Is Public Relations Really That Important?
“A crucial, but often overlooked, function of leadership is creating a culture in which effective communication can flourish.” – Greg Satell, Forbes Contributor.
Confession of a public relations representative: When I was in college, I initially thought communications was going to be one of those cake-walk majors. I had just spent two years of my life thoroughly not enjoying majoring in Computer Programming and Graphic Communications, and once my college cancelled the degree program, I sought greener pastures in communications. With a 15 year background in theatre and some public speaking under my belt, it seemed like the natural choice, and it also seemed easy. I suspect many other classmates felt the same way, because we all had the same deer in headlights look when we slowly started to realize we had gravely underestimated the importance and power of effective communication.
It may sound a bit dramatic, but think about it by looking at these specific areas as examples:
The way in which we learn math, science, and history in school is all heavily grounded in communication. If a teacher cannot find ways to properly connect the students to the lessons, then how will they learn? If a student is having a problem understanding their studies, they also need to be able to communicate their troubles to their teacher.
Love and Relationships
How many relationships fall to the wayside because of the lack of communication? Think also about the different styles of interpersonal communication. We’ve all been in those fights where one party says one thing, but the other party takes it completely different. For any friendship, relationship, or marriage, everyone not only has to be able to get their point across effectively, but they have to listen and interpret effectively as well. Not only that, when there is conflict, real communication is the only way to get to a real resolution.
This area in itself could fill a library. Every speech, debate, ad, or presentation you see has been analyzed word by word, and frame by frame. Millions of dollars each year are spent on focus groups, to better determine which words, phrases, colors, hairstyles, clothing choices, etc. best communicate the political message in order to get the most voters. A massive key to politics is knowing your audience and morphing your message to fit their style of communication. Connect on their level, and you have their attention. If you want to look into this further, look at communications studies of Adolf Hilter. One of modern history’s most evil men, yet his persuasiveness and ability to understand his audience shifted the mindset of great countries and destroyed millions of lives.
I could go on all day, looking at law, film, music, or practically any area of life. Communications is not a field to dismiss lightly, as the way in which we communicate determines our success in life.
Like many, I initially thought anyone can do public relations. We shake hands with people, write a press release, transcribe quotes, and herd drivers. Anyone can do it. Why I was wrong: Being personable does not equal having an understanding of branding and how it is intricately woven into interpersonal, intercultural, group, and mass communication.
Within the last month, we watched two major brands, Pepsi and United, take massive hits to their image when their public relations teams failed to properly communicate following disastrous decisions made elsewhere within the company.
It takes sometimes years to transform a brand, but only one quick incident to destroy or cheapen it.
As with most areas of the sport, motorsports public relations is a field where the representative absolutely needs a solid understanding of public relations or communications—whether it be based in education or experience.
Here’s a look at just a few areas of public relations, to break it down:
Writing: The art of writing is not something that we’re born with; It is something we are taught. The ability in which one can write has a massive impact on how their pieces are interpreted. Just like most of us cringe when we see someone misuse “their” for “there,” there are styles of writing that are acceptable, and others that aren’t. A personality piece is not written in the same style as a news press release, nor are either written in the same style as a news article from a journalist. To anyone outside communications, this probably sounds obsessive. However, those of us in the industry understand that people can subconsciously notice styles, continuity, readability, and effectiveness of the piece. Our ability to understand our language and communicate it effectively is so important that English and communications classes teach specific established style guides in order to create a high quality standard in our written language. If you’re considering hiring someone to write for you, ask them what their preferred published style guide to write in is. I compare it to asking a race car driver what kind of car they race. If they can’t answer that basic question immediately, one that is the very foundation of how they do their job, move on.
Speaking: Many may not notice this, but we speak differently than we write. When we speak, we use tones and inflections to get our message across (sarcasm, anyone?), but when we write well, we use more eloquent words and different types of language to communicate. Even if you don’t think you write differently, try this. Record yourself telling a story. Then, sit down at your computer and take the time to write the story without the audio. I guarantee you’ll see a difference in the words used. Because of this, all public relations representatives must also be able to not only speak properly, but communicate in a way that reflects positively on your brand. We interact with fans, sponsors, partners, series officials, and team representatives every day. If I sound like an idiot when I’m pitching a story line, conducting a garage tour, or introducing a sponsor to the team members, it reflects incredibly poorly on the brand.
Social media: Whatever tone you decide to set for your brand should be carried out in every post you do on social media. Your social media handler is interacting with thousands of people, of all different races, backgrounds, religions, etc. in real time, all day, every day. This isn’t a role for the culturally oblivious or the inexperienced. Every post that comes from your company reflects on your company. Social media has become its own way of utilizing our language, and because of that, there are many new guidelines for brands to learn. It blows my mind to see people running accounts for established brands and demonstrating that they still not know how to properly tag, understand what a hashtag does, or post low quality or damaging photos. Sometimes we’ll also see posts come from an account as if they let a super fan take over, in that a post is riddled with an extra amount of exclamation points (!!!!), or they’re commenting on a race incident from a clearly bias (and sometimes wrong) perspective. Tip: Look at social media of brands you admire. Study their posts to see how they construct their message in the good times, the bad, and the mediocre. This should give you solid insight into things you can do to guide your branding in a similar way.
The next time you’re looking to hire a PR representative, ask yourself what it is exactly your brand is looking for. What are your goals? How do you want your brand to connect to the media, your fans, and the general public? Know your standards and stick to them. Brands grow off innovation and the continuity of your established criteria. If you have a PR representative already doing all this, keep them, and invest in them and their ideas. However, if you’re constantly questioning the content of their posts or the style in which they write, maybe it’s time for a change.
The power of communication is an incredible thing, and in today’s age of the phones, the internet, television, radio, and social media, it is incredibly easy to communicate. The skill is in being able to do so effectively and consistently.