Did you know there is something out there with the potential to supercharge your business more than advertising ever could? 

Well, there is, and it’s free! It’s public relations, and your business can’t live without it.

So why is public relations so important for businesses? Click here to find out everything you need to know.

Public Relations: More Than Just Advertising

So what does P.R. mean? Public relations (P.R.) is the strategic way a company communicates its message to the public. P.R. is the oxygen that brings in new followers and keeps existing ones coming back.

Public relations can be live events, such as networking or community relations events. Nowadays, the most successful P.R. campaigns involve the public interacting with your product, service, or message creatively, then sharing it with the world via a social media platform. 

The importance of public relations is that it is more than just advertising. P.R. often comes attached at the hip to paid ad campaigns. However, the most successful P.R. doesn’t stop at commercials.

There is an interactive element to the most successful P.R. campaigns, making them more effective than advertising. By some estimates, P.R. can be 96% more effective than traditional paid advertising.

The reason? You can’t buy the direct, genuine public interface that you can get with P.R., and this sincerity resonates with people at a deeper level.

Every organization, from veteran businesses to startups to non-profits, can benefit significantly from a well-executed P.R. campaign. You may recall some of the most successful and creative P.R. efforts of the recent past.

The #icebucket Challenge

The “ice bucket challenge” was put on by the A.L.S. Foundation. You remember this one, right?! Pretty straightforward: film a bucket of ice getting dumped on you then post the video with the appropriate hashtag.

After the Summer of 2016, when this campaign trended, the A.L.S. Foundation raised over $115 million to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (A.L.S.), also known as Lou Gerig’s disease.

Proctor and Gamble’s “Toughest Job” Campaign

In the run-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, Proctor and Gamble launched its campaign to honor motherhood. The campaign’s anchor ad shows the daily challenges of raising a child, then finishes with real footage of Olympians saluting their moms after they’ve won. 

The campaign continued throughout the Olympics with online videos titled “Raising an Olympian,” which told the stories of the mothers of Olympic athletes. 

Coca-Cola’s “Summer of Sharing”

In the Sumer of 2014, Coca Cola began printing first names on their 20 oz bottles. Instead of the iconic logo, you could get a bottle with Hadley, Rebecca, Noah, or Cyrus printed on it. 

Reeking of social-media potential, the campaign garnered millions of posts by customers who were creating a personalized brand experience; people gifted bottles to friends and held on to them as keepsakes.

Dorito’s “Crash the Superbowl” Campaign

In the decade between 2006 and 2016, Doritos’ launched one of the most popular interactive ad campaigns in history. It’s “Crash the Superbowl” campaign had people make their own Doritos ad, and the winner would earn a spot in the coveted Superbowl ad space.

Entries of every level of quality flooded in and were almost always hilarious. Many attribute the $1 billion increase in the company’s valuation to this integral P.R. campaign.

Virgin Train’s “Avocard”

Probably one of the more bizarre P.R. stunts of the recent past, Virgin Train offered thirty percent off its usual fair for anyone who brought in an avocado. That’s right, an avocado. 

The intention was to include passengers who had missed out on purchasing a railcard, which had recently sold out. As you might imagine, the effort dominated social media and local newspapers, at least for a minute.

The Main Difference

So what did each of these campaigns accomplish that traditional advertising never could? 

P.R. campaigns entice the public to promote your company. Instead of a paid actor regurgitating your message or pitching your product, real people, on their own volition, vouch for your brand.

Companies know that they can’t buy this type of grassroots promotion, which is why you tend to see P.R. operations take more significant risks. Erasing the line between your company’s message and real people is paramount for any good P.R. campaign. 

As a result, P.R. enterprises tend to be more creative, funny, and sometimes discomforting. All-in-all, effective P.R. attempts to be more “real,” which it cannot accomplish without engaging real users.

Despite the sense of openness a P.R. campaign conveys, it’s important to remember that tons of research goes into a successful P.R. effort. The importance of research in public relations is critical for success. A step-by-step Public Relations Guide is one of the best places to start if your company is looking at ways to engage its audience.

Why is Public Relations So Important? 

An effectively-managed P.R. campaign can bring many benefits to a company. Here are the five most significant gains from a P.R. campaign a company an expect.

1. Reputation Management

Whether a business is trying to cleanse itself of some bad publicity or burnish its image, P.R. allows a company to leverage its reputation. 

What better way to influence how the public is talking about you than to promote real people talking tooting your horn? That is what P.R. does. It lets a company control its narrative in the public sphere.

What makes public relations so unique is that it centers itself around the user experience. The third-party stamp of approval from actual users goes far beyond most forms of advertising, even testimonials.

The public sees people just like them interacting with the product (as in the Doritos campaign), so whatever they say comes across as more “objective.” Product praises seep into the public sphere of opinion like a sticky song lyric. This perceived objectivity is not something you can buy with ads. There is no better reputation management tool out there than a well-crafted P.R. campaign.

2. Promote Brand Values

As in the case of Proctor and Gambles Olympic moms campaign, a brand can use P.R. to promote its values. Not only did Proctor and Gamble want us to know that they respect motherhood, but they also wanted us to see the role their product played in the Olympian journey towards greatness.

As ambitious as the campaign was, there are other, milder ways a P.R. campaign can work to promote brand values.

  • Influencer Connections. Social media influencers walk the line between paid actors and true-to-life users. A brand can leverage influencers to promote, not only their goods but their message.
  • Direct Networking Strategies. Aside from an ad campaign, direct networking can work to promote a brand’s ethical values. An in-person networking strategy can be even more useful as P.R. for local businesses. A good example is if a small business sets up a raffle or an interactive booth at an event thats promoting a cause (for example, voter registration or anti-police brutality) that it wants to identify itself with.

As a company, what you believe in matters; your P.R. campaign should reflect and amplify those values.

3. Enhance Online Presence

Each of the examples listed above showed one common, tangible benefit of a robust P.R. campaign: enhanced online presence.

Whether it was the Coca-Cola campaign or the Doritos Superbowl campaign, companies tend to experience an avalanche of online exposure. From website visits to social media likes and shares, a P.R. campaign can only grow a company’s web presence. 

Whether sales are anemic, reputation tarnished, or if a company wants to stay in the game, a well-researched, well-executed P.R. campaign can give a genuine boost to a company’s online persona.

4. Broadens Reach

A company may use a P.R. campaign to preach to the choir, or it may want to gain new followers. P.R. efforts can extend a company’s reach like few other efforts. 

Why? Again, it’s all about the interactiveness. When P.R. is fun and engaging, it soon catches on (or even goes viral!). People who never cared about your brand before might join in just to be part of the bandwagon.

Smart PR campaigns make themselves trendy, and who doesn’t love riding the cool bus?

It’s safe to presume that not everyone who created a Dorito’s ad for the Superbowl was a raving Doritos muncher. People who didn’t enjoy–or even eat–Doritos made an ad for the “Crash the Superbowl” campaign. The opportunity to show up on millions of screens on Superbowl Sunday was just too good to pass up!

Everyone knows someone who did the ice bucket challenge. People who had never even heard of A.L.S., much less had their lives affected by it, found themselves drenched in ice water in front of a camera.

The beauty of these campaigns is that they make it fun and exciting for the average Joe to use your brand or relay its message. P.R. can make it possible to widen a brand’s audience, assuring that it will find new users, even across generations.

5. Strengthens Community Relations

A P.R. campaign’s ultimate goal should be to strengthen ties with its community. Trustworthiness is at the heart of brand value, and there’s no better way to earn an audience’s trust than to enhance relations with the community.

While traditional advertising can supplement P.R. activities, one of the best ways a company can strengthen its ties to a community is with intermediaries.

Social Media Influencers Aside, Some Examples Of An Intermediary Include:

  • Real customers
  • Real employees
  • Trendsetters
  • Analysts or industry spokespersons

Whoever the intermediary is, they must be able to move your audience. Often, the best way to choose an intermediary is through market research and focus groups.

Once chosen, the intermediary can make valuable inroads into a company’s audience, strengthening community ties with its core users. 

One of the most potent examples of the use of intermediaries in P.R. is Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty.” Started in the early 2000s, Dove aimed to showcase and celebrate what real women look like in everyday life.

Breaking free from rigid beauty constraints helped Dove connect with a vast swath of its female audience. Most other beauty brands had been alienating women through the use of models (and not just models, but photoshopped faces).

The intermediaries? Real looking women from all walks of life. Not only were Dove’s commercials made up of everyday women, but the outreach included self-image workshops for young women and girls. 

P.R. Is (Mostly) Free

One of the great things about a P.R. campaign is that it’s free at its core.

Whatever money Dove, Coca-Cola, Doritos, or the A.L.S. Foundation spent on advertising did not inherently skyrocket with the addition of a public relations arm. 

Doritos would have paid the tens of millions to get an ad on the Superbowl; Coca-Cola would still have paid to make labels on its 20 oz bottles; Dove would still have created paid commercial advertisements.

Each of these companies just decided to make the marketing engage with the community at a more personal level; the extra cost came in the form of creative juices alone.

And the cost to the A.L.S. Foundation to have people dump icy water on their friends and film it? That probably didn’t cost a whole lot!

Also, keep in mind that the Dove, Coca-Cola, and Doritos campaigns were massive, multi-million dollar ad campaigns with a personalized brand boost. Take PR to the local or regional level, and more traditional P.R. practices like events, news stories, or speaking engagements cost nothing.

Have Others Sing Your Praises

So why is public relations so important? When you sing your own praises through advertising, people tend to tune out.

When others sing your praises, like with a P.R. campaign, people tend to do the opposite. They pay attention!

Never underestimate the power of other people putting in a good word for you from across the hall. That’s the power of a P.R. campaign.