PR is important to the longevity of professional services firms

25 September 2019 Consultancy.uk

Dominic Pollard, the Director of London-based PR agency City Road Communications, examines why public relations is important to the longevity of professional services firms. 

Greek philosophy and public relations: two subjects that rarely inform the same discussion. But here we go. In his biographical works ‘Plutarch’s Lives’, the eponymous Greek historian and writer questions our understanding of ‘identity’. He uses the example of ‘The Ship of Theseus’ – a legendary king and war hero who purportedly founded the city of Athens. 

According to the allegory, having returned from its nautical adventures, Theseus’ mythical ship sits in a harbour as a memorial to his military achievements. However, over the course of a hundred years its rotting planks are each replaced one by one. Plutarch asks, therefore, whether or not we should still consider the vessel to be the ship of Theseus if all its original parts have since been replaced? 

In different guises, this question has debated for the best part of two thousand years. Seldom, though, when talking about PR. Yet there is relevance between the two. Namely, as businesses age, pivot and evolve into different entities, PR can play a hugely important role in enabling brands – businesses’ identities – to weather those changes and stand the test of time. 

PR is important to the longevity of professional services firms

The evolution of a business

It is common that many elements of professional services company will evolve notably over time. For example, the personnel within an organisation typically change dramatically over the course of several years – even co-founders fall-out and part ways. Business models and specialisms constantly adapt to market demands, and in some instances a firm’s revenue streams end up being entirely different from those originally sought after. 

And so we return to Theseus’ ship, albeit in a modern, commercial context. When a ten-year-old professional services business looks back at its inception, it will often see that many of its component parts have changed from those a decade earlier. What remains, more often than not, is the core premise of the business and the problem it’s attempting to solve – the tangible service may be different, and the staff delivering it may not have been there from the start, but what’s left are the core values or propositions underpinning the business.

As with the proverbial Greek ship, conceptually the entity remains largely the same, even if its physical make-up has changed. Which brings us back to the matter of public relations and, in particular, how an effective PR strategy can help to develop a brand identity in the world of professionals that holds true while things around it change.

PR and brand building

Public relations is often over-simplified as media relations – as a means of getting an organisation and its spokespeople into the press. In reality, while this is invariably a key element of a PR strategy, the aim ought to be far bigger. 

As the art of maintaining an organisation’s public image, PR is essentially a brand-building exercise. It’s about creating an identity and presenting it to an audience – either in a B2B or B2C environment – so people are able to better understand who you are, what you do and the qualities you offer. When done successfully, PR focuses on the conceptual or the ideological more than the specific practicalities of a business; this is particularly true for professional services firms, which will struggle to get much air time if they are only seen to be talking about the ins and outs of their services. 

“Effective brand building, which goes far beyond a logo and a name, is hugely important to the longevity of a services business.”
– Dominic Pollard, City Road Communications
 

Indeed, one of the most common mistakes companies in this sector make in their PR strategies is to focus solely on selling themselves – to shamelessly shout about what they are purportedly great at doing. Journalists often do not wish to promote such material, while readers will glean little value from it. Rather, effective PR is built around addressing pertinent issues an audience can relate to and, ideally, offering insight into how individuals or organisations can overcome them.

PR is, therefore, usually a matter of relating what a business does to the challenges of its particular audience. In doing so, a professional services company can build its brand around a core set of values; it will demonstrate the specialist knowledge of the business and develop trust within a marketplace.

Business identity and longevity

Effective brand building, which goes far beyond a logo and a name, is hugely important to the longevity of a services business. As companies grow their parts change. For those that wish to remain in the public eye – even if that is within niche B2B circles – the brand must be strong enough to withstand the constant process of evolution.

A company’s identity is not – or should not be – a CEO, nor the product, office or colour scheme on its website. It’s the brand.

And developing a strong, consistent brand requires a PR strategy that focuses on more than the component parts; one that is not preoccupied just with the here and now or a sales message but is instead centred on the core values of the business. In turn, this ought to ensure a professional service company’s client-facing image and the coverage it receives in the media is consistent and relevant, even if each of its planks (rotten or not) is replaced one by one.


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