May 13th, 2016
It’s common for a CEO to hear the word “branding” and think, This is a job for my public-relations team.
Mistake: PR is not branding.
Branding sets your company’s direction and purpose — and prescribes its products, people, and processes.
The brand is about customers, the audience, not about your company or your product.
PR, public relations, is the art of getting free publicity by spinning tactical objectives — spreading the word about new products or controlling the damage from mishaps.
Newsflash: Not only is PR not branding, but, when its practitioners act like human printing presses, it isn’t PR, either.
To wit: many companies continuously issue utterly boring news releases about their latest products, believing they constitute news. They don’t. Reporters will ignore them (for more, see chapter 12 of Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding).
Every now and then, though, a stellar exemplar emerges.
When Tylenol experienced its poisoning crisis in 1982, Johnson & Johnson, its parent firm, used PR and rapid response to maintain the public’s trust, which it had earned previously with top-notch branding. Customers always had deemed Tylenol the safe choice, despite buying a commodity: acetaminophen.
Tylenol proved that success in public relations depends on reputation, timing, and message — not volume. The question is, What message?
Brand Is Ink
Branding, unlike public relations, is neither contemporaneous nor tactical. Its goal is to put your ship on a sustainable long-term course, to articulate to target audiences why your firm exists and why it’s unique — not to spin anything and not to get free publicity.
Strong brands, however, can help get that free publicity.
The brand is ink and PR the quill. PR professionals, AKA flacks, must draw from the brand — created by branding experts — by religiously dipping their quills in it. Consequently, they’ll come across to the outside world as consistent and coordinated.
Warning: it’s not the job of flacks — nor is it in their expertise — to create your brand. So, expecting or requiring them to do so is a recipe for disaster.
If your company has a weak brand — or none at all — flacks, like salesreps, will invent your message as they go along. Worse, what they write will be product-centric and jargon-filled, thereby violating the premise of branding.
I’ve hired and fired many flacks in my career, usually for poor writing skills. Like a hawk, I always had to micromanage them. The more tools I gave them, such as a full inkwell, the better they performed. But, I spent too much time rewriting their news releases.
Note: Because of texting and social media, excellent writing skills and branding expertise are now more rare than at any time in history.
Parting Advice to CEOs
PR is not branding. Branding is not PR. Flacks are not branders.
Branding is your #1 priority. Keep that inkwell full and relevant.
If your ship is adrift, PR is not your problem or your solution.
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2016 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.