Good PR delivers more than just headlines
Written by: Mvelase Peppetta, a Senior Account Manager at Irvine Bartlett Public Relations in South Africa
Many businesses in Africa believe they’re not yet at a development point to warrant investing in public relations, and indeed don’t necessarily know what they’d be investing in if they did decide to expand their brand awareness “through an editorial medium”.
This is why so many brands, businesses, and other stakeholders in the marketing mix often have ambivalent or negative opinions of the role of public relations in growing a brand, when in truth their businesses would probably benefit from the involvement of a good public relations team.
In a nutshell, what public relations should be to a business is a driver to attract new business, retain current business and build a good brand reputation that is recognised and trusted by existing clients and potential clients.
And all this theoretically without costing the company a penny more than the public relations agency fee, because much of the work is driven through obtaining editorial opportunities for clients across media types.
Some of the stumbling blocks to businesses understanding and accepting public relations as part of their development strategy are:
PR is just like advertising
The most basic difference between advertising and public relations is that one is paid for, and one isn’t. A business pays for the advertisements it places in media, but not the media coverage it earns from PR efforts.
This PR coverage, if done correctly, gets a client’s name into the media arena in such a way as to position the company as the best in its field.
But if clients only view PR as a vehicle to get “free advertising”, they wouldn’t be fully utilising what they have. Public Relations is more than that. A key outcome of good PR is to ultimately build the ideas about a client’s brand or business amongst audiences deemed key to achieving business objectives.
This could mean building a strong, direct relationship between the core customer base and the brand through the use of social media. Or, on the other hand, it could be seeding positive content about a client’s brand to selected media through the use of strong narrative angles which will lead to positive editorial features.
And these are only two of the ways in which PR can achieve the marketing goals that advertising cannot.
To be clear, the argument being made isn’t that “PR is better than advertising”. In marketing a business, PR and advertising have different, yet equally important roles to play.
Everyone can do PR. It’s easy
This, perhaps more than anything, is the greatest misconception plaguing the PR industry. With no clear understanding of what PR is, does, and can achieve, any Johnny-Come-Lately can decide to name him- or herself a PR “guru”, “ninja” and “maven”.
It’s a sad irony that in an industry with so much talent to shape and inform public perceptions and attitudes, there is a lack of focus being placed on doing that for the industry itself.
PR has a responsibility to not only service its clients, but to inform current and future clients about the public relations industry itself.
PR is all about events and going out for lunch
Perhaps in a time when media wasn’t as pressed for quality content for the gigabytes of data we consume on our smartphones and tablets, and when an ever-decreasing number of ever more junior journalists were expected to fill inches of magazines and newspapers, PR was all about events and going out for lunch.
But that’s not today’s media landscape. More than ever, today PRs are being seen as partners to media houses, helping them provide the quality content they need for their audiences. The key word here is quality.
While media may be struggling to produce the ever-increasing quantity of work they’re expected to publish by the hour on the hour with diminishing resources, audience expectations haven’t dropped.
And in a world where content providers are aware that a reader can just as easily view a competitor’s content produced from halfway around the world, no pair of eyeballs can be ignored.
A lunch here and there and a champagne-fuelled event every six months may happen, but more than anything, today’s PR professional is expected to provide high-quality, rich and engaging content to media partners.
PR is a nine to five job
Does the media cycle run nine to five? If the answer to that question is yes, then definitely, PR is a nine to five job. In reality, PR is an around-the-clock exercise if a PR company is doing it right.
The PR industry has two equally important masters: clients and the media.
Clients can need crisis communications assistance at 1.30am on New Year’s Day, and media can request comment or assistance for a story to run in tomorrow’s edition just as you’re about to go to bed. Both of those needs have to be fulfilled with equal urgency.
PROs always spin the truth
A key element of PR is crisis communications, which doesn’t equate to “spin” if it’s done right.
While good PR is about building a positive image of a client’s brand with the audience it wants to reach, PR ultimately can only ever be as good as the client it is representing.
Facing a communications disaster, the best PR strategy, more often than not, is to simply do the right thing. Telling the truth allows clients to get in front of whatever situation it is they are facing.
Consider what happened to BP’s reputation in the 2010 aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Prior to the spill, BP had done an inordinate amount of work to bill itself as a “green” energy company. While it was true that they were making steps to make their business friendlier to the environment, they underplayed just how environmentally risky (despite all attempts to minimise those dangers) their business could be. This, ultimately, made them into bigger “bad guys” when disaster struck.
So what are the lessons to be taken from all this? More than anything, a key misconception about PR is that it is the panacea to a company’s marketing needs.
PR is a specialised tool. Utilised correctly, by an agency or individual with the capacity, contacts, and technical expertise, it can achieve great things in terms of awareness of trust in any brand.
But the key to achieving PR success is frank discussions on expectations and deliverables between PROs and clients right at the start of the relationship. This, second to nothing else, is the number one requirement in fully harnessing the power of PR to build a business
Re-defining the economics of CX in the new customer journey
There’s no shortage of customer service channels for the enterprise to select from today. Regardless of the many new metrics that have emerged – such as customer success, or empathy – cost reduction is still a primary driver in selection criteria.
There are many articles dedicated to how companies can turn customer service and customer experience (CX) from a cost to a revenue centre. The problem is, if you stop there and don’t look beyond cost reduction, you’re limiting the scope for CX to become an even bigger economic contributor in the enterprise.
There is every opportunity for customer service and CX to significantly influence the front end of business, particularly amongst direct-to-consumer subscription-based products and services, such as popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, as well as sports subscription services like DAZN.
In these products and services and others, there are new customer journeys that may drive business growth and revenue. They start earlier and may last a lifetime, so getting things right at the start of the journey is key so that customers have the best experience from day one.
Not only will this help in making customers less likely to reach out for issues-based support further down the line, but these customers will be much less likely to churn, and much more likely to take up new services as they are offered throughout the lifetime journey.
So, what does the new customer journey look like for these services?
Opportunity waiting for the likes of Netflix & Disney
While consumers may have previously regarded customer service as a way to mitigate the inconveniences in their lives, the customer journey is expanding in scope every day. Today there are many more touchpoints available that put CX in a position to drive revenue.
For one-off purchases, traditional CX deployments have not changed significantly in the past few years. However, if you look at the change in the CX relationships we’re seeing with subscription-based products and services, particularly media-based streaming services, it’s clear that these companies lead what quickly become very multifaceted relationships with their customers. These have serious potential to evolve over time for increased economic benefit.
For any sort of subscription-based business, customer lifetime value is paramount, and the requirement to actively manage a continued positive customer experience is critical.
Every interaction is an opportunity, and every data point is a chance to offer more value. Introductory offers can convert to longtime customers. Longtime customers may take up opportunities to upgrade to more premium products or services. They may also appreciate incentives to invite family and friends to become customers. Consumers who like a particular service, for example, may appreciate a recommendation for another similar or complimentary service.
It all starts with customer interaction, and the customer experience journey becomes an opportunity to strategically affect the user base and resulting revenue - which is a far cry from the limitations of call center cost reduction or churn metrics.
How do companies support the new customer journey?
More and more, customers look at the new customer journey as engaging with brands as part of their lifestyles. Many companies are making brand ambassadors available before the traditional customer journey even starts, which is a marked change from a purely transactional relationship associated with a one-off purchase.
These ambassadors, who are often independent users of products or services, are providing trusted pre-sales advice, and that same trusted advice can also function to nurture the customer journey in a subscription-based relationship. Call it ‘GigCX’ or ‘crowdsourced customer service’ or even ‘peer-to-peer customer service’ - it doesn’t matter.
The key is in providing impartial, trusted advice from real users. Think about it: who would you rather get advice from? Someone who has used a product or service extensively, or someone who has been trained to provide customer service surrounding that product or service?
For services such as streaming media, advice from trusted experts with real product know-how could be invaluable. This may not be limited to technical issues, such as what to do when you can’t access your favourite show, or how to access services across various devices. It could be parents helping other parents who are concerned about how to restrict adult content from child viewers, or simply customers who have similar taste in programming who can comment on the benefits of upgraded or premium products. The point is, these experts are easily available at any touchpoint in the customer lifetime journey, creating more chances to add value.
It’s also about tipping customers from ‘passive’ to ‘promoter’ in the NPS scale. It’s an opportunity to turn neutral customers who may be vulnerable to competitive offerings into loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and referring others, fuelling growth. It may ultimately help drive even further revenue by creating customers that are helping to sell the brand itself.
And, while chatbots and automation may play a key role, they are often not able to handle the more complex support needed in the new customer journey. Conversational AI is rarely as conversational as it claims to be, and in the new customer journey, most companies are finding that a mix of automation and people-centric service is an ideal way to nurture the many new touchpoints created.
It’s no longer about trying to replace human capital with automation: it’s about orchestrating a uniquely personalised CX, and proactively engaging during the customer lifecycle to enhance the experience, and to create more long-term value.
At the moment, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power to affect the economics introduced by the new customer journey. We’ll no doubt see this evolve rapidly particularly amongst streaming companies as they use human-centric connections in CX to support the full potential of customer lifetime value.
About Roger Beadle
Roger Beadle is an entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016. Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact center industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent. Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact center business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. Roger is an outspoken proponent of digital ethics, worker’s rights and the ‘good-gig:’ which encapsulates gig work for incremental pay versus full time work, skilled gig work, no unpaid time/downtime and zero expenses.
Named a Rising Star at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program, Limitless is a gig customer service platform, combining crowdsourcing and AI to help global businesses address their biggest customer service challenges – rising costs, increasing attrition, variability in demand and the need for diversity. Brands like Microsoft, Unilever, Daily Mail Group and Postmates are using Limitless’ SmartCrowdTM technology to connect with their most engaged customers, and reward them for providing on-demand customer service that can flex in line with demand. Limitless is one of the world’s first global tech platforms to introduce localised platform terms to protect the rights of its gigging workers. Backed by AlbionVC, Downing Ventures and Unilever Ventures, Limitless is empowering people worldwide to earn money for providing brilliant customer service for the brands they love.