What is PR, and how does it fit into the marketing mix?

It’s fair to say that marketing terms are often misunderstood. Just to be clear, PR is a subset of marketing. It is not a different discipline.

However, it is a bespoke skill that requires specific expertise, just like any specific marketing medium. PR covers a wide range of activities, including media relations, crisis management and corporate communications – all of which are very important commercial considerations.

But, and we cannot emphasise this enough, it is not a standalone activity. It only ever sits within your overall strategic marketing plan, and this also ensures that all brand experiences by every single stakeholder remain consistent and coherent.

‘Marketing’ is a generic term which essentially means “to take one’s business to market”. It was derived some centuries ago by the literal act of taking one’s business to market in the form of a stall, for example. You presented your goods in such a way as to make as many sales at as high a price as you could achieve. You, as the product maker, were the brand.

That’s what we mean by marketing. It is an umbrella term for all activities. So, how does one go about defining what PR is? The standard explanation in the marketing industry is that “advertising is paid media and public relations is earned media”. This is not strictly true, but it is certainly along the right lines.

PR used to be all about trying to get your name mentioned in printed magazines and newspapers but, about 25 years ago, the digital world was born and has steadily become more and more important to the point now that many physical media are now in genuine financial peril.

Companies that are not already household names can more easily earn visibility in established national media publications, but often have to pay for an advertorial unless they have got a very unique and exciting story to tell – advertorials give the impression of being written independently by press journalists, but they are in fact created by PR people, paid for by the client and simply published by the medium with little or no editorial input.

There’s no such thing as a free meal either. PR strategies such as corporate hospitality cost quite a lot of money – as do all forms of live events, be they product launches, industry workshops, breakfast seminars, corporate exhibitions or channel conferences. So you will need to invest marketing funds to achieve your PR objectives. In other words, PR is most definitely not free! What about social media? To get a mention from social influencers will almost certainly require some form of financial exchange. Successful press releases often demand an investment in some form of guerrilla event or outlandish promotion to make them sufficiently newsworthy to stand out from the crowd.

So, to say PR is totally free is not true – but to pay for PR does not make it bad or wrong, but it is important to understand that it is not the white-hatted wizard of the marketing mix that is free, free, free. It is not, not, not.

This is not true in every case. There are some genuine bloggers, vloggers, and social influencers out there who do herald brands without compensation. And some companies can get free PR if they find the right angle. But it is rare.

Therefore, in the age of “money or nothing”, PR is not often without cost. Yes, journalism in both press and digital arenas has space for authentic, free, positive brand exposure. But that is not necessarily a strategy – it is either lucky timing or amazing innovation.

Marketing Agencies v PR Agencies

There is a crossover between what a marketing agency delivers and what a PR agency provides. Whilst both eulogise brands, they have different approaches to reach the same goals.

It is true to say that PR people approach briefs from one angle, and marketing consultants approach the same projects from a different perspective. It is down to how the head works. Both are important.

At Abacus Marketing, we have come to the conclusion, after many years of experimenting with different approaches, that a truly integrated marketing campaign has to provide a solution that includes expertise within both marketing consultancy and PR expertise.

With this in mind, we always bring in a specialist PR expert to assist with the delivery of any elements of a marketing strategy where we believe a public relations agency mindset will add value to the overall strategic proposition.

Also, to a large extent, PR delivery is an industry sector-led skill. That means that one ideally needs to work with a consultative PR specialist who can apply their experience and expertise to any project at a top-line level, but also engage a PR agency which has access to the right media people within a specific industry sector.

Our remit is to recruit the right PR team to create the overall strategy, and then to work with a PR firm with knowledge of your marketplace to deliver the best possible results.

What is the goal of PR?

The ultimate objective of PR is to promote a company (aka a brand) and build awareness, trust, credibility and authority around its products or services. It’s about giving your brand exposure to your target audience through various offline and online engagements. And the growth of social media means brands have to be genuinely ethical to be more successful.

Edelman’s Trust barometer reveals that 81% of consumers say they must be able to trust a brand to do what is right. A significant quote from the report reads:

“A good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it.”

Crucially, 67% of respondents agreed with this statement. Clearly, it is vitally important to earn consumer trust which, in turn, underscores the importance of integrating PR into your overall marketing strategy.

A good example of this sentiment is search results. Almost 88% of search engine users favour organic results over paid ads (PPC).

Online PR v Offline PR (in a nutshell)

Traditional PR channels include:

  • TV
  • Radio
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Speaking engagements
  • Networking
  • Trade shows
  • Hosted events
  • Sponsorship

Online PR channels include:

  • Website/blog
  • Social media accounts
  • Forums
  • Discussion boards
  • Customer review sites (TripAdvisor, Foursquare etc.)
  • Video content (e.g. viral campaigns)
  • Press releases
  • PR outreach (guest posting)
  • Influencer marketing
  • User-generated content
  • Social proofing
  • Word of mouth advertising
  • Online magazines
  • Online newspapers

PR Outreach

One way to gain exposure for your brand is to expand your online visibility. Alongside professional journalists, bloggers, vloggers and social media influencers have built an audience and earned a reputation as experts in their field. Consumers trust what these people have to say. Their opinions and recommendations can carry a lot of weight.

PR outreach is essentially broken down into three strategies: press releases, guest posting and influencer marketing.

Press releases are not a standalone strategy, but a PR tactic that can give you a lot of exposure with authoritative news channels. News aggregator sites such as PR Newswire, Business Wire and 24-7 Press Release also rank highly in search results.

The best outcome when publishing a press release is to get your story picked up by a journalist who works for a mainstream newspaper or magazine. However, this is rare, unless you are an established brand or a start-up with a completely unique angle, so don’t bank on it as being a guaranteed result of your PR activities.

The alternative is to pitch your story to niche-focused journalists. PR professionals who have built up relationships with publications that cover your industry or market segment can be very effective.

Print magazines and newspapers have an editorial calendar. Timing, therefore, can be a crucial factor. If you have a story that is focused on a topic they intend to publish, you could receive some excellent exposure.

Bear in mind that editors plan their media content well in advance, typically three to six months before an edition is readied for print and publication. When researching potential media, make sure that your pitch concept falls into the relevant time spot. Timing plans are usually provided on their websites.

Guest Posting

A simpler method of publishing content on third-party sites is guest posting. This involves approaching bloggers and lesser-known online magazines.

Even still, many guest posting opportunities position your brand in front of a sizeable audience. In addition, the audience typically consists of consumers who have a vested interest in your product or services.

At the very least, bloggers will provide you with a ‘do=follow’ backlink. This will help to improve your SEO ranking and give you more visibility in search engines for related keywords.

Search engines rely on weighing the value of backlinks to rank websites in terms of trust, relevance and authority. Bloggers and online magazines which regularly publish high-quality content are deemed to be reliable markers by search engine robots when fed into their complex algorithms. Inbound links coming from these websites, therefore, give your website a higher credibility score, and normally lead to a higher ranking in organic search results.

Google et al also reward high performing websites with domain authority. Backlinks from websites with a higher domain authority carry more weight towards your website credibility score. Ideally, you should look to be publishing content on websites with a domain authority score above 70 if possible – but certainly no lower than 30 (unless it is free).

In today’s climate, it is very rare that you will find guest posting opportunities that are free. Most website owners charge, and the higher their domain authority is, the higher the fee is likely to be. Recognised publications such as Forbes, Huffington Post and Entrepreneur charge upwards of £1,000 to publish one article.

Influencer Outreach

In recent years, one of the most reliable and effective methods of PR outreach has been to tap into the followers of credible social media influencers.

report published by TapInfluence showed influencer-led marketing is 11 times more effective than traditional channels of digital marketing. That’s an impressive stat, and although we are always cynical about such metrics, they do prove a point if not a fact.

The advantage of social influencers for brands is that they normally amass an audience of likeminded people interested in specific subject matter (such as sports, interests and hobbies). Niche brands are now able to take advantage of a ready-made audience that – to some extent – trusts the advice of social media personalities.

Trust is the keyword here. Influencer content has to be perceived to be authentic, or consumers will ignore the brands they mention (or worse, distrust them by inference). And consumers can often tell when influencers are being disingenuous or lying.

A spate of controversies in the last few years has rocked the influencer market. Reports of influencer fraud and repetitive influencer posts have created a culture of distrust around this otherwise effective marketing channel.

However, on closer inspection, the influencer marketing scandals typically surround celebrities or brands that consumers question anyway. The feedback in retrospective surveys cannot always be reliable as it tends to be subjective to some degree.

Having said that, it is the responsibility of brands to provide transparency to the public. In accordance with directives issued by Advertising Standards, influencers are now obliged in the UK to declare when they have been paid by a brand, or if they have some form of affiliation with them.

Before diving into influencer marketing, you also need to know who the best influencers are for you to work with. Best practice includes seeking a level of assurance regarding the number of genuine followers they have, how many engage in their posts, and any other brands they are promoting.

Macro influencers

Better known as celebrities, macro influencers are social media celebrities who have at least 10,000 followers. The official definition of a macro influencer is somebody who is considered an “expert in their field”, yet we all know that some social celebrities mention brand names in exchange for money without any specific knowhow or expertise.

Celebrity endorsement can work, as long as you get the right person to promote your brand, and create a strategy that delivers an authentic message to your audience.

Micro influencers

Micro influencers are social media starlets with up to 10,000 followers. They typically focus on niche markets and publish high-quality content that engages a genuine audience.

Because micro influencers are generally considered an authority in their area – and honest – they are often the ideal target group, especially for SMEs. Even global brands are steering more resource towards micro influencers, because they deliver word-of-mouth advertising that is strategically efficient and efficacious.

Nano influencers

At the bottom end of the scale, but by no means the weakest form of influencer marketing (that trophy goes to celebrities), are nano influencers.

This group have fewer followers but do not command hefty fees. Some nano influencers won’t ask for anything more than the product you send them to review.

Moreover, nano influencers are generally open and honest with their audience. In order to build their own reputation, it is in their best interests to do the right thing. Such transparency obviously works in the favour of brands.

User-generated content (UGC)

User-generated content is one of the most cost-effective PR strategies in the marketing mix. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of word-of-mouth advertising, but in the form of “how to” videos, independent reviews or brand-channel feedback.

Whilst content created by your customers is rarely polished, its strength lies in its authenticity. This alone dramatically leverages your trust barometer. Genuine content crafted by people outside the brand naturally carries a lot of weight.

Essentially, UGC generates social proof and humanises your product. Prospective customers can see how other people are benefiting and it helps your prospects connect with the product.

Because UGC drives engagement and increases sales, a PR strategist will encourage your existing customers to leave comments or send in their videos when they make a sale (although this is often actually delivered by a sophisticated CRM system).

Of course, there are examples of companies that abuse review systems. You only have to look at some of the reviews you see on Amazon to confirm this point.

The bottom line

Public relations is an important part of the marketing mix for many organisations. We have sought in this article to explain the confusion that is often felt in the marketplace between PR and marketing. To be clear, PR is a marketing medium. To use the alpaca/llama analogy, all PR is marketing, but not all marketing is PR. And just like any marketing media, PR requires specific skills, experience and expertise – a PR plan is best created by a PR consultant with cross-sector experience, and best delivered by a PR team with industry-specific knowhow.

PR agency in London

Looking for a PR agency in London? Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about who we are and how we can help. We offer a two-hour marketing consultation without cost or obligation at a venue of your choice to discuss any marketing challenges you are facing.

  • Please call us on 020 3858 7868
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