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Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

The PR Quotient

Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

M any in the marketing world see public relations (PR) as a tool useful only in a crisis or perhaps to publicize a company’s latest advertising campaign. Despite PR’s many successes, the perception among many corporate executives is that marketing does not include PR. Nothing could be further from the truth.

PR is more than pitching story ideas to the media and sending out news releases on new products or new hires. The PR umbrella covers a number of activities, all related to communicating a specific message to a specific audience, and managing communications between your company and your audience.

The big appeal of PR to small businesses and large corporations is cost. With an efficient PR program, smaller companies with limited budgets can compete with bigger players.

Because PR programs are much less expensive than advertising, and because there is not an objective way of measuring their value, marketers often view PR as a secondary discipline. However, it provides the credentials that create credibility in advertising.

Measure Your PR Level

Since marketing includes PR, you might do well to measure your company’s level of PR to determine if it is a missing ingredient in the marketing mix. Answers to the following questions could provide telltale signs that PR is the weak link in your company’s marketing communications chain.

Do your competitors seem to get most of the publicity in newspapers and trade press?

Is your company absent when publications print industry round-ups, product listings and resource guides? It’s unlikely that editors and reporters are ignoring you. They apparently don’t know about you.

Is your website getting poor site traffic?

Do your direct mail campaigns generate a weak response? Company visibility through PR efforts will pull in greater response from advertising and direct mail programs. Low rates of response to advertisements or brochures may mean those receiving your mailers or reading your ads have never heard of you.

Do your salespeople have a hard time closing deals? Do they hear from prospects that they’ve never heard of your company? Good PR establishes your company as a player in the marketplace, opening doors a little more easily for your sales staff and greatly reducing the selling cycle.

Do your vendors list your company as one of their customers? If not, perhaps they don’t view you as big enough or important enough to impress their potential customers.

If yours is a publicly traded company, do major brokerage houses follow your stock? Investors are among your target audiences.

Do customers and potential customers view your company as it was in the past, as it exists today or as what it will become? PR can help change your image in the marketplace and pave the way for new product introductions or niche marketing.

Do headhunters call you regarding openings at other companies? Headhunters tend to raid the hot companies. You don’t necessarily want them recruiting your best employees, but it’s a sure sign that yours is a well-known company with a good reputation.

Fill In The Gaps

If you answer these questions honestly, you may realize some PR activity is in order. If you’re still skeptical, consider how PR can help your company respond directly to the questions posed above.

PR can generate traffic, leads and profit. A well-timed news release or article in trade magazines or newspapers can fill gaps in your advertising schedule and boost the frequency and credibility of your message. Media coverage of a new product launch can appear to readers and viewers as a product and company endorsement.

PR can pre-sell potential customers and increase loyalty among your existing customers. If buyers and potential buyers see your company spokesperson regularly quoted in news articles of respected publications, he or she quickly becomes an expert working for a successful organization. People want to do business and be identified with those they consider experts at the top of their game.

A better company image is a natural by-product of positive PR, and can help your company become an “of course” when a prospect sits down to prepare a list of bidders. A key contributor to becoming an “of course” is to constantly remind the marketplace of your activities, accomplishments and capabilities, such as participation in trade shows, awards won by your company, new products or product improvements.

PR can target audiences at a grass-roots level or on a regional or national basis. You should maintain separate news release distribution lists for general media, trade and business press, and investors, tailoring your message to the specific audience you are trying to reach. For business, the best publicity outlets are business magazines, trade publications, association newsletters and activities, and the Internet.

PR can help break through the clutter of messages in the mass media. While most people don’t study every advertisement that appears in the daily newspaper or monthly trade magazine, almost everyone reads headlines.

If the headlines come from your news releases or PR campaign, you’re breaking through the clutter and reaching your audience in a credible way.

The bottom line is that PR gets your company’s name into print where your prospects and customers can see it. The visibility and exposure will not only enhance your company’s image and reputation, but will continually reinforce what your company is and does. Being visible in the media keeps your name “top of mind” when it’s time to make a purchase. “Out of sight, out of mind” is definitely a truism in the business world.

Good PR Starts With Research And Development

Here are a few suggestions for getting your PR program off to a solid start.

Invest in media directories. Editor & Publisher (E&P) Yearbook is the encyclopedia of the newspaper industry, with listings for all dailies worldwide and all community and special-interest US and Canadian weeklies. Published separately by E&P is a directory of major players in the newspaper business including names, job functions and phone numbers.

Develop an up-to-date list of media contacts to call or e-mail when you want to get a story or news release into print. In addition to contact information, include information on deadlines, preferred means of contact and other notes unique to specific news organizations. Keep your lists updated — reporters frequently change beats.

Become acquainted with media outlets to stay abreast of what newspapers, trade magazines and business publications are covering. Purchase a subscription to the publications that are primary to your industry, product or service and read them. This will help you frame your stories and avoid missteps such as pitching a story that was covered just the day before.

Collect editorial calendars for different types of key media in your industry. Trade magazines and special sections of certain regional and national business and daily newspapers publish annual editorial calendars that list monthly topics or industry issues to be covered in upcoming editions. Calendars can be obtained by visiting publication websites or by calling the publication’s advertising sales department.

Develop a boilerplate statement about your company — a brief company description should be in every news release, and used as frequently as possible in company publications, Web pages and other materials to multiply and strengthen the impact of the company message.

Develop and distribute core press materials. A good media kit includes a company fact sheet, short biographies of key management personnel and key news releases such as latest financial results or new product announcements.

Sharpen your writing skills. PR writing includes news releases, client correspondence, media alerts and speeches. Be aware of different writing styles required for each area. A dictionary, thesaurus and Associated Press Stylebook are useful tools.

Professionalism is key when dealing with all media organizations, so be sure to always proof your work, or better yet, enlist the aid of a trusted editor.

Do your homework. Research your company’s history and your competitors, and stay up to date on breaking news and developments in your industry. Request periodic meetings with management. Stay abreast of your company’s direction and its activities as they relate to current events in the marketplace.

Establish a monitoring service. Whether you handle it in-house or hire a monitoring service, developing a method of tracking media placements is an important part of your PR program. A complete listing of print, broadcast and on-line monitoring services is available on the Web at www.clippingservice.com.

May 2005