When I first started working in PR (in 1997) I remember coming across a definition of public relations – the practice of managing communication between an organisation and its publics. When I recited this to people it was usually met with a nod and ‘oh right’. The CIPR website quotes a description now which is thankfully more meaningful – “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.”
What others say about you is the key thing here and you can only hope to influence that if you’ve got your ducks in row. You need to get your messages right.
You’ll hear people say ‘oh, they’re very on message’ if they listen to or read something about an organisation which is preaching the virtues of its operations. But that’s exactly how it should be. If you heard a spokesperson saying product X did A, B and C, but saw an advert stating it was good for D, E and F then you’d be a bit confused. If the company can’t decide what it stands for then how’s anyone else supposed to have a clue?
At the start of a new campaign I’ll always talk to clients about their brand positioning, where they sit in the market, what their USPs and aspirations are and how they want the world to perceive them. These conversations will form the basis of establishing a list of key messages. Or, more importantly, if they have a marketing strategy in place, then messaging already established for campaign work must but be replicated across their PR programme. How ever they’re developed, these messages must be agreed, should really be included within corporate brand guidelines and considered an integral part of that company’s communications strategy. Ensuring everyone is singing from the same song sheet, if you like.
Something which caught my eye recently on this was new brand positioning of a well known DIY retailer. I was walking around a local store the other day and noticed its point of sale signage had changed and looked like it was written in black marker pen. There seemed to be far more products stacked high in the aisles than ever before and a message was buzzing in my head about low prices and good value. This didn’t look like the shop I knew, so when I got home, I Googled it. I discovered that under its new management the brand was being completely repositioned – moving away from a softer, more feminine focus to a ‘roll your sleeves up and get quality DIY products at low prices’ market. This change is so dramatic that if its wider communications programme didn’t follow suit and deliver the same messages, it would all look a little odd.
PR is more subtle than advertising and many other forms of marketing, but I think its in this form of communication that messaging is even more important. PR influences opinions. Scan through some news stories, sit and read an article or listen to a broadcast journalist and in each case, the messages which form the cornerstone of that company’s communications strategy will be in there somewhere. They won’t be emblazoned across a centre spread, but as you read or hear about that company you will generate an understanding – and providing that company has all its communications messages aligned, you’ll soon be singing from the same song sheet too.