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Modern Stories of Society: How PR Shapes Our Everyday Lives

Earlier this year London’s V&A museum hosted a series of events considering the role that public relations play in modern society. The exhibition’s curator Geoffrey Marsh told The Independent that the topic was important as “PR responds to the basic human need for stories”[1]. Marsh also suggested that the events were set to explore the changes the industry has seen with the rise of social media.

As we engage with brands every day, it can often be easy to forget the role that marketing, and as part of that PR, has played in our interactions with and perceptions of a product, a business or a public figure. From the bank with which we choose to invest our savings, to the coffee we buy on the way to work each morning, our opinions and decisions are, to some extent, shaped by our perception of the brand.

Creating a strong brand identity that offers consumers the opportunity to take a journey with the brand is key. However, for consumer products, shared experience and stand out moments are playing an increasingly central role to a consumer’s perception of a brand.

Consider last year’s Cadbury campaign “free the joy” which culminated in an augmented reality event at London’s Waterloo station. Though the wider journey was important, as it brought consumers together across various media channels, the final event represented a unique opportunity in the midst of the shared experience, which increased interaction with the brand. While the consumer relationship with a brand must have a strong story in support of it the shared experience can help to intensify that relationship.

For corporate communications the public’s relationship with the brand and its identity has a slightly different tone. Firstly, it is often a different kind of public who are relating to the brand most frequently – the business community – and so it is important that these individuals and other businesses are engaged in an appropriate way. Finding a brand’s journey that intersects perfectly with your own business’ is important and often, as these relationships involve a longer term commitment, it is important that the story can sustain itself for a longer period of time.

Informed businesses will feel in control of the decision to partner with another business on a project. By using PR creatively and carefully to influence these decisions with appropriate news and messaging, perceptions can be altered, enhanced and change the ways in which two businesses continue to interact.

Though consumer brands are more likely to be adventurous and experimental, corporates should consider the changing landscape of public relations as an opportunity to express their identity in new and more appealing ways. Engaging corporate stories appeal to the business community in the same way that consumer stories appeal to consumers.

Protecting an identity and ensuring the stories a brand tell are positive ones is equally as important as creating new journeys – for both consumers and for corporates. Consumers often take to social media to air their grievances with a brand and with the potential to rapidly escalate from a single tweet to hundreds of Re-tweets and supporting comments from other incensed users, it is important that the brand’s identity is protected with an appropriate response.

Some brands choose to offer a witty response in times of trouble whilst others choose to demonstrate concern and look for ways to solve common problems. For corporate communications the approach is different. The BP oil spill in 2010 is an infamous example of a crisis that was almost impossible to combat however good the communications strategy was, and the effect that the negative press had altered public perceptions of not just BP but oil companies more generally. This highlights the importance of perception in a crisis and the effect a good, or bad, communications strategy can have on the brand.

Be it in times of crisis or as a means through which to engage and encourage interaction during more positive climates, PR plays a key role in the way brands are perceived in society and influences the decisions we make. As the way that the public relates to brands continues to evolve, with an increased presence on social media for example, PR must continue to work closely with organisations and individuals to create positive perceptions and guide the journey of a brand.

By Emily Tanner