Public Relations, relating to Who?


Markets in PR are conversations and as the public continue to learn and develop new ways to share content or knowledge. These markets are growing at a significant speed, faster than the companies targeting them.

Heather Yaxley of PR Conversations, has anticipated that while the communications industry continues to develop online, there are opportunities for public relations use its strengths in earning coverage, building online relationships and managing corporate reputation to continue its evolution. (Yaxley in Theaker 2012, p.431).

Now companies are facing a new issue. They’ve realised that building online relationships is crucial to succeed, but just who are their influencers, and who do they need to relate to? As displayed below in Hallam’s traditional communications flow chart, businesses used to send their information in a one-way process with journalists used as the primary – and only – influencer. The modernised communications flow chart however, highlights behavioural changes in both influencers and audiences with the flow of communication becoming two-way. The number of different influencers and audience groups has also significantly increased (Hallam, 2013: p.83).

Between the ‘spin’ of the public relations and the distrust of modern journalists, Earl and Waddington have stated that ‘shedding the shackle’ of media relations (and solely media relations) will be critical to the success of Public Relations as an industry. While the future of PR is open for debate, it’s undeniable that companies need to adapt their methods if they intend to survive (Earl and Waddington, 2012: p202)


Gladwell, a PR writer and academic recommends that regardless of the digital revolution and eye-wateringly expensive advertising campaigns, word of mouth is still the most important form of human communication. (Gladwell, 2000: p.32) This line of thought brought me back to a book I recently reviewed – BRANDJACK, by Quentin Langley. Amongst the themes of social media management and crisis communication, Langley recommends that companies and practitioners need to invest in relationships with their respective publics, this includes – but not limited to – staff, customers, investors, neighbours, politicians and business partners. A key idea of Langley’s is that through increased communication, the publics would be more motivated to become ambassadors for their brand during a crisis, spreading a more credible reputation for the company via word of mouth (Langley, 2014).

A quote from Jed Hallam, describes a similar ideology. ‘What people know about your brand is not as simple as running an advertising campaign or securing editorial coverage in a national newspaper. Your people are now your brand, and the conversations that they have with their wider networks are how brand perceptions are built.’ (Hallam, 2013: p.12), this suggests that companies need to encourage their publics to voice their opinions for mutual relationships to be managed efficiently.

Again, another question is asked? If you know who your influencers are, just how do you influence them, and vice verca? Detailed below, Cialdini’s theory of influence does just that. Although it offers 6 approaches that companies can take to influence their audiences, I’m sceptical that these approaches are based on the audiences of 20 years ago – passive and susceptible to peer pressure (Cialdini, 2007).


In a society where everyone has access to the media, companies now have to be able to distinguish who the best influencers are. There are several influence metrics that can be applied to most users of social media, such as Brandwatch, Lissted and Klout – I have a score of 41, just above average. To improve their social score, participants are encouraged to create interest-based networks and attach content that can start conversations and engage fellow influencers. So by doing PR, basically.

With companies becoming increasingly keen to get their influencers on side, Phyllis Korkki – assignment editor for The New York Times Business section –has questioned whether or not metrics could soon be used during the recruitment of new professionals. If the likes of Hallam and Langley are to be believed, then employees will be at the centre of a company’s reputation and they’ll certainly need to be influential to win consumers over their competitors.


Picture credit to my lecturer Richard Bailey, and the authors that feature within them.

Bailey R.B (2015) Digital Communication Management lecture series. Digital Communication Management Module. [online] Accessed from my lecture notes.

Cialdini, R (2007) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Harper

Gladwell, M (2000) The Tipping Point, New York: Little Brown

Hallam, J (2013) The Social Media Manifesto, Palgrave Macmillan

Langley, Q. (2014) Brandjack: How Your Reputation Is at Risk From Brand Pirates and What to Do About It. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Theaker, A (2012) The Public Relations Handbook (fourth edition) Abingdon: Routledge

Waddington, S and Earl, S (2012) Brand Anarchy, London: Bloomsbury



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