By Terena Chetty, 1Africa Consulting Head of Strategy. Tapping into the value of both earned and paid media activities can open up vast opportunities for consumer brands to connect with audiences on a different level. Authenticity and transparency are key, as well as ensuring positive customer experience by understanding brand audiences and market needs.
Public Relations (PR) is somewhat under-utilized by consumer brands, particularly in the African and South African context. There is often vagueness around role it plays for such brands, and where it fits in as part of a marketing plan. In a nutshell, marketing focuses on clear bottom-line goals such as sales. PR supports these objectives by increasing brand visibility and promoting positive brand sentiment through various communication activities. Basically, PR builds brand love and credibility that marketing then leverages to boost sales objectives. Public relations also bridges the gap between actual public perceptions versus desired public perceptions.
Engaging, value-centric PR content
To envision a cohesive communication strategy that includes robust public relations integration, it’s important for consumer brands and retailers to recognise that PR is more than news-related press releases and crisis management. PR includes customer-centric communication tactics aimed at positively positioning the brand; including storytelling approaches, credibility-boosting activities and thought-leadership content. It can help “humanise” the brand and its executives, as well as provide a platform for more in-depth discussions around subject matter such as causes the organisation supports, their values, current Corporate Social Responsibility projects, and more.
It’s important to note that while certain PR content (such as press releases) are brand-focused, effective PR focuses largely on value-centric content – i.e., less on brand “marketing” content and more on newsworthy, relevant, interesting and thought-provoking content. Such content is strategically planned to align with the organisation’s overarching business and communication objectives.
The 2022 Thought Leadership Impact Report by Edelman (in collaboration with LinkedIn) revealed that 61% of decision-makers state that an organisation’s thought leadership can be “moderately or a lot more effective” at demonstrating the potential value of its products or services compared to traditional product-oriented marketing. Insights by the Content Marketing Institute supports this, reflecting that 70% of consumers would rather get to know a company via articles than ads.
Consumer reach through digital PR
Previously, PR content was predominantly consumed by corporate stakeholders and the media (via channels such as emailers, news platforms and PR wires, for example). The rising prevalence of digital PR channels, however, results in PR content now being highly visible and accessible to the average consumer. Digital publications, social media platforms, customer review portals and the like, provide brands with the ability to reach the end-use with ease. Little or no PR presence is therefore a lost opportunity for B2C companies.
Define and maintain your brand narrative
Worse still, not having a PR presence means that an organisation is at the mercy of the public in terms of what content exists about it, including material that is damaging to brand reputation. A Consumer Sentiment in Retail report released by Deloitte Africa (in partnership with BrandsEye), explained statistically, how a single impactful influencer was able to negatively sway sentiment towards a retailer, with significant results. And while a response or crisis management can assist in such situations, building positive brand equity through proactive, ongoing public relations activities is invaluable in mitigating the damage caused by negative publicity. It is therefore imperative to have a planned PR strategy around creating and maintaining a desired narrative aimed at brand reputation management.