What is public relations?

Public relations (also referred to as PR) is the activity of communicating with customers, potential customers, intermediaries, the general public and any other interested stake holders (together referred to as your firm’s ‘publics’), usually through means of the general or specialised press (although any media can be used), with the idea of generating goodwill and positvely influencing public opinion towards your company and its products. Put another way, it is about keeping good relations with the public (not necessarily only your customers). Examples of public relations include support of charitable events, news releases about some positive activity of the firm, such as community participation.

Public relations and publicity

Publicity is a form of PR which is unpaid and carried in the mass communication media because the information in question is considered newsworthy by the media. PR involves basically generating positive publicity for and countering bad publicity about the firm.

Publicity, the alternative to advertising

Publicity differs from advertising, therefore, in the fact that it is not paid for. Considering that the expense of advertising is on its major drawbacks for the average exporter, publicity seems a good alternative for most exporters (especially smaller ones). However, the problem with publicity lies in the fact that the medium through which you want to publicise your firm, must be interested enough in what you have to say to carry your newsworthy ‘story’. In some cases – with very specialised products and magazines for example – this may be quite easy, but in other instances, publicity may be very difficult to generate.

Publicity is not always easy to generate

It is usually particularly difficult for an exporter to place press releases with overseas media because of the distance involved. The media owner probably doesn’t know about your firm and will want to use their space for other more newsworthy publicity. Nevertheless, you should still endeavour to get positive media coverage, particularly in respect of any new additions to product lines or improvements to existing products, wherever you can. To this end, you need to identify and obtain copies of overseas magazines and publications in your target market that focus on your product line or industry (you would gather these publications as part of the research you undertook in step 7 of the export process). Bear in mind that many industry associations, chambers, government departments, newspapers, magazines, etc. are always on the lookout for news that may be of interest to their respective audiences. A trade magazine specialising in engineering in your target market, for example, may be willing to carry an article about your firm and its efforts to establish itself in their local market. The same may be true of the local chamber of commerce which will be happy to include an article in their newsletter. Of course, not all of these channels will be prepared to carry your article, but many may. Your task is to find the right publicity channels, prepare a short, relevant article and submit it to the editor/publisher for publishing. An occasional follow-up as new developments take place, is also worth considering.

You need to consider, though, that editors tend to use the material that is appropriate in content and style to their readership and which requires the minimum of editing or sub-editing. Editors are normally experienced journalists and can see at a glance whether material is suitable for publication or broadcasting. Purely promotional material is unlikely to be published – material submitted must have definite news value. It is essential, therefore, that you write any story from the reader’s point-of-view. You may want to hire a professional journalist or PR specialist to prepare one or more articles that you can use (perhaps adapting it yourself for different magazines).