Public relations — “PR,” for short — has more power to shape our world that we might realize. As we go about our daily lives, we are bombarded constantly with messaging that has been carefully vetted by PR experts. The speeches that politicians give, the things we associate with the label on the soda that we’re drinking, that pitch-perfect apology from that disgraced celebrity who we just can’t help but like anyway — all of these things are the product of careful work by clever PR professionals.
That’s not to say that PR is an insidious force, of course. Like any other tool in the world of business, politics, and public life, PR can be used for good or for ill. PR can be used to push for a political bill that improves the lives of countless people, or it could be used to persuade you to switch to a different brand of potato chips.
For good or for ill, PR is everywhere — and it is very, very powerful.
PR, branding, and consumer decisions
Do you think that you make rational decisions at the supermarket or big-box store? How about when you shop online?
Think again, experts say. We human beings are a whole lot less rational than we often assume we are. We make decisions based on all sorts of factors that could fairly be considered irrelevant.
PR experts can use this. The right branding or slogan can go a long way toward influencing our irrational shopping habits. Even the very existence of a brand can be a good thing. The familiarity and comfort we see in familiar brands can influence our decisions.
The broader brand
Of course, good branding is much more than just labels and trademarks — if that were all that businesses had to worry about, everyone could get by with just marketing and design pros. But a real brand is bigger than a label or a billboard. It’s a companywide personality, and it takes a PR team to make it happen.
The sassy brands that hit back on Twitter have a personality. So do the aloof and hip high-design brands. So do the down-home comfort brands.
A good brand “personality” comforts customers by projecting competence and quality. It can also become a part of the consumer’s personal brand. A consumer may drink Pabst Blue Ribbon instead of other similarly priced (and, if we’re being honest, similar-tasting) brews because of its old-fashioned label. Or maybe they’ll choose Bud Light, the everyman’s beer that has worked to position itself as the pretension-free alternative to hipper brews (it’s “for the many,” after all).
A good PR team is working long hours even when things are going right. When things go wrong, PR crews go into overtime.
Managing a brand during a crisis requires great communication skills, a deft way with words (and images), and the ability to take the temperature of an often-fickle public. The wrong apology can make things worse, and even the right one can revive a dying news story. The crisis experts who work at elite PR firms are the ones who have what it takes to get the egg off of the face of a celebrity or brand — and they’re the ones writing the apologies you see on Twitter and Facebook.
PR for everyone
PR is everywhere, and it’s a huge part of how major brands operate. But it’s also something that’s necessary for smaller businesses, says the experts from Aruga which is a PR agency in Brisbane, Australia. Responding to Facebook queries and Yelp reviews, getting that “local business” vibe, and even some aspects of customer service are part of PR. And savvy small business owners often outsource public relations needs to PR and marketing firms. Even your humble local diner or convenience store may be working carefully on its public image. It’s all a part of the wide world of PR.