Public Relations: Underrated Yet Essential

Most people have a limited grasp of what public relations is or what goes into it and the benefits it provides to organisations and individuals. Some think of PR as dealing with the media to generate articles or promotions and CSR events. Only a few people are aware of its full significance.
Public relation is a powerful mix of social media strategies, relevant digital channels and encouraging active customer interaction with brands. Most importantly, public relations is a pillar of organisations since it is responsible for maintaining a positive relationship between the organisation and its stakeholders (external and internal), which ultimately improves the brand’s reputation.
During any crisis, the public relations team is the first to be hands on deck because a lot of work goes into maintaining a brand’s reputation. Yes, some strategies include press releases, press conferences and interviews, but maintaining a brand’s reputation is not only about smart talk and polished English; it is about building trust. And trust is built through transparency, effective communication, and honesty.
Brand crisis, which is defined as “unforeseen circumstances that weaken brand equity by threatening a brand’s perceived ability to fulfil expected benefits”, has been hovering over local brands (organisations and individuals.) However, the impact doesn’t last (a good thing or a bad thing?). This is a good thing because there is no damage to their revenue but a bad thing because their reputation remains infamous, especially if nothing is done to fix it.
In other countries, bad PR has a huge impact on brands, i.e. they drop in market share and stock prices and lose endorsements. We have seen how artists such R, Kelly, whose music was blocked by numerous streaming platforms, suffered loss of revenue and the reputation he had built for years was destroyed after his scandals were published in the media.
One thing is common with local organisations is the ‘’hush’’ effect. When people expressed their concerns regarding the Keno Custom Suit’s Keno Woman Competition, the organisation did nothing to respond. We have also seen how nothing really changes for famous people in politics and entertainment accused of horrendous things such as gender-based violence and rape. The endorsements keep coming, they remain in office, and their day-to-day lives continue as normal.
Promoters are also infamous for bad PR. We recently saw a social media war between a South African artist and a local promoter regarding an event that happened last year that the artists were to headline. The way the issue was handled was evident that no PR practitioner was engaged to remedy the situation. PR is not only about the good stuff like giving media tickets, hosting press conferences and approaching sponsors.
In moments of crisis, these are the people who ensure that the reputation of the brand and event remain intact. If there are more shows to be hosted, how will potential sponsors trust the brand if the nothing was done to actively restore the reputation of the promoter and his entertainment company?
Another example is the recent Miss Botswana Dress debacle. It was a shock to the entire nation to see our beauty queen walk down a world stage in a dress that was not a part of her initial wardrobe as before paraded. But Miss Botswana Organisation’s sloppy practice in crisis management dates back years ago. It started when winners and runners-up were not receiving their full prizes in the midst of rumours of mishandling finances. The lack of brand management from a PR perceptive ultimately damaged the reputation of the organisation. Every year something negative hovers over the pageant and its management.
In any self-respecting organisation, a proper crisis management plan would have been in place to address the nation about what happened. Relationships – which we all know are difficult to maintain and even more difficult to develop – are at the heart of PR. It seems brands lack the patience to reap the benefits of PR’s efforts since it is difficult to understand that media attention and devoted audiences don’t happen overnight. Nonetheless, a well-thought-out strategy for maximising public relations possibilities is just as crucial as advertising or sales promotions.
But again, ‘’Batswana ba’ lebala ebile ba itshwarela ka spiti.’’ Perhaps it is our culture to sympathise with our fellow compatriots, even if it costs us our reputation as a nation. Nonetheless, bad PR, small or little, shouldn’t go unresolved. Furthermore, it makes it difficult for marketers to carry out their activities if people don’t trust the brand because people won’t use their products, services, or affiliate themselves with it ultimately.
Any organisation may thrive if public relations is the anchor and casts a light on brands, their goodwill and relevance, no matter what may be going on in the marketplace. As public trust in a brand grows over time, a company’s public relations efforts help to establish a lasting story about the brand. From this perspective, public relations should be a part of every marketing strategy, not merely a nice-to-have when additional sales are needed or crises arise.