Public relations firm owner and expert Jason Mudd lays it on the line
Public relations is experiencing an identity crisis. Ironic as that might be, I’ve been saying it for over almost two decades.
Few aside from professional insiders and smart executives understand what exactly public relations is and does. Most business executives that I meet know they need and want PR; they just aren’t sure what it is, how it works, where to start or how to get there. They do know good PR is good, and people tell them they should have or they deserve PR.
So what happened? Why the less-than-sterling reputation for the industry? The whole thing is almost like some urban legend: intangible, invisible, hocus-pocus.
I think I know the reasons:
1. Public relations professionals are generally helpful and resourceful individuals. They like to say “yes” – yes to being helpful, even if that means taking on responsibilities that they aren’t properly trained for or proficient in. This might include designing a company brochure, marketing piece, print advertisement, television commercial or company video. Sure, these are tactics and activities that a good PR person might make contributions and recommendations toward, but any given PR professional probably hasn’t mastered the full inventory of skills to produce a masterpiece of such on his own. Instead, PR pros should be involved in those projects as consultants, offering input and guidance throughout the process.
2. Unlike their advertising peers (and this is a generalization), some PR pros, in my experience, aren’t motivated by money, aren’t comfortable with math, numbers or budgets and prefer to avoid responsibilities, confrontations and negotiations over money, budgets and financials. This may or may not be a reason why those PR professionals pursued PR careers instead of advertising careers.
3. The public relations industry associations and universities don’t help. They provide training and post jobs for fundraisers, event managers, webmasters, copywriters, graphic designers, video editors and video producers. This deludes PR’s brand by causing confusion in the marketplace and among those outside the profession.
Why don’t companies invest more in their public relations efforts?
As the owner of a public relations firm, I’m challenged every day to educate new and potential clients about public relations and the power of PR.
Most prospective clients don’t really know or understand public relations.
Some have been burnt by an unqualified PR freelancer or firm, by a negative experience with the media or other PR activity.
Some companies just think that the best marketing in life is PR and that PR should be free.
Great public relations is never free; it’s earned and deserved through hard work and smart strategy. And it’s much less expensive than advertising.
To that end, I've determined that a real public relations problem is lack of investment. Some companies spend so little on PR that it’s unreasonable for them to be surprised when it doesn’t work. Morris Hite, famous for saying, “I know half my advertising works, I just don’t know which half,” had another great quote:
“There is more money wasted in advertising by underspending than by overspending. Years ago, someone said that underspending in advertising is like buying a ticket halfway to Europe: You’ve spent your money, and you never get there.”
This quote also applies to public relations and other business investments.
How much should a company spend on PR?
In our research, along with research from the University of Southern California, we have found that established companies are investing as much as one percent and as little as one percent of one percent of total revenue on their public relations programs. However, small businesses and startups with zero revenue likely have to spend greater percentages in order to gain initial launch credibility, visibility, awareness and reputation. These companies must fight a difficult opponent: obscurity. For an idea of what PR spending looks like for companies of your size or companies in your industry, check out “What companies spend on PR.”
The larger the company, the larger its PR investment. Even the companies that opt to staff internal PR departments are big spenders when it comes to investing in outside PR firms. So lesson learned: The larger a company is and the larger its internal PR investment, the more it invests in PR on the whole.
For the record, while every PR campaign is different and requires a custom solution, our average PR client invests six figures annually with our public relations programs.
Over the years, I’ve met many successful people who have no clue about public relations, but they know they need it. Do you think we’d know the name Donald Trump if he didn’t believe in public relations?
Public relations is not customer service; it’s not about being good with people. It’s about a mutually beneficial relationship with key audiences – customers, shareholders, industry, community, government, vendors, etc. – and an organization or individual.
Public relations is the bridge connecting and communicating companies and organizations to their important communities and audiences.
Everyone can benefit from public relations. Not everyone can afford to do it at a high level.
Why do individuals invest so little in PR?
Not everyone can afford to invest in PR, and some prefer to do it themselves. The issue is that as an individual, you lack credibility, tact and experience doing it on your own. Your time and efforts are truly better spent leading and directing the organization and building your customer base. Let the PR expert take care of your PR needs.
In addition, intraprenuers (entrepreneurs nested within corporations who are empowered – on their own or by management – for turning ideas into profitable finished products), consultants and company employees would benefit from using PR to build their brands and reputations. This may include speaking and presenting to company leadership teams, high-profile company events, industry conferences, business luncheons and community events. In addition, up-and-coming executives and subject matter experts can speak to industry trade media, city business journals, general business media and business magazines to share their views and opinions, providing commentary on news topics, issues and trends.
Consider creating your own blog to share your ideas, innovations and thought-leadership. Use microblogging via Twitter to build your audience and influence while promoting your blog posts, article contributions and other ideas.
Serve on high-profile boards and volunteer committees to increase your brand and visibility within the company, community and industry.
Similarly, submit to award and recognition programs that recognize you and your company for leadership, community service, employment practices, growth, ethics, customer satisfaction, customer service and innovation.
Some of this you can do on your own. Otherwise, befriend someone in your company’s PR department and hire a solo PR person to moonlight or freelance. Just remember that a freelancer isn’t a PR firm.
If your business is serious about PR, don’t waste your time and investment on a freelance public relations professional. Use a PR company. Companies have collective intelligence, access, resources, contacts and relationships that will benefit you over the years.
Oh, and hiring a firm is so much less expensive than the hidden costs of doing PR in-house. Read about it at http://www.axiapr.com/public-relations-pricing-calculator.
Do you agree? Please share your feedback below.
– Jason Mudd, APR, is CEO of Axia Public Relations. He is an Emmy Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national and emerging brands such as American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, Brightway Insurance, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, It Works!, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles, Southern Comfort, Verizon and more. Connect with Jason on Twitter at @jasonmudd9 and Axia Public Relations at @axiapr. Be sure to tweet and share your thoughts below. We’ll read and respond to each of them.photo credit: Intersection Consulting via photopin cc