Dennis Zink: Scott, what exactly is Crowdfunding?
Dennis Zink: Great. Public relations is not that well understood. How would you define public relations?
Susan Hicks: Public relations is communications with all the publics that will help your business to succeed. The goals are to build and maintain a positive public image, and to create strong relationships with your customers, clients, prospects, employees and the public in general.
Dennis Zink: And how is P.R. related to advertising?
Susan Hicks: Well, they need to work together and they actually are a part of each other, they claim each other, P.R. says marketing is a part of us and marketing says P.R. is a part of them.
But they are completely different things with completely different goals. Advertising is focused on promotion of products or services with an aim to encourage a target market to buy. Whereas, P.R.'s aim is to give your target audience information about your company, your activities and your products or services.
Dennis Zink: And what would you say are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both advertising and public relations?
Susan Hicks: Advertising is paid media, you have control but you pay for that control, you can decide what the message is going to be, what it's going to look like, when it's going to appear. And so there's a great deal of benefit to that but there also is the cost involved. And there also is a little bit less credibility than P.R., which is called earned media, in which you have direction, you can turn over information and you can ask for some coverage of an event or news, but you have no control over it. The media has complete control over how it's used once it leaves your hands. It's often viewed as more credible and maybe more widely viewed if somebody's thumbing through a magazine or a newspaper, sometimes they pay more attention to the news and less attention to the advertising.
There's a good example of the difference between the two, McDonald's does an awful lot of advertising, billboards, print, T.V., everything. And a good example of their P.R. is their Ronald McDonald House. The message is, "We care about children and their families." Now no amount of billboard advertising, T.V. Advertising, would ever get that message across like their actions and financial support of their Ronald McDonald House.
Dennis Zink:Of course, you know, McDonald's is probably one of the largest advertisers in the United States, if not the world. And a lot of our clients are small businesses. How would you relate public relations to a small business as opposed to some company like McDonald's?
Susan Hicks: Well, in a small business you're going to want to put out information about where your business has improved or changed or grown, who your staff have been trained in, what they've been trained in, what they have accomplished. It's more information and the advertising is going to be local advertising probably for a small business, which would be T.V. or print in a local area.
Dennis Zink: Often times, public relations is used to cover up or spin a problem that may have come up. Can you explain how good public relations can help avoid bad press?
Susan Hicks: Well, to go back to McDonald's just for an example, they survived the crisis of the hot coffee on someone's lap and the lawsuit that came up, primarily because they had great P.R. to begin with. It didn't do it nearly as much damage as it would have without that P.R. background.
But the thing is for a problem to be addressed, the idea is to get your ducks in a row before the problem happens. Crisis communications is what that's called, and it's a part of public relations that needs to have a plan in place and your staff trained. Who is going to speak to the press if there is a crisis that comes up, who is authorized to speak to the press? And do they have some training and experience in it? There are good crisis communications trainers who can offer not only advice, but also role playing experience in addressing what kind of sticky questions might come up from the media in the midst of a crisis.
So there are a couple of very important things to keep in mind when you're facing a crisis, and one of which is never say, "No comment." If you are asked a question by a reporter that you can't address immediately, make some sort of statement that you will get back to them with the answer to that and when do they need it by?
The other thing is to always be honest. Honesty is the best policy. P.R. professionals have very strong ethical standards and if you're not being honest it's going to cost you in the long run.