PR and branding

Wednesday, 1 June 2011 00:38 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I recently went to lunch at a restaurant in a five star hotel, and was quite surprised by the restaurant’s name. It was actually called ‘The Heist’. If you refer to any dictionary, it will tell you that a heist is a robbery in which there is a large haul of loot. So in other words this place could easily be called ‘The Robbery’. Yes, it is a little funny, but I am merely trying to make a point.

Well, the name Heist for bars is not uncommon across the world. There is one in Melbourne and another in the UK, but now I come to the subject I really wish to write about today, which is public relations and branding.

A brand is sometimes used as a metonymy which is a figure of speech used in rhetoric i.e. where a thing or a concept is not called by its own name but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept (Wikipedia).

Wikipedia also says that a metonymy works by the contiguity (association) between two concepts, whereas a metaphor works by the similarity between them. When people use a metonymy, they do not typically wish to transfer qualities from one referent to another as they do with a metaphor: There is nothing press-like about reporters or crown-like about a monarch, but “the press” and “the crown” are both common metonymys.

Therefore, when choosing a brand name, it is vital for the promoter of that brand to understand the need for the connection it needs to have, to the public image they want the brand to create – something that is in turn, very much connected to PR. So the name ‘The Heist’ may mean something, but I fail to see what!

PR is all about words whether spoken or written and to some extent images as well. These messages created by public relations companies follow a pattern – they are broken into six areas i.e. Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. And in almost every strategy, the why is the most important.

Given that, the people evolving brands for companies need to think a lot about the why or else it could well become a PR nightmare, promoting that brand in the long run. For example, why that particular image, what do these words on the logo mean, why the pay off line, how will the pay off line relate when the company expands and diversifies? These are all matters to consider when a branding exercise is embarked on and also why the PR department’s involvement at this stage becomes crucial.

Companies need to know that public relations people are not insulated and have a lot of understanding of the ground realities, which will be extremely useful when going through a branding exercise.

I know that some of those developing brands love to dwell in the abstract and these arty creative guys may come up with absolutely beautiful words and visuals; but when it comes to holding the brand message or brand story through the life of a company, it may well become a distorted picture. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that PR companies must develop brands!

But on the other hand, as much as marketing and advertising strategies have to go hand in hand with branding, so must the PR plan. So getting one’s public relations people in on the branding exercise is a priority.

This way one can avoid a mismatch in the PR messaging and what the brand actually represents. Most often it is the case here in Sri Lanka where public relations persons act in isolation from the rest of the corporate strategy. PR usually is in the rearguard of the company strategy. PR usually in Sri Lanka is for handling issues or a crisis or to supplement or compliment marketing; PR can do much more – in fact it should be the front line.

To sum this up, as a corporate strategy I believe that marketing and advertising should be linked, not marketing and PR... as a first choice it is branding that should be linked with PR.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website.)

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