Not only must the company relate constructively to customers, suppliers, and dealers, it must also relate to a large number of interested publics. A public is any group that has an actual or potential interest in or impact on a company’s ability to achieve its objectives. Public relations (PR) includes a variety of programs to promote or protect a company’s image or individual products.
The wise company takes concrete steps to manage successful relationships with its key publics. Most have a public relations department that monitors the attitudes of the organization’s publics and distributes information and communications to build goodwill. The best PR departments counsel top management to adopt positive programs and eliminate questionable practices so negative publicity doesn’t arise in the first place. They perform the following five functions:
- Press relations—Presenting news and information about the organization in the most positive light
- Product publicity—Sponsoring efforts to publicize specific products
- Corporate communications—Promoting understanding of the organization through internal and external communications
- Lobbying—Dealing with legislators and government officials to promote or defeat legislation and regulation
- Counseling—Advising management about public issues as well as company positions and image during good times and bad
1. MARKETING PUBLIC RELATIONS
Many companies are turning to marketing public relations (MPR) to support corporate or product promotion and image making. MPR, like financial PR and community PR, serves a special constituency, the marketing department.
The old name for MPR was publicity, the task of securing editorial space—as opposed to paid space—in print and broadcast media to promote or hype a product, service, idea, place, person, or organization. MPR goes beyond simple publicity and plays an important role in the following tasks:
- Launching new products. The amazing one-time commercial success of toys such as LeapFrog, Beanie Babies, and Silly Bandz owes a great deal to strong publicity.
- Repositioning mature products. In a classic PR case study, New York City had extremely bad press in the 1970s until the “I Love New York” campaign.
- Building interest in a product category. Companies and trade associations have used MPR to rebuild interest in declining commodities such as eggs, milk, beef, and potatoes and to expand consumption of such products as tea, pork, and orange juice.
- Influencing specific target groups. McDonald’s sponsors special neighborhood events in Latino and African American communities to build goodwill.
- Defending products that have encountered public problems. PR professionals must be adept at managing crises, such as those weathered by such well-established brands as Tylenol, Toyota, and BP in recent years.
- Building the corporate image in a way that reflects favorably on its products. The late Steve Jobs’s heavily anticipated Macworld keynote speeches helped to create an innovative, iconoclastic image for Apple Corporation.
As the power of mass advertising weakens, marketing managers are turning to MPR to build awareness and brand knowledge for both new and established products. MPR is also effective in blanketing local communities and reaching specific groups, and it can be more cost-effective than advertising. Increasingly, MPR takes place online, but it must be planned jointly with advertising and other marketing communications.75
Clearly, creative public relations can affect public awareness at a fraction of the cost of advertising. The company doesn’t pay for media space or time but only for a staff to develop and circulate stories and manage certain events. An interesting story picked up by the media can be worth millions of dollars in equivalent advertising. Some experts say consumers are five times more likely to be influenced by editorial copy than by advertising. The following is an example of an award-winning PR campaign.76
MEOW MIX A heritage brand, Meow Mix Cat Food decided to tap into its roots and bring back one of its most identifiable brand elements—a jingle with repetitive meow refrain that had been off the air for 16 years. Marketers chose singer and TV reality coach CeeLo Green and his Persian cat Purrfect to do the honors. The video with Green singing a remixed version of the jingle in a duet with Purrfect garnered attention from all kinds of outlets. The story received 1,200 media placements and 535 million media impressions, including exclusives with AP and Access Hollywood. Web traffic for the brand rose 150 percent, and more than 10,000 fans downloaded the song or ringtone. For each download, a pound of Meow Mix was donated to a local pet charity in Los Angeles.
2. MAJOR DECISIONS IN MARKETING PR
In considering when and how to use MPR, management must establish the marketing objectives, choose the PR messages and vehicles, implement the plan, and evaluate the results. The main tools of MPR are described in Table 20.6.
ESTABLISHING OBJECTIVES MPR can build awareness by placing stories in the media to bring attention to a product, service, person, organization, or idea. It can build credibility by communicating the message in an editorial context. It can help boost sales force and dealer enthusiasm with stories about a new product before it is launched. It can hold down promotion cost because MPR costs less than direct-mail and media advertising.
A good MPR campaign can achieve multiple objectives. With its reputation slipping, Cisco launched “The Comeback Kid Initiative” to rebuild faith in its corporate vision and leadership. Raising the profile of key global executives, creating two timely global research studies, and showcasing some of its own technological products and solutions contributed to a 25 percent increase in stock valuation, an 11 percent increase in sales revenue, and a 15 percent boost in employee confidence.77
CHOOSING MESSAGES AND VEHICLES Suppose a relatively unknown college wants more visibility. The MPR practitioner will search for stories. Are any faculty members working on unusual projects? Are any new and unusual courses being taught? Are any interesting events taking place on campus? If there are no interesting stories, the MPR practitioner should propose newsworthy events the college could sponsor. Here the challenge is to create meaningful news. PR ideas include hosting major academic conventions, inviting expert or celebrity speakers, and developing news conferences. Each event and activity is an opportunity to develop a multitude of stories directed at different audiences.
Whereas PR practitioners reach their target publics through the mass media, MPR is increasingly borrowing the techniques and technology of online and direct-response marketing to reach target-audience members one on one.
IMPLEMENTING THE PLAN AND EVALUATING RESULTS MPR’s contribution to the bottom line is difficult to measure because MPR is used along with other promotional tools. The easiest gauge of its effectiveness is the number of exposures carried by the media. Publicists supply their client with a clippings book showing all the media that carried news about the product and a summary statement such as the following:
Media coverage included 3,500 column inches of news and photographs in 350 publications with a combined circulation of 79.4 million; 2,500 minutes of air time on 290 radio stations and an estimated audience of 65 million; and 660 minutes of air time on 160 television stations with an estimated audience of 91 million. If this time and space had been purchased at advertising rates, it would have amounted to $1,047,000.78
This measure is not very satisfying because it contains no indication of how many people actually read, heard, or recalled the message and what they thought afterward; nor does it contain information about the net audience reached because publications overlap in readership. It also ignores the effects of electronic media. Publicity’s goal is reach, not frequency, so it would be more useful to know the number of unduplicated exposures across all media types.
A better measure is the change in product awareness, comprehension, or attitude resulting from the MPR campaign (after accounting for the effect of other promotional tools as well as possible). For example, how many people recall hearing the news item? How many told others about it (a measure of word of mouth)? How many changed their minds after hearing it?
Source: Kotler Philip T., Keller Kevin Lane (2015), Marketing Management, Pearson; 15th Edition.