Public relations is the heartbeat of a brand’s identity

Bonnke Shipalana

Bonnke Shipalana

Published Jun 3, 2024


While traditional marketing initiatives, such as above-the-line advertising, play an important role in creating brand awareness for a new business, public relations (PR) can play an important role in shaping and sustaining brand identity, fostering credibility and building trusted consumer relationships, says Bonnke Shipalana, the founder and group CEO of Johannesburg reputation management company, The Allure Group (TAG).

Shipalana is a seasoned marketer and PR practitioner who recently partnered with Independent Media to launch the first-of-its-kind event, dubbed Building a Brand Through PR Masterclass. The pioneering initiative seeks to give fledgling small and medium-sized businesses the tools on how to effectively use PR to craft their brand narrative, ignite excitement about their brand, create a brand following and, hopefully, drive sales.

The day-long masterclass, which will be hosted at the DP World Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on July 3, will feature a panel of industry gurus that will empower attendees with insights, tools and strategies on how to effectively use PR to build their brands.

There’s nothing like a good story

“Everyone loves a good story and PR gives entrepreneurs the platform and opportunity to tell their brand story. Audiences find greater resonance with these stories than with the frequently direct and promotional character of commercial messaging. But how is storytelling going to drive sales to my business? you may ask.

“Most people are familiar with the story of the humble beginnings of Apple, KFC and Alibaba, for example. The stories tug at the heartstrings and demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable adversity.

“PR gives brands the opportunity to also tell their own stories and build a brand presence. For established brands, it can help them expand their reach and footprint,” Shipalana says.

He says that creating brand awareness is not just a simplistic exercise of storytelling – a well-developed and meticulously executed PR campaign should be guided by clear considerations of what the brand seeks to achieve. Any brand that wishes to use PR as a tool to enhance its visibility should be able to provide an honest feedback to a key question: Why should consumers care or be interested?

“Identifying the key characteristic and unique selling points of your business lies at the heart of an effective PR campaign. Identifying a distinct and unique value that sets a brand apart from the competition in a crowded market is one of the critical first steps to an effective PR campaign,” Shiplana says.

“This is critical in a society where there is an increasing influence of digital and social media platforms. People trust established brands and PR can help to generate brand identity and customer recognition. The development of brand identity should focus on the key characteristics and unique selling points of your company.”

Importance of human touch

Shipalana says the function of PR in brand development is its ability to engage with the human spirit and create profound, meaningful connections between brand values and human values.

“In the very competitive market of today, successful brand building is essentially based in connecting to the human spirit. PR’s unmatched capacity to open the door to the human spirit fosters a strong bond between human values and brand ideals. Through sincere interaction with audiences and the telling of gripping stories, PR closes the gap between what a brand stands for and what people actually care about. This relationship is about developing enduring loyalty, trust, and a deeper resonance than it is about advertising goods or services.

“PR, then, is essentially the lifeblood of a brand’s identity and its long-lasting connection with its audience.”

Case study

Airbnb’s “Belong Anywhere” campaign sought to convey the hospitality company’s goal of enabling everyone to feel at home wherever they went. The campaign, which highlighted the relationships and special experiences made feasible by the platform, focused on sharing the personal tales of hosts and guests.

By emphasising compelling and endearing tales of Airbnb stays worldwide, the brand was able to generate immense media publicity in national media outlets and correspondingly increased community participation and talkability of its campaign on social media platforms.

“The storyline of ‘Belong Anywhere’ enabled Airbnb to become more than just a hotel booking service. It promoted a feeling of openness and community, which has been essential in setting the brand apart and propelling its international expansion,” says Shipalana.

About the masterclass

Twelve industry professionals are scheduled to give case studies and share first-hand accounts based on their experience on how to increase brand awareness. Speakers on the day will include:

Dr Thebe Ikalafeng: creator of Brand Leadership and Brand Africa

Qhawekazi Mdikane: executive head of Momentum Brand Marketing

Sylvester Chauke: founder of DNA Brand Architects

Jeremy Maggs: Brave Group Company’s managing partner

Bonnke Shipalana: TAG’s CEO

Sibu Mabena: founder of Duma Collective

Tshepo Mohlala: founder and chief creative officer of Tshepo Jeans

Papama Mtwisha: founder of Africa Your Time Is Now

Thabani Khumalo: chief marketing officer of Corner’s

The thought-provoking one-day masterclass will be full of lectures and presentation of case studies from a panel of well-known PR and marketing professionals who will relate their own experiences and case studies of how they helped increase awareness of international brands in South Africa.

“Through a combination of academic frameworks, practical case studies and interactive conversations, participants will acquire knowledge on how to strategically use PR to improve brand awareness, manage reputation and engage stakeholders,” Shipalana says.

Event information

The masterclass will be hosted on Wednesday, July 3, from 9am to 4pm at the DP World Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. Tickets to attend the event can be obtained online at for R650, while participants who prefer to attend the event virtually can secure their tickets for R350.

The Star

Related Topics:

educationsouth africa