Putting the "public" back in public relations

There are still many people out there who believe that public relations is entirely about getting ‘name checks’ for clients in the newspapers.

It is true that many PR campaigns incorporate media relations as one element in a communications strategy. But, to take such a narrow view is to miss out on the real potential of public relations. The clue is in the name: “public” relations!

Every organisation has constant opportunities to communicate with its publics – from the design of the corporate identity, through how it answers the phones, to opportunities to speak directly at talks, seminars or special events.

pick member of public

But, for this blog post I am going to focus on the internet, where the opportunities for direct communication have burgeoned in recent years. I have written before in this blog about the dramatic changes the internet has brought to our media landscape.

So many organisations are missing out on the full potential.

Take an honest look at your website. When was the last new content added? Is the content there to communicate directly with specific target audiences, or is it really just there to fill the space between the graphics and the pictures?



If that gives you cause to query the effectiveness of your existing site, you are not alone.

The way that websites have evolved, they are often seen as the domain of technical people who fiddle about with obscure things like html, javascripts and php. Then, if you are lucky, someone will do some pretty graphics to make it look nice.

As an afterthought, someone will task the PA to pull some words from previous brochures to fill the blanks.

Back in the 1990s, we rebelled against this approach by establishing an in-house web capability. We reasoned that the principal role of a website was to communicate business messages to particular target audiences. As with other forms of media, we believed ‘content is king’.

IoD Scotland magazine

This blog item is based on an article for the Institute of Directors Scotland magazine

The start point must be to identify your various target audiences – customers, suppliers, business associates and influencers – and to understand everything about them. What are their needs, what sort of language do they expect you to use (clear, concise, no jargon?). From there you can start to develop ideal ‘visitor paths’ linking the appropriate pages of your site, and specific ‘landing pages’ for each group.

The growth of Social media provides us with the opportunity to add a new dimension, taking your new content-rich website and developing a whole conversation around it, to really engage your audiences and build an online relationship.



Well-executed, blogs, social media business pages and Twitter feeds all work to build this relationship and drive traffic to your site. Beware, however, no-one (not even your most loyal customer) wants to keep reading repetitive messages about how wonderful your widgets are. The content needs to be creative, informative and inspiring.

So, how do you go about this?

A few lucky entrepreneurs and business leaders have a clear understanding of how to use technology to communicate. Others will need the power of public relations expertise to develop the strategy and create the compelling content.

Whichever route you take, putting the “public” back into your public relations can open your organisation to a powerful new way to relate to your customers, potential customers and key influencers.

© Ken McEwen Public Relations, 2010. www.kenmcewen.com
No unauthorised reproduction without full acknowledgement of source. All rights reserved.
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