When most organizations launch a new product line or brand, they typically set aside a budget to invest in advertising. This is an important decision because you need to create awareness for your product or business and make it known to the public.
However, there is one thing that both founders and many marketing agencies don’t always think about: public relations. Why? Because advertising alone does not automatically create credibility for your company. Public relations actually plays a much larger role when it comes to establishing credibility and developing trust with potential customers.
In this article, we’ll go over:
• What is Public Relations And How Does It Work
• Why Public Relations Should Lead Communications
• Why Public Relations is a Long-Term Strategy
• How to Use Influencer Marketing
• How Credibility Grows Brand Equity
• Top Brands Who Use Public Relations Effectively
• Top Brands Who Use Public Relations Effectively
• How Businesses Can Invest Wisely In Public Relations
What Is Public Relations And How Does It Work
What is public relations? Simply stated, the activity of public relations is the process of earning media coverage for a business or brand. The purpose of this is to create awareness and an understanding about what your business offers in a way that is informational and helpful to the audience of a media outlet. Once established, it is also the maintenance of a positive, professional image or public perception of a company or organization.
Public relations can be done in many different ways such as offering yourself as an expert on a particular topic, sharing timely or seasonal tips, offering product samples in consideration for editorial coverage, inviting press and influencers to a virtual or in-person event, and of course, traditional press releases. These methods of earning media coverage are all substantially more effective than advertising because they build trust with potential customers (aka, readers) and establish credibility, instead of a one-way sales pitch about why they should buy your product. Public relations is also much more cost-effective, with earned media costing up to 650% less than purchasing advertisements in those same outlets.
So then, why do some businesses hesitate to use public relations, choosing instead to purchase expensive advertising? First, public relations cannot guarantee that your business will be included in an article or story. Unlike advertisements, legitimate editorial or news coverage cannot be purchased. Your story or content must be chosen by an editor or writer who oversees the content that is placed on their website or publication. Second, the message about your business will be in the words of the writer, not necessarily your own. This means some control must be relinquished.
However, in today’s busy news cycle, a well-worded and timed introduction to your business or brand may be exactly what that writer is looking for. If properly targeted and planned well in advance, public relations provides an excellent opportunity to earn recommendations from thought leaders that your customers know and trust. Choose wisely, though! If a business hires an inexperienced publicist or an agency that relies heavily on press releases, poor content, or does not time their pitch correctly, media coverage will be lost, and future customers will never know about your brand.
Why Does Public Relations Need to Come First?
Think about the strategy this way. If you’re launching a new line extension, a spinoff, or perhaps an entirely new business or product line, you probably aren’t looking to simply throw away cash for no reason. For that reason, assuming that ‘advertising always equals sales’ is a flawed mindset, because your customers aren’t familiar with that product set just yet.
So, if you throw a bunch of your marketing budget into advertising too early, in other words, before customers know who you are or what that particular product is, what makes it different or better, and why they should buy it, it’s likely you’re just throwing money away because trust hasn’t been established yet. You’re also increasing your early customer acquisition cost-the internal and external costs per customer to close or complete a sale.
Note: This budgeting principle applies to Google Ads, local print and billboard advertisements, tradeshow advertising, as well as online banner ads. It does not necessarily apply to social media advertising. Some limited-budget social media ads are acceptable in the early phases of a business launch because it can drive potential customers to see your brand for a relatively low investment.
Strategic public relations, on the other hand, communicates those exact factors on behalf of your brand, identifies outlets with your ideal audiences (future customers), and then provides a variety of reasons for why that outlet’s readers might be interested. This brand messaging connects your product, with the persons that need your solution. This, in turn, makes it easier for sales to do their job, for future ads to be memorable, and builds your brand equity.
Why Public Relations is a Long-Term Strategy
Public relations is often a long-term game that requires consistency to be successful. Advertising, on the other hand, tends to be short-lived and can even damage your company’s credibility if it doesn’t resonate with customers. Advertising has its place, but it needs to follow an earned public relations strategy once those objectives have been achieved. A properly implemented advertising strategy to act as a continuation of public relations, following in both timing and theme once a brand has been established in the market. It also should only be started if a sufficient budget has been allocated to support it long term. A ‘blitz’ style ad campaign may open a company up to heavy competitor targeting if the organization only budgets for a short-term campaign.
How to Use Influencer Marketing With Public Relations
Today’s marketing landscape-both in real life, and online-is changing faster than ever before. Brands that want to stay relevant today need to take advantage of new opportunities like social media and content marketing. One of the most successful trends in marketing (and earned media coverage) right now is influencer marketing, which leverages social media personalities – people who have large followings on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram – to help promote your product or service.
Public relations can frequently reduce or eliminate many of the fees associated with influencer brand placements, especially if a natural affinity can be established between both parties. This can save a company millions of dollars a year, build brand equity, and establish valuable human relationships.
Look for a public relations team that is also strong on content marketing and brand storytelling, so that the curated influencer content created will also be more relevant and ‘on brand’ with your organization. The results and brand ROI will be more engagements, higher conversions, and more ideal customers getting exposure to your brand. Although it’s not always easy to tie influencer campaigns back to sales, for example, because someone might be inspired online, then buy at a local shop, visit a website on their own versus clicking a referral link, studies do show there’s a tremendous benefit to incorporating earned and influencer marketing.
A well-worded and timed introduction to your brand may be exactly what that writer (or influencer) is looking for.
Increased Credibility Grows Brand Equity
Public relations is the key to a brand’s credibility and building strong brand equity. It is important to start by establishing a strong rapport with your customers and keeping them engaged. Once credibility is established, advertising should be initiated to help support sales, aligning with the brand ‘image’ that has been developed through earned media initiatives. Advertising can become much more useful and relevant once your brand is more established, and after developing relationships with customers and building trust with them.
Top Brands That Use Public Relations Effectively
Once you get to the top, your public relations strategy doesn’t just stop. Using advertising to defend their both their place in the market and public relations to communicate their purpose-the customer for whom they exist, and why someone should do business with them instead of the other guy down the street, here are a few examples of global giants using PR effectively.
McDonald’s – Community & Customers First
Yes, the globally established ‘yellow arches’ company does advertise-a lot-but their integrated marketing and public relations strategies lead the way with their marcom strategies, with storytelling and families at their core.
During 2020, McDonald’s shifted their brand strategy to look for inspiration from what they refer to as ‘fan truths,’ latching on to user-generated content and ever-shifting customer behavior to inspire new, more personal brand messaging. In addition to spotlighting the menu items that fans love, the storytelling giant has prioritized messaging that focuses on advocacy and engagement, instead of simply pushing products and promotions. Their Ronald McDonald House Charity program is still a key component in their core brand values, as are other charitable community donations and crisis response initiatives, all of which are spotlighted through public relations outreach and earned media.
Coca-Cola – Speak Your Truth
You might think the 125-year old company doesn’t do public relations any more, but that would be a far cry from the truth. In fact, they’re not afraid to get political, even if it’s a PR risk for the brand. Last year, instead of running ads like Pepsi’s disastrous Kendall Jenner ‘Black Lives Matter’ stunt of 2017, Coke’s CEO James Quincey released a statement decrying rising racism and calling on Americans to end tragedies like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and more. Simply saying they care about people of all colors and backgrounds isn’t enough for Coca-Cola, however. Last year alone, they invested over $2.5 million into organizations that are fighting for racial justice, like the NAACP and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Nike – Go All In
Like Coke, Nike isn’t afraid to use politics and core values to make some noise. When the NFL became outraged over players ‘taking a knee’ in solidarity, Nike saw the opportunity and seized it. Using Marcom tactics that combined advertising along with public relations, they showed up as a socially responsible brand by creating their entire ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick. That risky move ended up being the company’s most successful campaign in years, winning the brand an award for outstanding commercial at the Creative Arts Emmys, and garnering over $163 million dollars in advertising value in just three days. According to eMarketer, statistics strongly indicate that Millennials will put their money where their hearts are, saying that social responsibility has a direct impact on purchase.
Chipotle – Let Customers Have a Seat at the Boardroom Table
After extensive social listening during the pandemic, Chipotle launched a new ‘Creator Class’ program, working with TikTok influencers within what resembles part business incubator, part focus group, and part consumer contest (with, of course, burritos as rewards). The hybrid concept, which was recently shared with the press, according to Chipotle, seeks to redefine the typically ‘transactional relationship between creators and brands by taking a true creator-first approach that promotes collaboration and career growth.’
This collaborative approach-allowing customers and creators to share the ‘boardroom’ with your brand-does come with its share of risk. However, the potential reward both from a public relations and customer brand affinity perspective is much greater. Former co-CEO Monty Moran has long emphasized brand values like ‘leading with love’, and embracing vulnerability within the organization, and it looks like Chipotle is continuing to lean into this approach as the brand grows.
How Businesses Can Invest Wisely
Advertising is often the first thing we think of when we launch a brand or business because it’s an easy and accessible way to get your message out there. However, before diving headfirst into advertising, it’s important to take the time and resources to invest in public relations and an actual communications strategy.
If you’re launching a new product line, expanding your business, or seeking to grow your brand, public relations should come before advertising because public relations will establish credibility and trust with your target audience. Advertising alone can’t create that trust; it only spreads your message further. Public relations is responsible for telling your story and building that connection between you and your audience.
Of course, no amount of publicity will succeed if a company does not have a great product or service to back up its marketing efforts, and it is not a replacement for sales. However, if you have a brand that’s built with purpose and it provides solutions for your customers in a way that is better, different, or more helpful or enjoyable versus your competitors, consider investing in public relations before paying for advertising as a growth strategy.
If you’re interested in learning about how strategic public relations can help grow your business, contact our team for a complimentary consultation.