Public relations is the art ofchanging public opinion without direct company intervention. The main goal is to build positive company and brand images in markets. The goal is to first influence people who are seen trusted and unbiased, and hope that later their influence will spread to the rest of society.
The company’s public relations team first targets product experts in the media or opinion leaders whose views are respected by everyone, moving on to the general public, and finally to consumers. The dotted lines in Fig. 6.12 indicate indirect effects or influences rather than a direct impact. Opinion leaders and experts are generally representatives of the mass media, independent third-party organizations, or influential personalities who have established public trust and respect in their field of expertise (public trust in these objective and honest sources of opinion are represented by direct lines in Fig. 6.12). Although a company itself can attempt to influence public opinion (indirectly), opinion leaders can act like a part of the company’s communication process ifthere is a high-level agreement between these two about the quality of a product or service. Successful public relations eventually build a strong long-term company-consumer relationship. However, each individual has their own beliefs about how the company attempts to spread influence or change through public relations. For example, consumers who can be defined as “extremist” do not like changing their ideas and cannot be affected. Some consumers described as “apathetic” may have limited interest, while others are more concerned about the issue (Lesly 1998). In general terms, there are always a few extremists who will not change their opinions no matter what and a few interested, highly alert and concerned individuals who pay attention to public relations work. The majority of the public probably do not care too much at the beginning but are likely to sit back and watch what happens, making their decisions later.
Fig. 6.12 Influence flow in public relations
The apathetic group are intellectual and can easily follow some other discussions if they lose interest. Since they are in the majority, marketers need to pay extra attention to this group when trying to transform public opinion. This, in fact, shows some similarities to the diffusion models discussed earlier. In general, marketers should carefully define the groups and develop appropriate public relations approaches with a view to changing public opinion.
I have discussed four major promotion techniques individually in this section. The question that arises at this point is how to coordinate these individual promotion elements to develop a single major promotion campaign that will strengthen the company’s persuasiveness. Or, which promotion element in which situation has more impact on the consumer decision process. The next section is devoted to answering these questions.