Here’s a challenge. Take a pen and a piece of paper and write down your organisation’s objectives.
Your organisation will have a few broad aims or specific targets, even if you are ‘between strategies’. How many of those objectives rely on other people if they are going to be delivered fully?
I would be surprised if it wasn’t every single one. Most will involve your employees, customers, suppliers or investors doing or saying something and their perceptions of your organisation are therefore very important to your success.
This is especially true if your organisation wants to grow, when it will be essential that these groups are brought along on the journey with you. The odds are stacked in your favour if you have built strong relationships centred on trust which means listening, understanding and meeting expectations. This is sometimes easier said than done for organisations. If there is a gap between what your organisation says and what it does, its reputation is undermined. Good communication and PR bridges this gap.
“Public relations helps businesses to communicate value, tell stories and manage their relationships with their stakeholders. A strategic approach to PR is crucial for businesses aiming to establish and strengthen their reputation” says John Foster of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
But what does good communications and PR look like? It can take many forms but with one thing in common: Connecting with audiences.
When The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), a Government consortium which aims to create economic growth, was undergoing rapid change in 2017 it needed to communicate its new vison, ambition and identity. They set up a public engagement campaign called ‘Our Big Conversation’, aimed at getting more people involved in finding solutions to the Cambridge growth phenomenon. They wanted to raise awareness, boost dialogue and gather evidence for future investment strategies. Their in-house experts worked with an agency, Social Communications, to run a campaign that targeted residents, students, commuters, local businesses and all sections of the community. They set up a website and social media campaign, produced tailored leaflets and organised events including their launch event at a high-profile Cambridge United game which gained a lot of local media coverage.
The campaign reached over ten thousand people across Cambridge and generated a similar number of individual comments to ‘Our Big Conversation’, building an evidence-base that can be drawn on to help develop growth policy in Greater Cambridge for many years to come. And the success went
beyond this, providing a longer-term business benefit by boosting reputation and credibility, and building stronger relationships with a number of community and residential groups.
Mike Cherry OBE, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) understands that good communications and PR makes a difference. “Increasingly competitive markets, new export opportunities, diversification of audiences, fragmented and diverse channels of communication, as well as challenges posed by regulations and cyber crime all create an environment of both opportunity and threat. PR is needed to seize the former, and minimise the latter. Many small businesses can also increasingly be affected by consumer user generated content – from online reviews, to social media debate. This alone can make effective PR a must.”
Vindis Group Ltd, a family-owned motor business spanning East Anglia, wanted to be recognised for its commitment to exceeding customer expectations, to meet the challenge of increased competition from online retailers and comparison websites. They appointed local agency Mobas to execute a social media campaign to raise and maintain brand awareness with potential customers and to clearly communicate their points of difference – progressive leadership, cherishing customers and valuing employees.
Mobas conducted a comprehensive social media audit and found that competitors were all posting similar bland manufacturer content, creating the opportunity for Vindis to stand out from the crowd. ‘Driven to Excite’ was a campaign designed to emphasise new products; happy customers; ‘Vindis people’ and lifestyle content. They came up with behind the scenes and ‘Meet the team’ videos, beautiful artwork and imagery, guide to help potential customers, information about the company and engaging competitions. Mobas made sure that each social platform had a comprehensive monthly plan, supported by newsworthy stories to make the most of the public mood, such as union jack coloured cars in the Bentley garage to recognise the royal wedding. The key was to encourage visits to the Vindis website to discover the range of cars they sell.
The company got a massive social media boost which resulted in greatly improved traffic to their website. Vindis head of marketing Paul Woodhouse said “the team at Mobas helped us to
better understand our audience through targeting and profiling and give us the confidence that our strategy to be more customer-centric rather than sales-led was the right decision.”
As well as delivering benefits to organisations, communications and PR can help tackle wider issues in society. It is estimated between 30-50% of food produced for human consumption is wasted globally and, last year, UK households threw away £13bn of edible food. The Co-op identified the need for bolder moves to tackle food waste. They support food banks and collection points for donated goods are available in all stores. However, the majority do not accept food past its ‘Best Before’ date.
They worked with Pier PR & Marketing, coming up with a simple, newsworthy idea to sell produce when it is past its ‘Best Before’ for a nominal price, reducing food waste and empowering customers to better understand the meaning of dates on food purchases. Marketing and positioning was an important part of the strategy, and the light-hearted, ‘Co-op Guide to Dating’ brand was devised. With clever straplines including ‘don’t be a binner, have it for dinner!’ and ‘don’t leave me this way’ each store carried clear messaging about what ‘Best Before’ meant, which dates were important (‘Use By’) and how the food was perfectly fine to eat. The scheme was picked up by trade, local and national media, with interviews on television and radio. The Times said “The world just got a little more sensible with the decision by East of England Co-op to sell off stuff that is past its ‘best-before’ date for 10p.”
The scheme will save an estimated 150,000 food items from being wasted – 50% better than the initial target of saving 100,000 items.
Good communications and PR is good for business. The connecting factor of the three case studies I have given is a solid strategy and plan linked to the organisation’s goals, which is just one of the reasons they all won gold awards at the most recent Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ PRide Awards for the East Anglia, Thames and Chiltern regions. Good communications and PR starts with an organisation’s leaders understanding that they need to build trust and strong relationships with people in order to thrive.
Communications and PR professionals offer a wide range of services and it is important to work with the professionals who offer the right skills and solutions for you. If you are considering seeking support from an agency or an independent practitioner, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ Client Guide could help you find the right support. Visit www.cipr.co.uk to learn more.