PR or Perish: Why your business can’t survive without public relations

“If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”
- Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder

The key to a successful business is through your relationships. And I welcome anybody who wishes to challenge that claim. Dr. P.M. Forni says “The quality of our lives depends on the quality of our relationships. But the quality of our relationships depends upon our relational skills;” relational skills that are not only learned but come naturally to your PR consultant.  Your stakeholders (the people you sell your products and services to, your employees, investors, the media and so on) are all people that you want to support your business. Every business is operational through its stakeholders and it’s important to know where your relationship stands with each of them. Your public relations department has tremendous relational skills and is responsible for creating and maintaining these relationships and developing new ones along the way.

The truth is that you’re not perfect. Many businesses start by offering products or services that appear to be a good idea, yet they do not fill a need. One of the first things your PR department or consultant can work with you on is how to make your business valuable to your target audience. Through careful research and analysis, your PR consultant can identify the needs in your market and tailor your product or service to meet those needs. They can also develop your brand identity to one that your target audience can identify with and believe in. The same applies for larger corporations that are possibly looking to expand into new markets. Even if your product or service does not align with the needs of a new market, there is always a creative way to make opposites attract.

And who will stand by your side and speak for you during times of crisis? You PR department of course. In fact, crisis communications is a specialty of the PR function. It’s important to remember that if you practice effective PR before a crisis can take place, the crisis may have little to no effect on your business. When stakeholders know you and believe in you and the promise of your brand, it builds a loyalty that is not easily broken. This loyalty (strengthened through the relationships that you build and cultivate) will fight half the battle for you during a crisis. The other half is fought by how you react and respond…all of which is advised by your PR department.

The cultivation of your stakeholder relationships is managed through public relations as well. Whether it’s a customer appreciation day or prize giveaways, ongoing communication with the media and being a source for them, a weekly or monthly newsletter or a mail-out to say ‘Thank-You for your support” is all part of the relationship building strategy of your PR department. Public Relations recognizes the importance of keeping in touch, showing gratitude and appreciation, keeping stakeholders updated so that, not only is your business top-of-mind with stakeholders, but it let’s them know that you care about this relationship and that you are doing your part to keep it going.

As your business grows, there will surely be stories to tell. Stories about how you got started, the challenges you’ve faced, major milestones and breakthroughs, special guests or celebrities that have walked your office halls, employees who are making a difference in their communities and more. This is another specialty of the public relations function; to tell the stories that are relevant to your stakeholders. This is how they get to know more about you as a business and see you for more than the products and services that you offer. Adding that human element of story telling can do wonders for growing and developing your stakeholder relationships.

Business relationships should be treated like any relationship. Before one enters a relationship they should be clear about who they are and want they want. They should then identify who they want a relationship with and why? What will be the goals in the relationship? How will the relationship function? Do there need to be any compromises (from either party) to make the relationship work? Communicate, communicate, communicate and by all means check-in. Evaluate the relationship as it goes to assure that mutual benefits are maintained and needs are being met on both ends on an ongoing basis.

In sum, public relations is the personality and character of your business. It’s the part of your business that allows people to engage, interact and get to know and like you. It’s through your communications that people know anything about you or your business and some good PR can build a solid reputation for your business and help you to gain reputational capital. If you expect to have good business relationships, you should expect to have good PR. Don’t do business without it!

How to get more and better publicity

Click to hear the podcast

With 30 years in public relations, Howard Bragman has represented celebrities from Cameron Diaz to Paula Abdul. In this podcast, Bragman discusses common sense approaches to getting publicity for yourself, your company or your cause — from finding your target audience to hosting a media event. His ideas are laid out in his new book “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?

This is a Useful Commute Podcast from BNET

DIY PR is as safe and effective as DIY Surgery

While I believe that Do-it-Yourslef PR (DIY PR) is as safe and effective as DIY surgery, I think I should still offer some guidelines to avoid tarnishing the PR profession even further. Already, we in the PR Profession are seen as flacks and spin doctors when the truth is that when PR is applied properly, you’ll find that there is so much more to it than the tools we use to communicate i.e. media relations, employee relations, social media, etc.

Let us first define this profession called public relations. In it’s long form, public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest. (Flynn, Gregory & Valin, 2008). In simple form (and this is derived by defining both “public” and “relations” separately) public relations is the mutual dealings or connections or communications among persons or groups or a body of people sharing some common interest. So with these definitions, let’s make it clear that public relations is more than our dealings with the media and writing press releases. The foundation of any PR plan is always about who we want to build relationships with and how we are going to build that relationship and what will the relationship look like or how will it function in the long-term.

There’s one more thing that should be made clear and that is the difference between a publicist and a public relations professional. A publicist deals specifically with the placement of stories in the media; they are also known as press agents and work mainly with celebrities and entertainers whereas the public relations professional is involved with the research, analysis, policy formation, programming, communications and feedback from numerous publics. We operate as advisers to clients or the senior management of an organization and we are also technicians who produce and disseminate messages through multiple mediums. (Public Relations Strategies & Tactics, Wilcox et. al. 2003).

So now that we’ve made a few things clear, here are some things to keep in mind when attempting to DIY PR:

  1. Be careful about what you say In your attempt to be as transparent as possible, one little slip could mean the beginning of your PR nightmare. Develop, define and refine your message to avoid inconsistencies and to assure that your message is properly reinforced. Once you define a message that both you and your public can believe in, you should stick to it as much as possible; live it and breath it and only step outside the box when your spontaneous thought can still be applied in the same context of your message.
  2. Give the media what THEY want Having a relationship with the media is more than having them as a contact and telling them your story. Remember in PR, the relationship has to be mutual, so don’t think of it only in terms of what they can do for you, but also think about what you can do for them. Provide them with as much information as possible: photos, videos, quotes and comments, various sources to support your story; you’ll get even more points if you provide a source that does not support your story, this way you are giving them all the angles and reducing the amount of background checking that they have to do and it increases your credibility with them. But of course, you want to make sure that you can give your rebuttal to the non-supporting source, and the more you can be available as a source to them, the better your chances of creating that mutually beneficial relationship.
  3. Do your research Don’t use PR tools because they seem like a good idea, use them because you know they will work. If your public or stakeholders consist of over 65 retirees that spend 90% of their time on the road traveling, it’s not likely that you will reach them through the multitude of social media vehicles available to us. While social media offers the opportunity to reach hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at one time (and for free), if your audience is not a part of those forums, they will never see or hear your message, let alone respond to it. Get to know the people you want to build a relationship with and find out how best to communicate with them.
  4. Consider all audiences I can’t reinforce enough that PR is more than media relations and with this being  said, you should think of all the groups in your stakeholder network. That would include employees, government, industry, the community, shareholders, clients/customers and more. This way, when you roll out your PR plan, you not only know what you want to communicate, but you know who you want to communicate with and because you’ve done your research, you also know how to communicate with them and your message is consistent across the board.
  5. Measure the outcomes and not just the outputs. It’s great to be able to say that you had 1,000 new visitors to your website or that you handed out 100 brochures and business cards in any given month, but did it change anything? Do your stakeholders have a different attitude, opinion or behaviour towards you? Are more people buying from you now than from your competition? Or have more people begun to accept you as a leader in your industry? Do you realize the tremendous effect that these outcomes could have on your overall market capitalization? It is as important to know the outcomes of your PR plan as it is to know the outputs and so processes should be put in place to assure the measurement and evaluation of your PR efforts.

While I do not endorse DIY PR, most people are going to do it anyway. I only ask that you do it properly and not just according to my guidelines, but any and all and as much guidelines as possible. A PR plan based on what may seem like a good idea (without any research) does not a PR plan make.

So I saw this Toyota ad last night…you saw what???

That’s right folks, a Toyota ad ran last night (probably one of many that have run in the last few weeks) and I was taken back. To me it was the equivalent of showing up 4 hours late for a date and then asking if we’re still going on a date!?! In my mind, the ‘pain’ was still too fresh for me to even consider looking at the ad, let alone allow it to influence my buying decision. With all the news going around about this recall…was it wise to run this ad? Should more have been done to make sure that no ads run at this time? What was the thinking behind deciding to run the ad? What was the thinking behind deciding not to hold all ads until things ‘blow over’? Let me guess…the money was already spent, so may as well let it run anyway, right? These are not hypothetical questions by the way, I really want to understand the reasoning behind it…even a 4-hour late date could have a good excuse ;-)

If I’ve learned anything about advertising, it’s that it has much more return on investment, when it’s placed in a favourable environment where viewers/visitors/listeners/readers are more open to receiving the message, otherwise it falls on ‘deaf ears’. I probably would have advised my client to spend the extra time and money on creating a new ad that would speak to those who have lost confidence in the Toyota brand. Although I myself do not drive a Toyota, my parents had one for pretty close to 15 years with over 400,000 km and it was still in good enough shape to get you from point A to point B. The car was even stolen one night and we got it back! If that is not a strong and loyal vehicle then I don’t know what is.

A more tasteful ad would have been one that aimed to move our thoughts away from this ‘mishap’ and remind us about the quality and durability of Toyota vehicles, but that’s just what I would do…what about you?

More on today’s Toyota news

Start your business…PR style

This blog post is designed for anyone who is considering starting their own business and needs help to get the ball rolling. Although the overall business of running a business is a challenging yet rewarding experience, it is just as challenging to know exactly where to begin. Here, I offer 4 steps based on the Public Relations RACE (Research, Analysis, Communication & Evaluation) model, that will help get you on your path to success!

1. Just do it!

Stop thinking about it and just do it; start at the beginning and keep on going; less talk, more action, don’t think about it, be about it! Though the road may be long and rough, it will be well-worth the journey. Research is the first and most important step in starting a business. It allows you to become fully ingrained (near expert level) in your industry.

A businesses is born when someone has an idea for a product or service that they believe can serve clients, consumers or other businesses. But you should first determine if a need exists for your product or service.  In her book Will it Fly: The Idea Tester Carla Langhorst says, “The first step is ensuring that the idea meets a genuine need. If there is no need, customers will not be willing to spend any money. Without a need, there is no market, and consequently, no business.

2. Make it mean something, otherwise known as your business plan.

Analyze your research and organize it into a format that clearly tells you everything you need to know about starting and running your business and the industry that surrounds it.

It’s natural to brainstorm and start to jot down ideas about what this business is going to be, so you’re essentially preparing the skeleton of your business plan, but without the research, your plan will have no “life”.  Lofton Lynn, writer for The Mississippi Business Journal comments, “as the world becomes more sophisticated and business grows more competitive, research takes on a more vital role. Whether new or seasoned, businesses can learn many things from research and use it as a guide.”

3. Talk about it!

If they don’t know about you, how will they find you? Communication, especially at this stage in the game, is key. By talking to one person, you increase the chances of your business coming up in conversation exponentially and in some cases, more so than television or website advertising. A 2005 study conducted by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association showed that:

  • 40 percent of marketing executives in 2005 plan to use word of mouth during the next six months. (Only E-mail marketing scored higher.)
  • 26 percent of holiday shoppers in 2004 bought online gifts because of a friend’s recommendation. TV or website ads scored 15 and 14 percent, respectively.
  • 76 percent of United Kingdom consumers in 2004 said a friend’s recommendation made them feel most comfortable about a product and service vs. 15 percent who said advertising.
  • Recommendations from friends rank right after convenience and customer service for consumers choosing financial or travel services.
  • 71 percent of consumers, 86 percent of manufacturers, and 93 percent of salespeople in 2003 thought word of mouth was the most important promotion factor affecting car purchases.

Who do I talk to and where do I find these people? You might ask. It’s a good practice to speak with like-minded individuals; not the kind who will take your ideas from you, but those who could potentially lead you to an opportunity. You’ll find most of these people at networking events usually offered through a membership association that targets professionals in your industry and these events come in all shapes and sizes: tradeshows, dinner and award gala’s, seminars, workshops etc.

Networking is only one option to spread the word about your business; a website will still provide a much wider reach (if you build and manage it properly) and it’s available for potential customers to access information 24h a day 7 days a week. An email newsletter can add a nice touch and extend your reach even further through forwards.

4. Make sure it works

At some point during the production of your business plan, you had to list your goals and objectives and at some point, you’re going to want to know that your business efforts have paid off and your set goals and objectives have been met. Now, while that may not always be the case, you still want to evaluate and determine what didn’t work and why and what kind of impact did your efforts actually have.

This very important step (equally important as just doing it) will prevent you from making the same mistakes twice and present solutions that would work even better.

Last but not least. Don’t give up! If you’re anything like me the excitement about working on a new project can fade pretty quickly if you’re not clear on what needs to be done and discouragement begins to set in quickly. But if you’re anything like me, you’re passionate about your business and you hold the overall vision clearly in your mind, and that vision is what keeps you going.  Always keep a list of important tasks and prioritize your work. Keep your head up and in the words of Carla Langhorst: “enough planning. Go, soar!”

Sources:

Make it Fly Consulting
Market Research Matters

Word of Mouth Marketing Association

If the cornerstone of your career was having yourself or a client appear on Oprah…there’s not much time left

There are less than two  years left if you’ve ever planned to mark your career with an appearance on the Oprah Show. Be prepared to hustle like you’ve never hustled and potentially feeling the backlash of bumping previously scheduled interviews, if your story is that good enough.

The Queen of media announced yesterday that she would be ending her talk show in September 2011 and that the shows that remain would knock your socks off. After 25 years, Oprah says that she loves her show enough to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

Even if your plan was to sit in the studio audience one day, the clock has already begun to tick on when you can make that a possibility. If anyone is putting in any extra effort to get on the Oprah Show in the next year, we would like to hear your story.

Read the full story

Black Ink Magazine appoints former BBPA Director to Editor-in-Chief

Black Ink Magazine, a publication for Canadian black professionals, recently announced the appointment of Sandra Gabriel, former Communications Director for the Black Business & Professional Association, to the position of Editor-in-Chief.

“I do feel a bit of an absence where the BBPA used to be,” says Gabriel “I miss working with my former Board members to serve the black community, but this will be another vehicle for me to relay the issues of the community and open the forum for discussion,” Gabriel adds.

After serving four years with the BBPA, Gabriel stepped down in May 2009 to pursue opportunities that would build on the skills and experience that she gained while working with the BBPA. Aside from overseeing communications for the BBPA, Gabriel was also in charge of PR/Media for the annual BBPA Harry Jerome Awards.

“Looking at her experience in the black business community, combined with her education in Public Relations and Communications and her passion for writing, there was no doubt that Sandra would make an excellent Editor-in-Chief for Black Ink Magazine,” says Black Ink Publisher and owner of Black Ink Media Corp, Lennox James.  “I think she’ll make a wonderful addition to the team and we’re very excited to be working together,” James adds.  Managing Editor, Diona Dolabaille’s reaction upon learning Gabriel’s credentials was “What a perfect fit!”

Black Ink Magazine has also brought on Editorial Director Natalie McFarlane as part of the Editorial Board, and they are still looking to recruit a number of individuals for the editorial team.

“Sandra’s involvement is pivotal at this stage as we prepare for our launch and we are extremely pleased to have her join the team,” says McFarlane.  “Sandra knows and understands the vision as we do, and has demonstrated her commitment to bringing it to realization.  We are very excited about the possibilities.” She adds.

The magazine is set to launch in Spring 2010. Visit www.blackinkmagazine.com for more information.

View the Black Ink Magazine mock-up

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