Public Relations: The Right Message to the Right People

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Public relations gives marketing executives the flexibility of using several methods to deliver messages:

  • Special events

  • Trade shows

  • Conventions

  • Product/service demonstrations

  • Industry trade publications

  • Industry and professional association meetings

  • News releases

  • White papers

  • Interviews in the broadcast and print media

  • User stories

  • General consumer business magazines

  • Newspaper business sections

  • Private seminars

  • Community relations and events

  • Employee relations and events

  • Informal discussions

The principle assignment of public relations as part of the marketing mix is to help orchestrate these various methods to support marketing's objectives. That assignment could be looked upon as one of the fulfillment portions of the marketing effort.

Quite often the public relations professional becomes a member of the 'Marketing Communications' team while serving marketing. That team is usually composed of specialists in advertising, public relations, technical writing, graphics, trade shows, direct mail, telemarketing and others as required by the organization's needs.

When marketing plans and strategies are developed, public relations is increasingly included as an integral part of the overall marketing mix. When marketing and public relations activities are planned together (as they should be), they become very effective and successful.

Even though marketing and public relations are separate disciplines, the tools of public relations are increasingly making the difference between a so-sc marketing effort and a very successful one.

The Importance of 'Preconditioning'

One of the major roles of public relations is that it is effectively used in the marketing mix is its ability to 'precondition' the environment or target audience to positively accept the sales, public relations, or corporate message. That message may sent several ways: advertising, direct mail, sales call, trade show.

The importance of that 'preconditioning' is that it is usually done through media outlets (print and broadcast, trade press and consumer press), which gives third-party credibility to the message-endorsement, if you will. Such 'endorsement' is free, it is not bought That is another reason that marketing likes public relations-it is cost-efficient.

When used by skillful practitioners, public relations becomes a unique soft, yet persuasive and effective, selling tool because of this third-party credibility factor. Consequently, the entire organization's credibility in the marketplace is enhanced, which makes it easier for marketing to sell.

The public has become wary of advertising which it often believes to be 'self-serving' and meaningless. It is natural that a large majority of the public does not enthusiastically accept and believe advertising at the level advertisers would like. However, when a member of the trade or consumer media talks positively about a product or service, this natural and subtle technique influences the public and they tend to read and listen better and believe more of what they see and hear. When they do that, they become encouraged to change perception, attitude, intention, and behavior, which helps public relations generate sales.

Obtaining good media positioning through print and broadcast media outlets does not come easily. The public relations practitioner must develop an understanding of what is marketable, newswise, about products and services and also develop good media relations. Robert L Dilenschneider and Dan J. Forrestal, in their book The Dartnell Public Relations Handbook, get to the heart of the matter when they state: There is a special skill in discerning what it is about a commercial product or service that can be made interesting to the media in the form of news, features, or visual attractions. It requires a detailed knowledge of potential media and their criteria for accepting or rejecting such factors."

Where the Opportunities Are

In companies where media training is just one of many services or activities, the entry-level position might well include administrative duties involving many other aspects of the overall media relations function and/or in the audio/visual department. So you may well find yourself spending as much (or more) time behind a desk as behind the camera. The more involved your potential employer is in media training, the more focused the entry-level positions will be.

"So the key to all of this is for the executive to be entertaining or risk being used as entertainment. No career-minded reporter is going to allow an executive to drone on in phrases that have about as much spark as a wet match. They must keep the show interesting."

Media consultant Shelley Klein of Klein Associates in New York agrees. "Don't be a good guest," she stresses. There's no energy in it You've got your hands folded and you're waiting to be asked the right questions. Thaf s deadly. Take control."

Klein's training sessions, which range from a few hours consulting to weekend seminars, go beyond basic speaking techniques to teaching businesspeople the art of performing. "People are information-flooded," she asserts. To get your message across, you do have to entertain."

Dorothy Sarnoff, who began such sessions more than 15 years ago and has trained thousands says, "The biggest mistake businesspeople make is not rehearsing and not organizing well. When I'm doing the Today' show,"she admits, Til lock myself in the office and rehearse for three or four hours."

There are right and wrong ways to practice, however," she says. "It's a mistake for a corporate executive to have a member of his staff rehearse with him.

"No staff member wants to make the boss look bad by asking tough questions. Instead, ask yourself, 'what questions do I pray they won't ask me?' Then rehearse answering those."

Giving definite answers is also important. "People are looking for experts- somebody who has the answers to life, somebody to step in where God left off," the former TV producer explained. The best interview subjects appear to be very secure even when they are saying 'I don't know.'"

Srully Blotnick, noted author and business columnist for Forbes magazine, writes,

"Any executive who expects to be treated with the same courtesy usually shown him in the executive suite is in for a big surprise. The Romans may have thrown Christians to the lions for entertainment, but moderns have a version of this practice all their own. It calls for subjecting an unsuspecting guest on a television program to questions that range from the pertinent to the impertinent.

"Will you be insulted? Probably not There are interviewers who like to offend and even intimidate a guest, if they can, but they are in the minority. What we have seen during the last ten years is a major shift towards an equally combative situation, where the host puts two guests against each other, allowing the host to come off as the good guy.

"Controversy-not illuminating an issue-is the goal, and the show's host and producer are quite willing to prod guests into adopting extremist versions of a position. For instance, on five occasions over a 17-month period (in Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington, and Los Angeles), I have had producers ask me during a commercial break to be more argumentative during the next segment. I wanted to hear what the other person's position was; the TV folks wanted me to argue. As one host remarked, only half-kiddingly, 'What do you think we have you hereof?'"
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