PR: The ultimate word of mouth

Have you also noticed the number of empty billboard structures in-and-around Johannesburg of late?  This made me realise that companies must be cutting down on marketing spend big-time, relying more on word of mouth than in the past.  Although brand visibility is still important I believe businesses are finding more cost effective ways to not only create brand visibility but also to engage with its customers.  This made me think of what Bill Gates said: “If I were down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”

I like to define modern public relations (PR) as: the ethical business of helping a business grow its business through effective integration of the various marketing communication elements combined with relationship-building skills par excellence.

In his book, integrated marketing communication, Flip du Plessis defines the eight marketing communication elements as: advertising, personal selling, sales promotion, publicity, public relations, sponsorships, direct marketing and digital communication.  Yet I see so many brands focussing on two or three of these elements only; usually a combination of advertising, sales promotion, and sponsorships, direct marketing or digital communication.  Public relations and publicity have been the ugly ducklings of marketing for as long as I can remember.

That, I believe, is changing; and fast!  As companies are cutting down on expenses throughout the business’ operations, marketing and brand managers have come to realise the value in PR as a tool for word of mouth marketing.  Just looking at this year’s winner of the South African Campaign of the Year at the annual PRISM Awards proves that PR on a shoestring budget is not only effective but that it can also yield award-winning campaigns.

Bill Gates is not the only businessman who believes in the power of PR.  Guy Kawasaki said: “Many companies waste away millions of dollars trying to establish brands with advertising.  Brands are built on what people are saying about you, not what you are saying about yourself.”

The success of a PR campaign lies predominantly with the ability of the PR team to draw on solid, existing relationships with industry players and to build new relationships in a short period of time.  The PR team managing your campaign is the key to unlocking people to say good things about your brand.  When the media, social media influencers, consumers and industry leaders say good things about your brand the word will spread to a wider audience and thus encourage other people to consider your brand leading to increased visibility, increased visits to your web site, increased share of voice, increased social media engagement, and ultimately an increase in revenue yielding a positive ROI.

I would like to challenge all marketing and brand managers who are not yet making use of PR as part of their brand’s marketing strategy to, before you compile your next report to the board of directors, meet a PR agency or two in order to see for yourself how bringing PR into the marketing mix can change your brand’s visibility without having to increase your marketing spend.  You’ll be surprised at how good we can make you look a few months down the line.  PR is the ultimate word of mouth and, as one of the elements in the marketing mix, likely the most powerful and cost effective element of them all.

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