PR people coming from many disciplines

Jeff DomanskyPublic Relations DirectorScali McCabe Sloves, VancouverQ. What do you think is the role of public relations within a company's marketing mix today?A. I would say the role is to help clients manage change and manage reputations, and to do that...

Jeff Domansky

Public Relations Director

Scali McCabe Sloves, Vancouver

Q. What do you think is the role of public relations within a company’s marketing mix today?

A. I would say the role is to help clients manage change and manage reputations, and to do that through a wide range of communications tools.

Q. In what ways are clients using public relations firms differently today than they might have five years ago?

A. They are looking less for a good tactical writer and more for someone who can manage change, or manage their reputations, or manage a situation for them.

It used to be common that clients would come in with a preconceived idea and say ‘We hear you guys write good newsletters. Can you write us a newsletter?’

Let’s talk

Now they say, ‘We have a situation with our employees and we think that public relations can contribute to a solution. Let’s sit down and talk.’

And one of the reasons for that is because of the people that are coming into public relations. It used to be the only way to get into the business was via journalism.

Writing skills are still really critical, but now you find people who come into [public relations] from many disciplines, everything from law to research to business management. So that’s a real change.

Q. Why is it we hardly hear anything from clients about the integration of public relations into their marketing mix?

A. My experience is that public relations has been integrated longer than some of these other disciplines.

Q. Of all marketing activities, public relations would seem to have the worst reputation. Why is it that an industry in the business of generating good pr for its clients often gets such bad press itself?

A. One of the difficulties is that clients are often focussed on short-term results, while public relations has traditionally looked at the bigger picture, longer-term results.

Crises

We have always been great at handling a crisis and developing a long-term strategic plan. But now we have to act like marketing managers by saying, ‘Okay, in the next quarter, here is what we want the results to be.’

For example, a product manager has quarterly sales objectives. When you introduce public relations into the mix, can you point to how public relations has contributed to sales?

It may have contributed to helping you get listings [in stores,] it may have contributed to helping you get trial, but then we are faced with how can we predict the impact on sales, if that is what you are trying to achieve.

Another difficulty is that there has been no way of measuring the results of public relations activities, until the past couple of years.

Difficult to measure

It’s difficult to measure results, other than to count the number of clippings, or the linage, and try to attribute ad dollars against it.

So, you have to look at the approach of management by objectives.

You might, for example, measure results by the number of inquiries on a customer service line, or you might look at the nature of the inquiries – a drop in problem calls – so there are a lot of different ways of measuring the contribution of pr than there were formerly.

Q. You’re talking about public relations’ image with clients. What about its image with consumers?

A. I think it’s a profession that is not well understood.

Many stories in the media are driven by things that public relations professionals do. But the public, if they are not involved in that process, does not really understand the way that public relations professionals work.

Professional status

Secondly, we don’t have professional status, like an engineer. So you can’t point to someone and say ‘There’s a public relations professional.’

We do have accreditation now, and we have worked hard to establish guidelines, so now when employers go to hire public relations professionals, they now ask for an apr or an abc (accredited business communicator) and that’s a change that has only come about in the last three years.

But the average consumer would not necessarily know there is an accredited public relations program.

To reach the general public, when anybody can basically open an office and call themselves a public relations company, it’s quite difficult.

Q. What’s it going to take for the public relations industry to get good press?

A. I think we’ve got to continue to work at developing professional credentials. We also need to talk, as a profession, about what it is we do.

We need to talk about results most of all.