PR Matches Strategy to Need and Budget

Advertising can build awareness, but its days of building a positive reputation are numbered.Public relations bests advertising as a way to build a corporate reputation, according to new data from the Harris Interactive Reputational Quotient study.

Advertising didn't succeed in improving positive perceptions of corporations, says Robert Fronk of Harris Interactive. "Media recall is playing a dominant role on the impact of reputations for both good and bad."

The findings are based on online responses in December from 17,000 people, between the ages of 18 and 65. Some 64 percent of respondents recalled seeing an advertisement, while 40 percent said they read about a company in print or heard about it via word-of-mouth. Only 6 percent recalled reading a blog.

Fronk cited Johnson & Johnson. Its reputation took a hit in 2011, he said, largely in response to negative media coverage and online comments about the company's product recalls and quality-control issues. The venerable company's advertising failed, he added, to prop up its reputation in the shadow of bad news.

The study confirms what PR professionals have preached — consumers are listening more to trusted sources of information than traditional advertising.

Word-of-mouth is a powerful reputation builder or destroyer. If a friend tells you to skip a new movie or avoid a local restaurant, you tend to listen, despite the movie hype or local advertising by the restaurant.

Social media, especially when it is centered on engagement and free give-and-take, also can build trust.

Positive media coverage and well-conceived events also grab attention and influence opinions about a product or service.

Advertising won't go away. But it isn't a panacea to build a brand or a reputation. It is just a tool to use when appropriate.

Businesses are smart to turn to PR shops for counsel. The best ones don't sell their services; they sell strategies that match your needs and your budget.