“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!