Five Quick Questions: Laura Sutherland from Aura PR

Laura Sutherland of Aura PR - Photograph by Martin Shields
Laura Sutherland of Aura PR - Photograph by Martin Shields

Laura Sutherland is Chief at Aura PR. Over the last 15 years she has worked with local businesses, festivals and brands across the city. She is passionate about Glasgow and communications. Glasgowist asked her Five Quick Questions about public relations. Some of her insights may be useful if you are thinking about promoting your own business.

1. If you ask someone about PR, they will probably think it’s handing out flyers. What exactly is public relations?

Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships, reinforcing the value and purpose of your business or organisation to its public.

It’s a strategic management function, which works with the business, to develop a strategy to engage audiences. Have a two-way conversation.

Gone are the days of broadcasting your message and telling people what you want them to know. Nowadays we look at everything from the consumer’s point of view. Whatever it is has to be of value to them. Always ask the question, ‘why?’.

Supporting the strategy you’ll have tactics and activity which are the key elements in engaging. They can range from social media campaigns, to events, to email marketing or website development. It’s not all that simple though. We have to use what information we have to be able to devise a relevant plan. So we often use data from your website or research about an industry to inform the plan, so that it’s relevant. Making it relevant means it’ll be more engaging.

2. Why is important for business?

Trust, honesty, ethics and integrity. It’s what businesses should be built upon. These elements are what public relations underlines.

Businesses need profile and they need credibility. One of the roles of public relations is to increase awareness and to build your profile, all the while aiming to make your business the go-to place to work, buy and supply.

The flipside is when a crisis hits, whether it’s an accident, a disgruntled employee or something like product recalls. Crisis communication starts way before a crisis hits. Public relations should be so integrated within a business that it is involved in all the strategic conversations. Conversations such as risk analysis, so the PR person can plan in advance for any issues which may arise. Planning is key. Take a look here to read more about communication planning and minimising the affects.

In addition, businesses should be looking short, medium and long-term and involving the PR person in the process of here and now, vs how you get to where you want to be. With a sound public relations strategy, it can help you get to where you want to be, by utilising all the things mentioned above – building relationships, managing issues, dealing with a crisis. All of these elements contribute to the success of a business and the reputation it has.

3. How much do you need to invest to get started?

How long is a piece of string?! Public relations costs differ depending on a number of things:

· Your budget

· The strategy

· The activity

If it’s a bigger agency they will likely have bigger overheads therefore charge more. Independent practitioners like me have fewer overheads so costs can be more favourable

In addition to a PR fee, you’ll also need to consider a budget for paid activity, such as promoted posts or ads on social media, which amplify your message or using software for email marketing, media monitoring etc Here’s a helpful post about the changing nature of PR budgets

How skilled is the PR practitioners? I’m a Chartered PR practitioner with 15 years’ experience. My costs might be higher than someone who has little experience and no skills or knowledge on real public relations. Some say you get what you pay for.

4. What impact will it have on a business?

If we’re telling the story of your brand/business, we’re always going to be looking to develop positive outcomes. Before any PR strategy is developed, business goals would be identified in your business plan and from there, PR goals would be set. You’d then need to think of ‘key performance indicators’ – how can you tell if you’ve met your goals?

In terms of measurement and evaluation, public relations is not solely about outputs – it’s about the impact that PR activity has on your business. So it may relate to ticket sales, or it may relate to traffic to your website which you’d then convert to a sale. Whatever it is, it will relate back to your business strategy and will relate to one of the PR goals.

Nothing is done for the sake of it. Or at least it shouldn’t be. A sound PR practitioner who is CIPR Chartered will always give you the best advice. You wouldn’t use a non-Chartered Accountant, would you?

PR means business. PR is business. Business needs PR to communicate effectively, at the right time, on the right platform and with the right content.

5. What is your top tip for a successful PR plan?

I never start to write a PR plan unless I have all the facts in front of me. I call it the good, the bad and the ugly. A PR person needs to know it all. There needs to be trust between the client and the practitioner for this to happen.

Once you’ve got all the facts, it’s then up to the practitioner to work with you, to drill down and find out what problem you are trying to solve for your consumer. What value do you add? Why should someone buy your services over anyone elses.

Of course, most businesses will say they have a better product or service. We’ve heard that regularly but what evidence is there to support that statement? This is when the golden nuggets start to appear!
Finding out more about your business and your audience makes writing the PR plan a lot easier, more strategic and definitely will see better results.

If I had to give key pieces of advice, if would be 1) hire a Chartered PR practitioner 2) always support the business objectives and 3) always have a way of measuring the impact of the activity.

Follow Laura on Twitter @laurafromaura or @AuraPR.

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