Growing SMEs may think hiring a PR consultant is an unaffordable luxury. But there are many reasons why getting an outside perspective on your communications is not only helpful, but vital to the company’s continued success.
An experienced and professional PR consultant (such as a member of the CIPR or PRCA) will do far more than simply chat up the media and write your press releases. Indeed, they may not need to do any of that: you may have people in your business who can implement your communications.
The best PR people bring something more valuable: an external perspective and top-level strategic advice to ensure that all your communications do what you want them to do. For most businesses, that equates to answering three simple questions.
- With whom do I need to communicate?
- What do I want them to do or believe as a result of our communications?
- Will this piece of communication achieve that, or at least make it more likely that people will respond positively?
A good PR consultant will look at what you’re planning to do, say or write, suck in their breath and ask the tough questions to ensure that it all stacks up. Above all, they will speak for the stakeholders, reflecting their needs, desires and currently-accepted beliefs.
As a quick guide, here are five things a PR consultant will check for you.
Is it legal?
It sounds a no-brainer, but you do not want to say or do something against the law.
Big companies run important communications past their lawyers. Getting communications signed off by the legal eagles is absolutely vital if you’re engaged in mergers and acquisitions or if you are in danger of being sued.
But even a simple sales promotion can sometimes run foul of the law. A recent example is Brewdog’s “solid gold can worth £15,000” promotion. This turned out to be anything but a solid gold proposition. The gold-plated can was estimated as worth about £500. How did that pass any legal test?
Going back a few years, vacuum cleaner giant Hoover got into a flap over its ‘free flights’ offer, which had so many strings attached that people took the company to court.
You also need to consider who you are sending your communications to – do you have the legal right to do so under GDPR? If it’s a prize draw, do you comply with the lottery laws? Are you breaching some else’s intellectual property rights (using photography is a huge issue here)? And even if the campaign is legal in the UK, is it legal in all countries in which you operate?
There are many legal hurdles to overcome. Your PR consultant should ask the questions to make sure you stay the right side of the law.
Is it decent, honest and truthful?
The old advertising truism has a place in all communications. We all know that one route to success is to “under-promise and over-deliver”. Too often, PR campaigns create a sense of excitement that is not matched by the reality of the consumer experience.
It seems a sensible ethical question, but there are a few specific points to bear in mind.
PR people and business leaders love statistics and surveys. “80% of people tested love our product!” Great, but who was surveyed, how were they chosen and how many were in your sample? For more information on how to read and use numbers in your communications, the FT ‘s undercover economist Tim Harford has written a great book, How to Make the World Add Up.
Be especially vigilant if making any claims about trending issues such as the environment, diversity and society. We’ll talk about this later, but for now, just remember people will test the truth of your claims. You don’t want to be caught out, so make sure everything you say can be substantiated.
Is it interesting?
Your love your business, what you create, the services you offer. To you, they are sparkly, new and exciting. The fact that you have shaved 3% off the weight of your latest widget is a HUGE achievement to you. And rightly so.
Does anyone else care?
If not, you’d better look for a fresh way to approach that development, so the story is interesting, topical and likely to make people sit up and take notice.
An external PR perspective should ensure you do not tell a boring story. They will be able to craft a fresh angle to help sell your story into the media or make it shareable on social. Wellingtons are not the most interesting product (sorry, all you welly fans), but by turning their boots into the essential festival accessory, Hunter garnered huge plaudits and sales uplift.
Is it relevant?
Whose behaviour do you want to influence? Be specific. You may have a story which will knock the socks off Daily Mail readers, which is great if that is your audience. Less so if you are trying to sell your app to civil engineers (although I accept that some civil engineers may read the Daily Mail.)
Relevance depends on both the content of your story and where you tell it. PR expertise will help you ensure the right people see the right story at the right time.
Is it acceptable?
Beware unintended consequences. Brands are increasingly aware of cultural sensitivities and diversity of opinion. So, although your message may be bang on the money for your intended audience, there is always a chance it may upset someone else. Someone whose opinion could damage your brand.
I call it ‘tin ear syndrome’. Sometimes, we can be so wrapped up in our own product development and marketing bubble, we miss what society is saying.
Examples are legion. Here are a couple to illustrate the point.
- Waitrose has recently changed the name of Kaffir leaves to avoid any perceived racial slur
- Pepsi misjudged the mood after the death of George Floyd with an ill-considered campaign starring Kendall Jenner
Don’t get me wrong. Well thought through, dedicated and, above all, authentic activist marketing can be great. Think Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick or pretty much anything Patagonia has ever done. Both these brands have profited heartily from their activism while taking a stand on serious social issues.
The key is to test, to engage with the people who will be affected. Be humble enough to say you need help to navigate a world you may not understand as well as you think you do.
Value of a PR consultant
Hiring a part-time PR director or an external PR consultant provides the worldly perspective to answer all these questions positively.
Of course, you can simply ignore all this advice. Some of the biggest companies in the world broke all these rules for decades. It’s called the Playbook and it’s how the tobacco industry enlisted public relations and opinion forming to counter the scientific evidence against smoking.
Eventually, someone called time on this charade. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Don’t be like the tobacco giants of old. Good PR can ensure your company communicates well, thrives and makes a profit while being kind to people and planet. To take your first step to answering the hard questions, give us a call.