Over the several years, while interviewing candidates, one question I always ask – what according to you is PR, followed by why do you want to be in PR or why do you think you would be good in PR.
Increasingly, the answers have been veering towards ‘communicating brand benefits, letting ‘people’ know about the brand, crisis management, etc. and when delved in deeper the response indicates a miraculous ability to convince the ‘masses’ to buy a product/service.
The reason they are in PR or would be good in is 8/10 times ‘because I love speaking to people and meeting people.’
The struggle of organisations, agencies and journalists in dealing with PR executives begins from this gap in the understanding of what PR is and their role.
I personally prefer the definition by PRSA, which is as follows:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics.”
At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across a myriad of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organisation.
As a management function, public relations also encompasses the following:
That definition at its core has the premise of needing a deep understanding of various stakeholders that have an influence on the company, its survival and success. To build, nurture and enhance reputations of organisation through strategic communications, well-crafted messaging can only begin with the in-depth understanding of company’s true objectives and issues in the context of the environment in which it operates and the audiences it needs to reach.
Given the depth of insights that is required to ensure effective strategic communication RESEARCH is the critical aspect of Public Relations program that can make or break it.
Research begins with:
The methodology of research can vary on the depth and breadth of the project on hand and its complexity- however time and resources cannot be reasons for shortcuts- it would need more creative ways to do the same.
Research and media relations
If PR is being taken seriously and executed strategically, ongoing research is used to be updated of changes in any of the above insights . From something as simple as keeping a track of changing beats of journalists to changing journalists in beats; reading up on research on new consumer and user trends; reading newspapers and magazines on daily basis and attending exhibitions and conferences on-going research keeps the PR strategy updated and alive.
One of my pet peeves is communication professionals who do not like to read news, or read articles of journalists whom they are going to pitch to. Agencies and organisations build separate research teams and media tracking teams – so that executives – get the databases given to them in excel sheet.
The only way for a PR executive to understand context is by reading the article in the context and in the location it is placed. Smart PR executives can gain a wealth of understanding from ongoing study of this.
Journalists screaming at PR executives for lack of understanding what they do – happens because of the lack of research by PR executives on this simple and essential PR activity.
Research and Planning
Successful PR execution depends on a variety of external factors. From events on ground to social media events- insights from the past, and existing factors that can influence can be figured from simple ‘reading newspapers’ to google search; dip stick studies to stakeholder perception; employee feedback to channel feedback. The ‘habit’ of Research makes the difference in successful execution.
Complex Strategic Communications
CSR, Community relation, Change management, Employee Communication, IPO, Mergers & Acquisition, Investor communications, Crisis communications need not only extensive research but also need experienced PR professionals with the expertise to understand the complexities. This experience comes with years and years of research and analysis of research findings.
Tools for Research
There are extremely professional intelligence firms like Meltwater that use the power of AI to provide advanced media monitoring, social listening, social media management, Analytics and Influencer Engagement tools. For organisations with the budget they should be used. But one must remember that any tool is as good as the seriousness for gaining insights, as well as the honed skill of the PR practitioners to analyse the pieces of information that research provides, the deep insight into the company/brand issues and objectives.
In an unpredictive and complex world that we live in PR practitioners have to be tuned in – that is after all when the magic of communication begins.
– Meera Tenguria
Meera is a Communications Strategist with over 20 years of experience and a strong track record in corporate strategy including Corporate Communications, Crisis Communications, Stakeholder Communications, Brand Management, Social Media, Content Strategy, Sustainability & CSR Communication. She is the founder of Aarohan Communications, a strategic consulting firm in India, she has also worked with Global PR firms Good Relations and in a leadership position Weber Shandwick, India. She is a consultant for CSR Mandate, A CSR publication.
She can be reached at @meeratenguria on Twitter