Why bother doing PR?

imagesWhy do companies go through all the hassle of PR? I mean, if I sell tables, then surely I just put an advert in the newspaper and people who need a table come to me and by one? Actually, this was how things started out. In the 1800s, ‘to advertise’ meant to disseminate news: so newspapers which call themselves The Advertiser originally meant that they carried a lot of news, not a lot of adverts. It would be common for an advert in a newspaper to read ‘Colin Smith, seller of tables’. This was announcing that if you were in the market for a table, then Colin Smith was your man. The idea of persuading someone who might not think they needed a table to go out and purchase one is most definitely a phenomenon of recent times.

The fact is that the game has changed. PR is simply about understanding this game, and getting your target audiences to change on a number of levels:

  • To inform them about what you do (‘cognitive change’: a fancy way of saying that they now understand what you do, and what you do differently);
  • To get them to use what you provide (action change);
  • To get them to continue to use what you provide (behavioural change);
  • To convince them that they really are continually getting the best deal from you, and not just in monetary terms (value change).

PR is a lot of things, but there are also things that it is not. PR is often confused with advertising, merchandising, promotion, or any of a dozen other buzz words in the marketing communications vocabulary. But PR is actually about doing something newsworthy that you want to communicate, and then telling your target audience what you have done. At the same time, however, it is a very important part of your marketing strategy. Let me explain…

Advertising is very different from public relations. One key difference is that you always pay for the space and time of an advertisement (or commercial appearing on radio, television, or the Internet). By contrast, editorial coverage generated through public relations is not paid for by the business. The media will pick up and publish the story because they consider it newsworthy, not as a paid advertisement.

But a crucial difference is that, in advertising, you have virtually full control over the message. Because you are paying for advertising, the ad or commercial runs your exact text (called ‘copy’), provided the copy complies with generally acceptable standards for advertising.

In the case of public relations, the media outlet you are targeting is under no obligation to run the story in any form. If a media outlet does decide to run the story, an editor will generally rewrite the news release, or use pertinent information from the news release to create the news. In addition, you have no control over when the release or news will run. All decisions are made by the editor.

So things are not always straightforward. As you can see, public relations is a cost-effective way of getting your story out. But it has to be handled properly: taking the trouble to write effective news releases and to build a relationship with the relevant media will, in time, pay dividends in the form of exposure and prestige. Best of all, public relations usually costs less than a single advertisement.

Since public relations communicates your messages through the news media, all the power of the media is brought to bear when the public – those viewers, listeners, or readers you want to reach – learn about your news.

Think of what this means: high interest level, credibility, implied objectivity, and possibly implied endorsement by the journalist or publication reporting the information. There is also an urgency conveyed when news is reported in the media, and that news has the potential to reach a tremendously large audience.

With exposure comes awareness. An important goal of public relations – in any medium – is to make people aware of what your organisation is, what it offers, and what it does. Never underestimate the value of such awareness. In flashier terms, it’s called buzz.

Creating awareness for your organisation means that you must inform your key audiences about what you offer and how you can meet their needs. Public relations is probably the most valuable tool in accomplishing this. A well-implemented public relations initiative will help present your organisation’s offerings to their best advantage.

Public and news media relations also position you to enter new marketplaces and exposes new products or services to new audiences – all without the expense associated with an advertising programme. A sustained public relations programme allows you to ensure your offerings are in front of appropriate decision-makers. This continuous flow of information creates a constant awareness and a constant influx of inquiries – especially when integrated with other powerful marketing communications tools such as brochures, trade shows, and so on.

And linking PR activities with your marketing activities can have serious benefits. For example, a car manufacturer wanted to launch a new model among potential buyers, using both advertising and PR. From a consumer sample, two research groups were identified: those who had read the publications in which PR media coverage appeared (such as magazine reviews), see TV programmes which reviewed the car, and so on (the ‘PR exposed’), and those who only saw the advertisements (Non-PR exposed).

After eight weeks of the campaign, evidence showed that PR caused a big and widening gap between the ‘PR exposed’ and the ‘non-exposed’, meaning that the TV advertisements were much more effective when used alongside a PR campaign. Analysis by the research firm Millward Brown Précis established that heightened awareness was not caused by other market place activity.

A smaller rise in awareness was noticed among the non-exposed slightly after the advertising. This was attributed to the fact that although not PR exposed themselves, they had been influenced by those who were exposed – the ‘buzz’ effect. The ‘exposed’ had much higher levels of awareness, almost certainly as a result of the combination of PR and advertising.

In another example, a food product was supported by both PR and advertising. At the start of the campaign there was a much higher level of purchase by the ‘exposed’ group, but when the first TV advertising burst kicked in, the ‘non-exposed’ caught up – again the result of the ‘buzz effect’. The subsequent rise among the ‘exposed’, coinciding with the second TV advertising burst, was explained by the fact that the two advertisements were different. The second one was in line with the PR message, resulting in an effect of a coherent message and more sales.

All this is saying in a roundabout way is that marketing is much more successful when it is being backed up by a PR campaign. One cannot really exist without the other (well it can, but as we’ve seen, not as successfully).

This is war!


It is widely accepted that, after their defeat in the Second World War, the Japanese were the first to embrace the ideal of ‘business is war’. This means that business uses the ideas of the battlefield and applies them to the world of business.

And it certainly worked for Japan: today, Japan is a major or dominant power in almost every world strategic industry including finance, communications, mass transit, semiconductors, motor vehicles and popular entertainment. The world’s largest banks are all Japanese. The largest record company in the United States is Japanese, and two of the three biggest movie and entertainment companies in the United States are Japanese. Many big companies in the US, like Loews Theatres, Firestone Tires and 7- Eleven, are also Japanese.

In fact, 7 of the 10 largest companies in the world are Japanese. Furthermore, Japan today is the world’s biggest manufacturer of cars, having surpassed the United States in the mid1980s. These were all US-dominated industries 25 years ago.

Believe it or not, this phenomenal success can be traced back to ancient China, in particular a great military general named Sun Tzu. It is reckoned that he lived from around 544 BC to 496 BC in the ancient state of Ch’i.

Sun Tzu wrote the earliest — and still the most revered — military strategy book in the world. This masterpiece is best known to most of us as The Art of War and can be found on the shelves of most good bookshops. Since naming a written work after its author was customary in ancient China, the text was originally referred to as simply ‘Sun Tzu’.

Skilled and experienced in warfare matters during a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Sun Tzu presented his treatise to King Ho-lu of the Wu state. The sovereign was impressed. When asked whether its principles could be applied to anyone, Sun Tzu replied, ‘Yes.’ As proof of his competency and to confirm the principles’ effectiveness, he successfully transformed 180 court women into trained soldiers in just one session.

With Sun Tzu as general, King Ho-lu captured the capital city of Ying to defeat the powerful Ch’u state in 506 BC. They then headed north and subdued Ch’i and Chin. Not surprisingly, Sun Tzu’s name quickly spread throughout the land and among the feudal lords.

How he later lived or died is unknown. However, it was declared that, ‘10 miles outside the city gate of Wu Hsieh, there is a large tomb of the great strategist Sun Tzu’. By the Han dynasty, his reputation as a wise and respected military leader was well known. Considering the countless texts lost or destroyed throughout China’s history, the remarkable survival and relevancy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to this very day attests to its immeasurable value.

This fact was not lost on the Japanese. Sun Tzu was first introduced to Japan as early as 400BC. Japan’s leaders earnestly applied Sun Tzu to warfare: the samurai would peruse its contents before each battle. They were among the most diligent practitioners of the book’s concepts and came up with their own term to encapsulate its meaning: Sonshi.

I’m sure your business would like one day to be the same size as your average keiretsu (almost all the significant companies in Japan are aligned in one of about six keiretsus or business ‘groupings’. These are loosely linked ‘super-corporations’ for lack of a better term. Most of the Japanese companies whose brands we know and love are in these keiretsus. Several of these keiretsus have been around a very long time (before the Second World War) dating back to feudal-like family-run trading houses. Mitsubishi and Mitsui are two of the more famous ones. Famous companies like Nissan, Toshiba and Sumitomo Bank are all in keiretsus).