Like the other program elements, public relations has both advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages include the following:
1. Credibility. Because public relations communications are not perceived in the same light as advertising—that is, the public does not realize the organization either directly or indirectly paid for them—they tend to have more credibility. The fact that the media are not being compensated for providing the information may lead receivers to consider the news more truthful and credible. For example, an article in newspapers or magazines discussing the virtues of aspirin may be perceived as much more credible than an ad for a particular brand of aspirin.
Automotive awards presented in magazines such as Motor Trend have long been known to carry clout with potential car buyers. Now marketers have found that even lesser media mean a lot as well. General Motors' Pontiac division played up an award given to Pontiac as "the best domestic sedan" by MotorWeek in a 30-minute program carried by about 300 public broadcasting stations. Likewise, Chrysler trumpeted the awards given to its Jeep Cherokee by 4-Wheel & Off Road magazines.21 It has become a common practice for car companies to promote their achievements.
News about a product may in itself serve as the subject of an ad. Exhibit 17-11 demonstrates how Olympus used favorable publicity from a variety of sources to promote its digital camera. A number of auto manufacturers have also taken advantage in their ads of high customer satisfaction ratings reported by J. D. Powers & Associates, an independent research firm specializing in automotive research.
2. Cost. In both absolute and relative terms, the cost of public relations is very low, especially when the possible effects are considered. While a firm can employ public relations agencies and spend millions of dollars on PR, for smaller companies this form of communication may be the most affordable alternative available.
Krispy Kreme, a donut shop, started in 1934 in Winston-Salem. While the one store slowly grew into a 34-state chain over the years, it was really not a popular, well-known national brand. Then with a strong PR program and a subsequent IPO, Krispy Kreme took off. When a new Krispy Kreme shop opens today, press coverage and free publicity almost eliminate the need for advertising.
Many public relations programs require little more than the time and expenses associated with putting the program together and getting it distributed, yet they still accomplish their objectives.
3. Avoidance of clutter. Because they are typically perceived as news items, public relations messages are not subject to the clutter of ads. A story regarding a new product introduction or breakthrough is treated as a news item and is likely to receive attention. When Steven Jobs (the founder of Apple Computer) announced his return to Apple, after being with another firm for years, all the networks covered it, as did major newspapers and magazines. Some (like CNN) devoted two- to three-minute segments to the story.
4. Lead generation. Information about technological innovations, medical breakthroughs, and the like results almost immediately in a multitude of inquiries. These inquiries may give the firm some quality sales leads.
5. Ability to reach specific groups. Because some products appeal to only small market segments, it is not feasible to engage in advertising and/or promotions to reach them. If the firm does not have the financial capabilities to engage in promotional expenditures, the best way to communicate to these groups is through public relations.
6. Image building. Effective public relations helps to develop a positive image for the organization. A strong image is insurance against later misfortunes. For example, in 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after taking Extra Strength Tylenol capsules that had been laced with cyanide (after they reached the store). Within one week of the poisonings, Tylenol's market share fell from 35 to only 6.5 percent. Strong public relations efforts combined with an already strong product and corporate image helped the product rebound (despite the opinions of many experts that it had no chance of recovering). A brand or firm with a lesser image would never have been able to come back. The ad in Exhibit 17-12 demonstrates the power of a strong image. The Firestone tire recall cited earlier is another example. Because of a strong image established over 102 years of doing business, Firestone was able to weather the storm and recover from the incident.
Perhaps the major disadvantage of public relations is the potential for not completing the communications process. While public relations messages can break through the clutter of commercials, the receiver may not make the connection to the source. Many firms' PR efforts are never associated with their sponsors in the public mind.
Public relations may also misfire through mismanagement and a lack of coordination with the marketing department. When marketing and PR departments operate independently, there is a danger of inconsistent communications, redundancies in efforts, and so on.
The key to effective public relations is to establish a good program, worthy of public interest, and manage it properly. To determine if this program is working, the firm must measure the effectiveness of the PR effort.
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