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A Little Advice

Reprinted from News-To-Use, Vol.5, No.1.
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A lot of business-to-business oriented companies think public relations is just a gimmick invented to separate them from their money. They don't understand what PR is supposed to do nor how it works. They don't understand the costs. They don't know how to analyze the results.

So they don't do it at all.

Too bad. Because when a PR program is properly conceived and executed, it's often the most efficient tool for communicating with the audiences (they're called "publics" among PR pros) you need to reach with your message. If your company is going to be successful with public relations, however, there are a few common pitfalls you need to avoid from the beginning.

Don't start talking before you know what to say. Smart PR starts with a careful thought process inside your company. Every action your company takes sends a message to someone - usually many messages to all kinds of people. If you change your logo, clean up your loading dock, press the flesh with suppliers at a trade show, start an employee newsletter, or take a banker to lunch you're practicing public relations.

PR is successful when it's used as part of an integrated marketing strategy that reflects a well-defined corporate mission. Public relations, like advertising, trade shows, direct mail, newsletters and a myriad of other tools, is just a device for communicating a specific message to a discrete group of individuals. If you and your company aren't clear on what that message is - or what it should be - PR isn't going to work well for you.

Part of a good PR or advertising agency's job is to help you strategically focus the message you put out into the world to support your marketing effort.

Don't confuse short-term selling with long-term marketing. Out in the real world, public relations helps you raise awareness and build credibility over time. This is not to say that PR may not have some short term impact on sales in some cases, but if you're relying on press releases to rapidly build demand for something you're selling, you're likely to be disappointed.

A well-thought-out marketing communications program will address both short- and long-term marketing goals using different tools in different ways. A sales event with spotlights, clowns and a remote broadcast by the local radio station should have an impact on short-term sales; a press story about donations of your product or service to charity should have an impact on long-term acceptance and credibility. Smart marketers will use both.

Don't confuse public relations with press relations. The editors of trade publications are certainly an important audience for news about you, your product and company. But preparing press releases and sending out press kits is only part of what PR is all about.

When our friend Ely Callaway set about introducing his then-new Callaway Wines, he concentrated on communicating his message to a discrete but important public: waiters, waitresses and Maitre d's at top restaurants. He didn't rely on press releases, but instead hosted high-class, invitation-only wine tastings. By concentrating on these front-line opinion leaders, Callaway Wines became a favorite in fine restaurants long before it was even marketed in retail shops.

What PR is, at bottom, is reaching the right people with the right message at the right time. The audience may be editors, but it's just as likely to be influential customers, bankers or suppliers. The method may be a press release, but it could just as easily be a speech, a seminar, a newsletter, a luncheon or a wine tasting. Keep your mind open to the possibilities. Ask not what the media can do for you... Trade-press editors are looking for solutions to problems. If you can demonstrate an application where your product solved a problem for someone, by all means, pitch it to the trade press. But when you do, make it as easy on them as you can. Be sure to get written customer approval before you send in a story, and include a photo. Submit to one editor at a time, not to four competing publications at once. Call the publisher's office to get an advance copy of the magazine's editorial calendar, then target your story to its special themes, or better still, talk directly to an editor before you submit the story. Target the heavyweight trade periodicals first, then use reprints for sales support, direct-mail material, or as a background for capability brochures.

Seek professional help. At the risk of sounding self-serving, the chances are good that your company is not the best one to design or execute a public relations program. For one thing, it's the rare company that can muster the unfailing attention PR needs to be successful unless they have the resources to devote an entire position or department to the effort.

An outside agency is staffed with writers who can objectively tell your story in plain English, and PR pros who have (or can develop) the key contacts you need. A good agency can add extraordinary creativity and experience to your marketing; it should be able to produce measurable results as well, if you give it the tools. Use PR properly and you'll have an effective tool for communicating your message. Use it poorly and you could not only waste your money, you could ruin your reputation.

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