Because consumers are exposed to so much advertising these days, they often try hard to avoid it – and are very skeptical of it when they do get exposed to it. To reach these hard-to-reach consumers and to convey messages to them in a manner that is more credible partly because it is more subtly delivered, more and more companies today are devoting a portion of their communication budgets to the use of ‘public relations’ (PR) for marketing purposes. Some of the different ways in which this is done are reviewed below, but what most of them have in common is the delivery of a message about the brand not through paid, explicit advertising, but rather than an implied or explicit endorsement of a credible third-party media source, such as the editorial content of a newspaper or magazine, or by associating themselves with a sports or cultural event, or a charitable organization.
Public relations is usually regarded of as a way to build a corporation’s public image before stakeholders such as government, shareholders, employees, and so on, and as a way to counteract negative publicity (such as the scare about Tylenol after it was involved in cyanide murders in 1982). While these corporate reputation and crisis communications used of public relations are still very important, it is being used more and more in the form of marketing public relations. Budgets for such uses of public relations are rising – one estimate puts the total annual amount of PR spending in the US at about $8 billion. Most leading PR agency groups today own one or more PR firms, including two of the biggest: the WPP Group owns Hill & Knowlton, and Young & Rubicam own Burson-Marsteller
The following are examples of public relations used as essential elements in marketing;
News Stories and Media Editorial Coverage
Cabbage Patch Dolls became a toy craze in 1985 after being featured in a Newsweek cover story, appearing in network and local TV and radio broadcasts, and after first lady Nancy Reagan was shown worldwide giving them to two Korean children hospitalized for heart treatment. New products of various kinds – from Ford cards like the Taurus, to fat substitutes like Simplesse – achieved very high levels of brand awareness even before advertising for them broke because of favorable news coverage.
Event and Sports Marketing
Ed Bernays, considered the father of modern public relations, pulled off a huge publicity coup for general electric by orchestrating the celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of Edison’s invention of the light bulb, in which then – President Herbert Hoover – and millions of others – switched on their electric lights after and NBC announcer gave the signal. Similarly, the sponsorship of big events and sports competitions – such as the Statue of Liberty Centennial or the L’eggs 10k Mini Marathon for women – is a multi-billion-dollar business involving its own specialist firms.
Sales of Resse’s pieces candy soared after they were shown in the hit movie E.T. When Ray-Ban provided actor Tom Cruise sunglasses to wear in the movie Top Gun, the sales reportedly raised 30-40 %.
In all of these cases of marketing PR, the benefit to the brand is not only that the message is delivered through a perceivably neutral, objective, and trustworthy organization or institution, but also that it is relatively cheap.