As any company founder is aware, the topics of communications, marketing, and public relations are at the forefront of many a discussion — no matter what stage your business is at.
While you realise that these are crucial business functions you will need to make your company a success, the differences between them are not immediately or obviously apparent.
When something is not easily understood, or understandable, it becomes easier to put it on the backburner — particularly when there are seemingly more pressing issues at hand. After all, you need to have a business in order to promote it, so why do you need to start thinking about functions you will only need further down the line now?
This premise perpetuates the myth that if one doesn’t have a product or service in place, you needn’t worry too much about how, or to whom, it will be presented, sold, or received, right now.
However, the product / service and how it will be presented, sold, or received are not mutually exclusive concepts — they are intertwined — even right at the start.
It is no small feat, but it is vital that you have at least a basic understanding before you jump into making any decisions about what your company needs in terms of communications, marketing, and public relations, and at which point/s it needs them.
You need to bear in mind, though, that there is an increasing overlap in what the companies specialising in these fields do. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it makes for excellent collaboration between companies, and if you are a business in one of these fields, look to partner with colleagues from an ancillary industry.
Let’s start with a few of the things a Communications firm can assist with.
Writing, editing, and proofreading: While these skills are often grouped together, they are separate functions, and only a handful of people are capable of doing them all equally well. This is why you will often find that a communications company hires different people for each of these roles:
No, I can’t ask John, a seasoned resident legal and political editor to write up an animation brief — particularly one that is going to be sent to a 20-something developer sitting in India.
Writing is one skillset, and editing and proofreading are talents in and of themselves. Not every editor is a good proofreader, and vice versa. Although these roles and functions are all specialised, and often compartmentalised, they do need to speak to one another. An editor or proofreader is not supposed to alter the authorial voice, but it is their job to enhance that voice — to clarify it.
As you well know, every business needs to play to their team’s strengths. For instance, a communications company’s copy writer can produce brilliant copy that will present your brand in the best possible light, but this may not directly lead to sales.
In fact, a communications company should build on the foundation laid by a reputable and experienced marketing firm, which will already have established where your company fits in the broader marketplace, and precisely who to target in terms of your customer / client base (as well as which strategies best fit this base).
Ideally, a marketing team should be consulted from the get-go as they are equipped to conduct the research required for a competitive analysis and will be able to assist with both your business and marketing plans.
Website content management: If you know how to tag a manuscript, have drawn up stylesheets, or if you’ve simply had to format a manuscript for digital production, you will appreciate what a specialised skill website content management is. A communications company can assist in getting your website SEO-ready and user-friendly by using that oh-so-important skill of communicating.
If you’ve ever had to work with graphic designers, developers, and a company’s management team all at the same time, you will understand the importance of this concept! Different frames of reference, ways of thinking, and strong opinions offer a minefield — but any experienced communications professional should be able to navigate all this by doing what they do best: finding a middle-ground by ensuring that communication is kept simple, clean, and unambiguous.
Social media management: This is where things can get blurry. In short, communications companies, media companies, and PR companies can all support you in achieving your goals when it comes to social media. The real question is: what do you want to achieve?
It’s relatively simple to make and promote advertisements on all major social media platforms yourself. The trouble is, a lot of time and effort go into doing that, and more importantly, doing it consistently.
If your company is a startup or a small enterprise, resources are pretty finite. And as fun and inspiring as it can be to create those ads and put lots of funding behind them — just how effective are your inventions in terms of lead generation and actual sales? Where do your responsibilities in terms of marketing and PR begin and end?
Another aspect to consider, and which we see so many examples of, are copyright violations and infringements. Sure, some of these instances occur simply because people don’t realise what they are doing, but you can only hide behind that excuse for so long.
This kind of faux pas is bad for business on many levels: not only can it indicate that you are not afraid to steal (yes, that’s what plagiarism is) other people’s intellectual property, but it also shows that you are out of your depth when it comes to handling your social media accounts and your company’s reputation overall.
If that is the case, you’d better have a good PR representative or firm waiting in the wings. Just don’t forget that plagiarism (intentional or not) can land you a hefty fine or even jail time.
While marketing and public relations tend to be conflated, they have two distinct and separate goals. The marketing team connects with the consumer or client and convinces them to buy the product or service. The goal is thus sales-focused. It is to create demand by triggering a response — the recognition that the product or service is wanted or needed.
The public relations team, on the other hand, sells the company (and brand) through the positive and active management of the company’s reputation. PR focuses on establishing, and maintaining, the channels of communication between a company and its stakeholders. They create awareness and trust by communicating with audiences directly or through intermediaries like the media. They also manage the negative aspects associated with a brand: think handling complaints on social media, for example.
Marketing aims to achieve direct revenue, while PR aims to provide a lasting positive impression of a business. Marketing is seen as an investment with an easily measurable ROI, but PR presents more of a problem in this regard because it tends to be a long-term strategy / activity, and because there is no easy way to measure or demonstrate changes in beliefs or perceptions. However, as different as these functions are, they need to work cohesively and cooperatively.
Indeed, one of the most important outcomes of marketing and PR working in tandem is a strong brand. As Nicky Turnbull (Executive Strategy Director at Engage Brand Solutions) explains:
Brands are emotive, and they should be. Why someone chooses one brand over another is often not a rational choice: They connect with a particular brand on an emotional level.
People tend to confuse brands with products and services, but a brand extends beyond these concepts. Products and services may change and evolve over time, but what the brand stands for should remain consistent.
So, just how does a company approach all this, then?
Do not to get too caught up on the differences and trying to separate the functions in your own business too strictly. Focus instead on devising and delivering the most effective and holistic communications strategy you can.
Your investors are going to expect you to do a lot more than that, though. In terms of annual marketing and PR plans, Turnbull has the following advice to offer:
Be realistic. It is easy to overextend the plan and your team.
Review and re-evaluate. If a campaign is not achieving the desired results, examine the reasons why, and adapt the plan and strategy accordingly.
Involve the right people from the start. Align everyone involved (designers, agencies, media buyers, and influencers) as early on in the process as possible. You should also include roles and responsibilities to ensure clarity and accountability.
Be flexible (without losing focus). Stick to the plan but do not be enslaved by it. Sometimes what appear to be unmissable opportunities present themselves, but this does not mean that you have to buy into them. Ask yourself whether these opportunities align with your overarching strategy.
According to the 2019 Global Communications Report published by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, that strategy had better include ways to handle decreasing attention spans. The report indicates that in the next five years, visual experiences are going to be key — with YouTube, Instagram and Google scooping up the top spots.
Ultimately, your communications strategy is going to be a major contributor to the success of your business. Take the time to consult with professionals who will be able to advise you on the way forward — fortunately you’re in luck: Contact me today.