Brand + PR like a suitcase + wheels

The suitcase and wheel have lived in parallel for centuries. People’s lives are now made easier by combining the two.

These seem to symbolise how public relations theory has lived and operated in the same pace as the concept of ‘brand’ yet have spent their lives either oblivious of one another, or relegating each other to a very specific niche handle.

The concept of ‘Brand’ and its central role as a communications vehicle has failed to be fully adopted by the public relations industry. Instead they use vague concepts of ‘corporate reputation’ and ‘image’.

There is a fundamental need to reframe their paradigm of ‘brand’: a brand is often wrongly defined as a badge to mark a certain product or service. (And that was its original definition.)

The term is also used to describe a category of management: ‘Brand Managers’ typically look after a range of brand promotional activities (sometimes including public relations as a subset of its activities.)

If however, we define in what I call a ‘Big Brand Theory’ where a ‘Brand’ is the sum of the cognitive representation about an individual, product or organization – or in non-psycho speak – the sum of emotions, perceptions, and expectations held by others about an entity. (Or to put it even more colloquially, a Brand is the ‘the boxes in other people’s heads holding all the perceptions about you’.)

Does this not then equate to, or even subsume terms currently used by public relations such as ‘corporate reputation’ and ‘image’. Is ‘Brand’ a better catch-all term for these concepts?

The mistake I feel many public relations practitioners make in dealing with the concept of ‘brand’ is to see it as either a label, or a corporate ID or a sub-branch of marketing, and a concept within the individual or organization, rather than a concept that sits externally to the entity.

I would suggest the marketing industry has played a significant role in minimalizing the intellectual concept of brand, defining it as a sub set of marketing. (The American Marketing Association for example, defines a brand as: “A name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. The legal term for brand is trademark. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is trade name.”)

Public relations has also seemingly been happy to play along with this subjugation.

Public Relations embraced the concept of reputation management as one way of defining its role and value to business management. In the early 1990’s the Institute of Public Relations adopted the statement: ‘Pubic Relations is about reputation, created by what you do, what you say and what others say about you.’ To popularize the concept at the time to promote its message I even produced the first official IPR T-Shirt bearing the new slogan.

Many public relations use ‘reputation’ as a cornerstone of public relations activity. I would liken the concept of ‘reputation’ to a gas; it’s there, but it is nebulous, hard to see, or indeed to measure or manage.

On the one hand we have a concept like ‘reputation’ which is like a gas, on the other we have we have a concept of Brand, where we can establish a number of core parameters that provide a coherent body to manage, and indeed is like a suitcase with wheels – it is distinctive, measurable, and we can go places with it.

Is it about time many of the public relations start connecting their suitcase to the available wheel by embracing ‘Brand’ in its widest definition.

The Big Brand Theory is now being offered as a one day training course by the Public relations Consultants Association in London on Thursday March 28.
Further details here:

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