Corporate organisations have come a long way since the era when their day to day operations were all about pleasing their shareholders. Since shareholders were responsible for providing the necessary capital and finances through ownership they were regarded for many years as the only stakeholders involved that the organisation needs to engage in a relationship management exercise with. Over time the definition of stakeholders has gone onto include all the relevant parties involved in the complete value chain process associated with the organisation. Stakeholders now comprises of employees, suppliers, end customers, supporting industries as well as the wider community as a whole. The importance of maintaining and managing relationships with all the relevant stakeholders has given rise to the practise of public relations management as well as relationship marketing.
A lot of organisations engage in public relations activities through the development of Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives (CSR) that add value to the organisation, and in some cases can also become the source of competitive advantage. This is particularly when it comes to competitive advantage in the form of corporate perception. This is just one of the types of Public Relations exercises initiated by organisations and there are countless practices that are undertaken and they vary by organisation to organisation, since most organisations differ from one another through some way or the other, hence their needs for a strategic public relations plan differs as well. Some organisations try and ensure that they already have a proactive public relations campaign in place in order to be well prepared in case they in the future due to some reason or the other face a public relations nightmare. Most importantly public relations is about developing and maintaining an important line of two way communication between the organisation and its stake holders, since this line of communication also is a valuable source of stakeholder input and feedback, which can lead to innovation, improvement and development of new ideas.
Managing a public relations nightmare can be quite a daunting task for many organisations regardless of their size and industry and those engaged in a proactive public relations campaign do it mostly for the purposing of preventing damage to corporate reputation or minimising the extent of possible damage. Most however have a reactive approach to managing public relations, which implies their activities are in response to a public relations crises that has either suddenly emerged or is on the horizon. A commonly found approach in the industry is the use of well-known or local celebrities to endorse the product or brad by acting as a spokesperson for the organisation in Question. The choice of celebrity would be determined by not only the budget that the organisation is willing to invest in its public relations campaign, but also relevancy based on their target market. In an era where we have moved from mass marketing to segmentation, targeting and position, it has become very important to get to know the characteristics of your desired audience. We should also remember the value associated with the celebrity involved and whether their endorsement can add the level of credibility to the public relations campaign.
Some popular local examples include cricketing super star such as Shahid Afridi and his endorsement of a local telecom company or a popular television actress like Mahira Khan endorsing a brand of a high calcium and low calorie packaged milk. The endorsements of such celebrities extends well beyond just appearing in television commercials, the organisations using their respective services also organise events where the fan following of such celebrities has an opportunity to interact with them and get positive reinforcements about the benefits of the use of the product or brand in question. The former were examples of a proactive Public Relations campaign, one can also find examples of where the services of a celebrity are acquired for the purpose of reputation management and damage control. A good example of this was Pepsico Pakistan’s when it was involved in a controversy surrounding their very popular brand of potato chips called ‘Lay’s. The controversy surrounding Lay’s was that the potato chips contained some ‘Non-Halal’ substances in their production process, and in a Muslim majority country like Pakistan, if questions regarding the Halal nature of the product are raised, it can be quite the public relations nightmare. In order to address this, Pepsico Pakistan employed the services of pop singer turned religious televangelist Junaid Jamshed who is considered by tens of thousands of people in urban Pakistan as a credible authority on religious practices and norms. His endorsement of Lay’s potato chips and backing them as Halal certified played a significant role in what would have been an out of control public relations nightmare for Pepsico Pakistan. This PR nightmare would have included substantial consumer boycotts of the products, erosion of brand equity and also legal action that might have taken against Pepsico by governmental organisations.
It isn’t necessary for organisations to just make use of celebrities that are deemed credible. In developed markets such as the United States and Great Britain, the trend is shifting towards using actual customers or users of the products and services as part of public relations campaigns. Satisfied users of a company’s products or services add far more credibility to the marketing communication through the public relations campaign. They not only endorse the product or brand of their choice, but they are also proactive supporters and defenders of the brand in times when the brand or product might come across relationship crises of sorts. In the age of online and social media, the satisfied loyal customers have significant tools at their disposal in the form of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and countless blogging sites. With time, it is entirely possible such practices in public relations might make their way to Pakistan and companies based here understand the value of user generated feedback.