PR – it’s far more than just media relations

by Amie Pascoe, Director, BLUE Comms first published in The Reference Point Newsletter

The public relations industry has been around for decades. But for a profession that’s all about managing reputation, it hasn’t always done the best job of managing its own. The main problem is that too many people think that PR and media relations are one and the same thing. They think that PR professionals simply work with journalists to promote a company in any way possible and that we spend the majority of our time writing press releases. The reality is that true public relations is so much more than that.  Indeed, the art of communications and building, managing and protecting reputation is a fundamental part of business strategy, not just a ‘nice to have’.

Media relations – when conducted intelligently, strategically and impactfully – occupies a powerful position in the PR toolkit. However, to limit PR’s scope, capability and potential to a single communications channel does it a real disservice, and greatly limits the value that it can deliver for an organisation. PR conducted properly has two-way communication at its heart and the channels through which to facilitate that are many and varied.

In very simple terms, the starting point for effective communications should be understanding your business strategy, the challenges you face, what you want to achieve, what you stand for, and how you want to be positioned in your market. Communications objectives should then be aligned to this. From here, you can explore who you want to talk to, what you want to say, before defining the best ‘way’ to say it.

When the right stakeholders that you need to communicate with have been identified, important questions need to be asked.  What are the issues and causes that are important to them? Which events do they attend? Are they members of trade bodies? Which online or print publications do they read? Are they active on social media platforms? Do they listen to the opinions of certain commentators or influencers in the market? It is this analysis that will enable you to design an impactful PR and communications strategy, which may or may not include media relations. It’s about influencing the right people, with the right words, on the right issue, in the right way, and at the right time.

Marine lubricant provider, Castrol, for example, has instigated a series of events called the Castrol Vision Exchange. Specifically targeted at technical directors within shipowning organisations, the events held in key locations across the globe will encourage dialogue around newbuild trends with this particular target stakeholder group.

Verifavia Shipping supports shipowners and operators in navigating the requirements of the European Union’s Monitoring, Reporting & Verification (MRV) legislation. The company aims to be the maritime industry’s first choice for the provision of carbon emissions verification, information and services relating to MRV. To demystify the legislation and ensure that owners and operators understand what’s required of them, as well as encouraging dialogue with potential customers, Verifavia is running a series of webinars as a means of engagement and information exchange.

As for many in the shipping industry, the German market is key for leading global manufacturer of condition monitoring technologies, Parker Kittiwake. Therefore attendance at SMM every two years is a critical means to communicate with both local and global target stakeholders. Rather than just manning an exhibition stand each day, the company decided to undertake a survey to explore condition monitoring practices, barriers to deployment, and the “wish list” for condition monitoring tools and technology. Collecting information using quantitative research methods, during and post SMM, Parker Kittiwake is now in the process of analysing the data before sharing the results both internally and externally.

The International Maritime Organisation’s Day of the Seafarer was initiated in 2012 with the aim of raising awareness beyond the shipping industry of the essential role of seafarers in our everyday lives. Through its viral and interactive nature, the social media campaign has grown year on year, achieving a global conversation that transcends shipping.

Each of these scenarios represent tactical examples of PR activity. But none of them are media relations-led. The British Institute of Public Relations defines public relations as “the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain a mutual understanding between an organisation and its public”. Ultimately, PR is about building, managing and safeguarding an organisation’s reputation. In today’s hugely competitive marketplace, the value of a strong and positive reputation should not be underestimated. And neither should the breadth and power of true PR.