This definition isn’t entirely incorrect but doesn’t really convey the full meaning of the term. Public relations stands somewhere between the fine line of sales and marketing to people and internal affairs of the company. It has several other purposes as well.
DEFINING PUBLIC RELATIONS
Broadly, public relations is creating and maintaining a positive image or impression about a company, brand, product, service or personality among people. It covers a wide range of functions that an organization or individual undertakes to build that desirable image. Some of these functions include:
- Updating people about latest developments within and outside the organization.
- Identifying, planning and executing Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.
- Interaction with all stakeholders to ensure seamless functioning of all business processes- regardless of whether they hold stocks of a company or patronize a single, inexpensive product.
- Controlling damage that may arise out of negative publicity through word-of-the-mouth, social media or press.
- Lobbying with various government bodies to get favorable framework of rules vital for an organization’s growth.
- Assistance in procuring necessary licenses, permits and other requirements for a business to comply with all laws.
- Development of in-house periodicals to inform employees about events and news within the organization.
- Representing an organization’s interests at national and international forums.
- Keeping tabs on competitors and advising top management about ways and means to counter any adverse impact on business.
- Media planning including issuing press releases, paid advertisements, arranging interviews and disseminating information about the organization in the form of news.
Obviously, this list would lead you to believe that public relations is for large corporations and celebrities only.
In fact, public relations can help small businesses grow and attain great heights within a reasonable time span.
PUBLIC RELATIONS & SMALL BUSINESSES
Let’s examine how public relations can help small businesses grow with the above functions. A small business could be a new startup venture or have some history in the market. Here’s how public relations can work wonders.
INFORMATION IS POWER
Customers are more likely to patronize a small business if they’ve access to sufficient and relevant information. The same holds true for potential investors: if they see that a small business holds promise of burgeoning into a market leader of sorts and provide adequate Return on Investments (ROI), they’ll be willing to put some money to help it grow.
Hence, public relations becomes very significant for a small business. On the one hand, public relations generates higher interest in small business, its products and services. On the other hand, it can open doors for investments that would help the small business flourish and grow further.
TAPPING POWER OF MEDIA
Understandably, small businesses don’t have an adequate budget to advertise on popular TV channels, radio stations, newspapers and magazines. At the same time, they need publicity to create awareness about their existence, brand, product or service. While social media does enable publicity to some extent, it’s largely in the form of advertisements that a small business would post on Facebook or other portals.
But to take a small business to a whole new dimension, positive publicity in the local press is a must. And that’s where public relations has a vital role to play. Usually, public relations managers develop a network of media contacts such as reporters and correspondents. They try and leverage their contacts to get some mileage in the local media in the form of press releases, interviews with a business owner or some good article about the brand and its popularity. Newspapers often have review sections where a public relations manager can try and get some coverage for the small business.
LOBBYING & GOVERNMENT WORK
Large corporations in India unite under powerful lobbies. For example, we have mining lobby, pharmaceuticals lobby, textiles lobby and so on. These lobbies are cash-rich and can afford lobbying in different ways such as supporting political parties and donating for various causes.
However, small businesses are at a severe disadvantage. They don’t have such huge funds nor can hire expert lobbyists to further their interests. However, public relations can effectively fill this void. A good public relations manager will develop contacts with senior bureaucrats and try further interests of the small business. They will ease the process of acquiring necessary licenses and permits. This means a small business can grow much faster.
PRESENCE AT NATIONAL, INTERNATIONAL FORUMS
Public relations plays a major role in helping a small business develop an excellent image of the small business at national and international levels. A public relations manager or even the business owner does this by participating or attending domestic and global events pertaining to the business. Active participation allows showcasing activities of the small business and its offerings. Mere attendance enables them to scout for potential customers and future tie-ups.
Creating an excellent image for the small business at such forums often translates as growth. Companies that were unaware about the small business may consider it for future dealings. At domestic level, it means expansion of business within India. On a broader, global level, the small business enters the lucrative export market without active or actual marketing. In any case, public relations here ensure a win-win situation.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Under existing Indian laws for companies, certain types of small businesses have to launch a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative while others are exempt. However, that doesn’t mean that exempt businesses needn’t do or are barred from CSR activities. In fact, small businesses can derive tremendous benefits from CSR drives because it promotes a very positive brand image among employees, stakeholders and the general public.
Usually, public relations departments or managers identify CSR opportunities for a business and find ways and means for their implementation. They leverage the goodwill that generates from CSR drives to further the brand image of a small business. Eventually, small business gains in every manner. It gains respect among the public, nets more customers and investors, develops brand loyalty and benefits in almost every sphere.
The importance of public relations for small businesses is often downplayed in India. This is due to the common myth that public relations are an expensive exercise that only large corporations can afford or undertake. Any small business that wishes to benefit from public relations has three options. The first is to hire a person who should have done a public relation course from a reputable institute. Second is the owner should also assume public relations functions. And third, hire a good public relations company to build a superb brand image within a specific budget.