C-level executives must understand and appreciate that PR by nature is a double-edged sword.
Disregarding the fundamental differences between PR and marketing is a lost opportunity at the very best.
The key to success is to understand the brand’s core message and to hold the PR function accountable at all times.
Many business leaders struggle with public relations. Free publicity, word-of-mouth, and a great reputation all sounds enticing, but for many, PR feels mostly like a coin-toss.
One of the first things I tell leaders is that while PR could be used to move a perception in any direction, the best strategy is to use PR to amplify your best bets. To illustrate this, I use Treacy and Wiersema’s value disciplines.
Each direction in the model comes with specific operational and cultural choices that separates your trajectory from the other directions. The gist of the model is that maximising value comes at a cost; the successful brand must choose between striving for product leadership, operational excellence, or customer intimacy. Thus, if you’re doing PR in all directions, you’re falling on your own sword.
Apple is a great example of product leadership and communication; their PR activities aren’t at all geared towards being a cheap alternative or discussing their roadmap with their biggest fans. Apple’s PR is all about product leadership — also when they communicate.
Any PR strategy should be subservient to what your business is all about. I’m sure that are tons of creative PR ideas for Apple in the direction of “best total cost” and “best total solution”, but Apple’s executive must be merciless in shooting any such initiatives down. Because even if such ideas would produce tangible results on the campaign level, they would detract instead of adding to the brand’s total value strategy.
So, as a C-level executive, how do you manage the overall direction of your brand’s PR activities?
The most common fail in high-level PR management is to mistake PR for marketing. The primary purpose of marketing is to drive sales while the primary purpose of PR is to manage relationships. But what does this mean?
Many C-level executives are tasking their PR functions to only focus on marketing KPIs and as a result, many organisations are opting for having only a marketing function — leaving strategic communication to chance. This is the main reason why a relatively small subset of businesses, those who are getting their PR strategy just right, can soar high above their competition in the marketplace.
The key to managing PR is to understand that each business operates amongst a complex web of human relationships, not just a quantifiable deal-seeking volume of distractible wallets with legs. As humans, we seek to relate to everything around us. In a world where information is abundant, each and every brand only gets one specific claim. Not two, or three, or four.
Red Bull, for instance, have chosen to focus on action sports that sends people flying through the air. Since they want that specific spot and that specific relationship with their community, they don’t focus any of their communication activities on anything else.
This is why I would suggest that you, as a C-level executive, push your PR activities to focus not on a specific KPI (like sales), but towards one, and only one, core message.
To maximise the perceived value of your business, all communication efforts must be focused on dominating that one precious spot in the human mind. Here in the West, for example, online retailer Amazon is so huge that they could be a great many things to a great many people, but they have wisely chosen to push for just one thing — “we are the everything store”.
A cautionary example of core messaging would be Rolex. They used to have one of the most engaging fan pages on Facebook where they focused solely on what their brand community loved — their grand heritage and the craftsmanship. But lately, they’re instead focusing on sponsoring athletes, collaborating with film-makers, and showcasing new watch models. Today, their engagement levels are nowhere near what they used to be. My guess is that Rolex is trying to talk about what market research suggests a younger audience with money to spend would like to see and hear.
To see the world through the lens of PR is to see the world differently. While marketers tend to see opportunities for increasing sales everywhere, which in itself is a good thing, PR sees the various stakeholders your business is depending upon1. From a PR perspective, your business is surrounded not just by customers and journalists, but by various stakeholders.
Stakeholder perceptions must be constantly managed to ensure that your organisation is able to focus on its business objectives.
This also where digital marketing professionals tend to suggest activities that might be too narrow for maximising the overall value creation of your business. They’re often sharply focused on increasing conversion through each step of a marketing funnel and not at all concerned about the behaviours of smaller subsets like investors, influencers, journalists, and antagonists — whose overall influence on conversion often surpass that of online majority behaviours.
Summary for C-level executives
Clarify your brand’s value direction and demand that the PR function is 100% onboard with it. Otherwise, replace your PR function immediately.
Make sure that all PR activities revolves around a true and inspiring core message. Push your PR function to communicate this core message in new and creative ways to all key publics over and over again.
Don’t mistake PR for marketing and measure messaging instead of sales. When discussing goal-setting and strategies with PR professionals, discuss from a perspective of different stakeholders instead of target audiences.
- This is where most C-level executives get surprised; I’m typically asked for help with influencers, journalists, and social followers, but many executives are often surprised when I suggest valuable PR activities geared towards policy-makers, legislators, employees, investors, and society as a whole.