How good are you at communicating with your clients, trade contractors, suppliers, neighbors, friends and family? You might not have reached the status of media professional, but the basic communications skills you've developed over your lifetime can enhance your business in many ways—and often for very little money. How, you ask? Public relations!
An anonymous writer once defined PR this way: " 'P' for performance plus 'R' for recognition equals PR." Webster's dictionary defines PR as "the business of inducing the public to have understanding and goodwill toward a person, firm or institution." In my decade of practicing public relations, I’ve heard hundreds of definitions, but I think the only thing contractors need to know is how to apply the function to their own businesses.
If you're confused about the differences among public relations, publicity, advertising and promotion, maybe the following definitions will help. Let's say a circus comes to town and you want people to know about it. Here are some ways that the word can get out:
- Advertising: Displaying a sign announcing that the circus is in town
- Promotion: Displaying the sign on an elephant and parading the animal through town
- Publicity: The elephant carrying the sign tramples through the ornamental garden of the mayor and the newspaper reports it
- Public relations: You're able to get the mayor to laugh about the incident and ride in the circus parade with no hard feelings.
Every business has some kind of public relations, whether it wants to or not. The trick is to establish good PR. Public relations affects everyone, and in one way or another, we all use it every day. Each phone call, letter or face-to-face encounter is a public relations event. It would be to your advantage to make those events count, because PR pays off in many ways. Here are some of them:
- The publicity and promotional areas of public relations pave the way for the sale of products and services. It's amazing how a little media relations can lead to a simple article in the local newspaper—and how that turns out to be the best sales tool you ever had.
- Internal motivation can affect a company's bottom line more than any other factor. Building morale, enhancing productivity and creating team spirit can not only help retain great employees but also aid in recruiting them.
- Public relations can provide early warning signs that, gone undetected, can hurt business. A great example is the effect the recent oil crisis had on the cost of materials. Promoting awareness of such changes helped builders prepare for volatile pricing and write contracts to allow for increases. Public relations can protect the organization in a crisis by managing the company's position.
- Public relations can provide new opportunities. Most PR professionals spend more time interacting with internal and external audiences than anyone else in the organization, so they’re more likely to identify new markets, products and methods.
- Public relations can help organizations overcome "executive isolation," which afflicts every organization sooner or later. Public relations professionals can use the insights they gain from their encounters with the public to open the eyes and ears of managers so that they can see the business as the world sees it.
- Public relations can help businesses manage change, which is required for organizations to remain competitive and efficient. Since change is usually met with resistance, a smooth transition guided by a public relations professional can be a real dollar saver.
- Public relations can help organizations manage their social responsibility within their community.
It doesn't matter how small or large your business is—public relations can and will have a positive impact if you do it right.