PR as a function of Marketing – a few experiences

I started off as a sales guy in a Yellow Pages company after a graduation in Physics. Can’t get any confusing right? Okay, I concede. But I have considered myself to be a people person and found a decent foothold in Tata Press Limited selling Yellow Pages space to retail shops across Mount Road in Chennai. That’s when my first brush with PR happened.

Tata Press was a new entrant and the existing offering was the bulky directory + Yellow Pages from the Government owned telephone company MTNL. The then branch manager had a few journalist friends with whom he discussed few facts. The result? An article in the newspaper that the MTNL Yellow Pages are actually not reaching everyone. Not a great article, but had some reach nonetheless.

We all carried a copy of the news article neatly laminated and showed it around proudly while selling Tata Press Yellow Pages.

Today PR is an integral part of my life. Especially because of the industry I work with and the crisis that the industry had faced in the last couple of years. As is my policy, I would not write about financial services industry, but I would like to share a few thoughts here.

I have never been formally trained in PR as an activity. I have learnt only through my experiences of building relationships with journalists in my category and also by virtue of handling Public Relations agencies.

What it takes to have a decent PR Campaign?

PR can be a fantastic horse to ride on when the markets are not exactly supportive. So when the budgets are low, it would make sense to flog the PR campaign hard to achieve brand salience results. However, it is important to have a proper PR strategy in place.

PR is a support function for most organizations. And the PR strategy must always shadow the overall Marketing Strategy. For instance, if a brand is supposed to stand for ‘trust’, then the marketing as well as the PR campaign would have to echo the same message albeit in a different way or to different set of people.

Extending the thought further, if the Marketing campaign is communicating to a larger audience (read: consumers), the PR campaign may restrict itself to a finite audience viz., distributor, C&F agents, dealers, journalists etc. So the PR strategy mirrors the marketing strategy and compliments it through its life.

The function of PR has extended a lot further from just being in touch with the journalists, getting interviews for the company spokespeople and ensuring that the same gets published. Today, the PR function manages not just media, but stretches into distribution management, relationship with vendors, event management, social media, online reputation management etc. Another key element of PR is Crisis Management. It is the job of the Crisis Management Cell of the PR function to handle issues and alleviate the negative outcomes of such events.

Let us take an example from a recent past event. I had written about the Dove Vs Pantene controversy in a recent post. I had also mentioned about the role of PR in the same post. I hadn’t dealt in detail, so we can take that as an example here. What would been the list of activities for the PR Agency in this case? Read Day 2 of this post.

Post the briefing by the marketing team, the PR agency would have swung into action in drafting a well worded press release. The press release would have data to prove that the competition is using an irrelevant research which doesn’t make any sense in India. The release would include photographs of the campaign by Dove as against Pantene. The boiler plate of the release would contain the contact details of all spokespeople from HUL.

The team compiles the list of journalists to be contacted in parallel and ensures that the kits are ready to be sent out to each of them so that the stories can be filed on time.

In parallel, they would have briefed the spokespeople on the following:

  • List of journalists contacted
  • Talk points if any call happens
  • Key messages that needs to be emphasized on
  • Data for any cross questioning that happens

All data including the press release is shared with the key journalists first and then with the wires so that it can be carried across the web by marketing related websites. Constant follow ups and brilliant relationships with the journalists ensure the best coverage for the brand.

There is of course more to PR which will be part of this blogathon soon.

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