5 Enduring Functions of Public Relations
By Frank Strong
Even amid today’s turbulent, rapid pace of change, these PR essentials remain unchanged.
Two is the new five.
When people ask what will happen in the next five years, chances are that whatever it is will happen in just two.
A colleague said that at a recent seminar, and it really captures the chaotic pace of change we all must now endure. Our day-to-day work is fast and intense, and we must account for a dizzying array of new strategies, platforms and technological wonders.
It often makes me wonder: When we went to the office 20 years ago, what did we do all day? I think we spent a little more time on the fundamentals of PR, which, if we can pause long enough to take a breath, look like this:
1. Audience identification
Any effective communication program must begin by identifying the target audience. This is all-inclusive research that factors in the wants, needs and behavioral triggers of a population segment. The imperative here is to focus on what the audience needs—not what a business or brand wants to say.
2. Clearly defined positioning
Whether a business has defined its positioning or not, every brand has one. Three department stores provide a clear way to view positioning—think about the differences between Walmart, Target and Nordstrom. Each occupies a unique position in the market, and, more importantly, our expectation of the experience we will have in those stores.
It is more challenging in B2B marketing, but characteristics like speed, scale, reliability and customer experience all contribute. Positioning is what you are and what people believe you are. In technology, the classic comparison of Salesforce to Oracle is an iconic example. Salesforce positioned itself as the antidote to software as it brought predictable pricing and short-circuited premise software implementations.
Messaging is the intersection of audience identification and positioning. PR needs messages to do one important thing: Resonate. The path to finding messages that resonate begins with answering these questions:
What do people think about your business or brand today?
What do you want people to think?
What messages can you send that facilitate how you want to be perceived?
4. Message distribution
Message distribution is medium of conveyance—it’s how you get a message to an identified audience. It used to be we had three choices:
Rent a medium with advertising
Earn coverage in a medium by being useful
Earn word-of-mouth with guerrilla marketing
Today, we have both more options within those traditional choices and more options in general. The lower costs of publishing means that we can build our own medium. That is the essence of content marketing, and why PR and content marketing work best when working together.
5. Feedback and measurement
After the first four steps of these PR fundamentals, evaluation is required.
Traditionally, it was challenging to link a message to an outcome, but that has changed considerably as information became digitalized. Now we can measure such factors as web traffic acquisition and behavior with accuracy.
That feedback loop happens at far greater speeds today—you can put a message in the market and understand pretty quickly if it’s resonating. Indeed, for many in PR, that’s a big part of the reason why two feels like the new five.