changed the classification of biosolids to a fertilizer from a hazardous waste. This renaming helped New York City eliminate tons of sewage by shipping it to states that allowed biosolids (Stauber & Rampton, 1995).
Politics has also embraced branding. Former President Bill Clinton described his political battles in terms of a brand war:
[The Republicans] were brilliant at branding. They said they were about values…. Everybody is a values voter, but they got the brand…they said they were against the death tax…what a great brand…. I did a disservice to the American people not by putting forth a bad plan, but by not being a better brander, not being able to explain it better (Kiley, 2008).
Branding has been used to great effect in recent elections. A consistently popular political brand is that of the outsider, or reform-minded politician. Despite his many years of service in the U.S. Senate, John McCain famously adopted this brand during the 2008 presidential election. McCain’s competitor, Barack Obama, also employed branding strategies. The Obama campaign featured several iconic portraits and slogans that made for a consistent brand and encouraged his victory in 2008. Before Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, an unprecedented amount of merchandise was sold, a further testament to the power of branding (Alberts, 2009).
Do The Right Thing
In any emergency situation, it is imperative that a company put the public interest ahead of the organization’s interest. The company’s first responsibility is to the safety and well-being of the people involved. Once safety has been restored, the company needs to face the public and face the facts. The company should never try to minimize a serious problem or “smooth it over” in the hope that no one will notice. Conversely, don’t blow minor incidents out of proportion or allow others to do so. Social media has accelerated the speed at which information about a crisis can spread; the viral affect of social networks such as Twitter means that stakeholders can break news faster than traditional media, which makes managing a crisis harder. However, a company should not speculate; if they don’t know the facts, they should say so and promise to get back to the media as soon as possible.
Communicate Quickly And Accurately
Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the process forward to resolution, even in the face of antagonistic news media. Media representatives have an obligation to provide reliable information to their audiences, and they will get that information whether or not company spokespeople cooperate; if a company will not comment on the situation, someone else will. Serving as one of the major sources of media information in a crisis is a means of maintaining control. If necessary, activate the crisis management team. Act quickly and spare no expense in distributing the information you determine the media and others should have.
It is important to make amends to those affected and then do whatever is necessary to restore the organization’s reputation in the community. It is helpful to perform an act of goodwill during or immediately after a crisis when possible. Internal policies should be changed to minimize a repeat of the crisis situation. The crisis communication plan should be revised based on any new learnings.
Branding As A New Form Of Communication
That so many different groups have adopted branding as a means of communication is a testament to its ubiquity. Even anticommercial, antibrand groups such as Adbusters have created brands to send messages. Social media sites have also encouraged branding techniques by allowing users to create profiles of themselves that they use to communicate their core values. This personal application is perhaps the greatest evidence of the impact of advertising and PR on modern culture. Branding, once a technique used by companies to sell their products, has become an everyday means of communication.
The four models of PR include traditional publicity, public information, persuasive communication, and two-way symmetrical models. PR campaigns begin with a research phase, develop objectives during a strategy phase, formulate ways to meet objectives during the tactics phase, and assess the proposed campaign during the evaluation phase. Branding focuses on the lifestyles and values inherent in a brand’s image as opposed to the products that are manufactured. It can be quickly undone by PR crises such as the BP oil spill. PR has always been an important part of political campaigning and activity. In recent years, branding has become an important part of national political campaigns.
Public Relations’ Components and Roles
Components of Public Relations
Explanations of Role
Providing advice to management concerning policies, relationships, and communications
Determining the attitudes and behaviors of groups to plan public relations strategies. Such research can be used to generate mutual understanding or influence and persuade publics.
Working with mass media (television, web sites, newspapers, magazines, and the like) by seeking publicity or responding to their interests in the organization.
Disseminating planned messages through selected media to further an organization’s interests.
Employee Member Relations
Responding to concerns, informing, and motivating and organization’s current employees or members.
Undertaking activities within a community to maintain an environment that benefits both an organization and the community .
Developing effective involvement in public policy and helping an organization adapt to public expectations. The term “public affairs” is also used by government agencies to describe their public relations activities and by many corporations as an umbrella term to describe multiple public relation activities.
Relating directly with legislatures and regulatory agencies on behalf of an organization. Lobbying can be part of a government affairs program.
Identifying and addressing issues of public concern that affect an organization.
Creating and maintaining investor confidence and building good relationships with financial community.
Relating with other firms in the industry of an organization and with trade associations.
Demonstrating the need for and encouraging the public support charitable organization primarily through financial contributions.
Multicultural Relations/Workplace Diversity
Communicating with individuals and groups in various cultural groups.
Stimulating an interest in a person, product, or organization by means of focused “happenings” as well as other activities designed to encourage interacting with publics and listening to them.
Employing a combination of activities, designed to sell a product, service, or idea, including advertising, collateral materials, publicity, promotions, direct mail, trade shows, and special events.