On Tuesday September 25th, RMR sent out an e-blast to their database on Leveraging the Power of PR. You can read the entire article for yourself below:
Learn to Leverage the Power of PR — It Still Works
One of the most cost effective and broad reaching marketing vehicles is Public Relations or PR for short. The following article will begin to teach you how to leverage this powerful marketing tool. Even if you don’t have a communications powerhouse on staff, you can still tackle and master the basics of good public relations, once you have some direction. In this article, you’ll learn what public relations can do for your business, why public relations is a necessity, not a luxury, for small businesses, and find many of the pieces to assemble a well-rounded, low-cost, high-return public relations program. Use this article as a primer to acquaint yourself with the inner-workings of PR, and remember that since public relations and its vehicles are comprehensive and multi-faceted, no one source will be able give you everything you need.
The Definition of Small Business
There’s no question that small business is a substantial part of the nation’s economy. It may surprise you to know that 90 % of all U.S. businesses, or roughly 27 million companies, are small businesses. Small businesses employ 43 million employees, 21 percent of which are sole proprietors. The official definition of a “small business” fluctuates, but some of the details are clear: the companies have fewer than 100 employees and less than $10 million in revenue. Small businesses also account for $1 trillion in payroll and $5 trillion in annual sales receipts. (Source: The Tower Group). It’s almost ironic to call the market sector “small” business.
Small businesses not only compete against each other, but also against the giants in the marketplace. That’s why PR is so essential; small companies need to make themselves seen and heard in the ever increasing confusion of monster corporations.
The Impact of Public Relations
If a tree falls in the middle of the forest in Oregon and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise? It does if an article about that tree is published in The Register-Guard and Oregonian Online the very day it falls. Nothing can disseminate a message, tell a story, rally support, instill confidence, and reinforce loyalty like the third-party credibility that comes from an effective PR campaign.
A most common misconception about PR is that it’s just publicity. This is far from the truth. Publicity is merely getting the word out. PR is a multi-faceted approach to changing the way the public thinks about, feels about, and reacts to a certain company, person, service or product, by a third-party affirmation. This is also the reason why public relations is not advertising.
Advertising is a controlled message – planned, purchased and placed by a company to speak directly to the public. The results of PR are often more credible to the public because the message has been created and shared by an unbiased source, the reporter or editor who wrote the story.
Another misconception is that a public relations program is a luxury, something that is very expensive, excessive and difficult to manage. On the contrary, a PR campaign launched within a small business is easily supervised and fun to implement. With the proper planning, the correct tools at your disposal, and a great deal of persistence, any small business can reap the rewards.
If done right, public relations can help your company do many things:
* Establish a premium brand and image
* Create high-profile awareness of the brand
* Establish a consistent image across all marketing vehicles
* Generate qualified sales leads and website traffic
* Increase the ratio of sales to requests for information
* Position your company’s executives as industry experts
What exactly is a “brand”? A brand is a cultural, sensory image that surrounds your company/product and creates an indelible symbol in the minds of your customers; it’s an assurance of quality and stability, making the selection worry-free for your customers; it’s a significant source of competitive advantage and earning potential; and it’s a promise of performance. Remember that the foundation of every brand is perceived quality & trust.
Branding is easy to understand if you break it down. The word “brand” is derived from “to burn” – picture the branding iron of the American West. The brand elicits emotions in consumers, affecting perceived reputation, quality, and service. It’s not solely about the logo, the theme song, or the celebrity endorsement. It’s about influencing the human experience through perception. Knowing this, why wouldn’t a small business create a brand for itself?
Take, for example, the little round Sunkist orange. For the most part, its brand is the only thing that makes it different from every other orange in the produce aisle. Yet, consumers are happy to pay 15 cents more on every dollar for the Sunkist orange, primarily because consumers perceive it to be fresher, sweeter, and juicier than its competitors. Here, and in many other instances, brand equity is hugely valuable.
So what does this mean for your small business? The earlier you begin building a brand, the easier it will be and the less it will cost. Start now by scrutinizing your current brands (the name of your company and its products or services). Ask your current customers why they purchased from you, and what feelings your company evokes in them. Since it’s the emotion that sells, the better you can understand the emotional basis for your customer’s relationship with your brand, the better you can use it to strengthen bonds.
Even though it’s vital to your business’ welfare, don’t enter into a public relations campaign too lightly. Since public relations isn’t as clearly and quickly measurable as other programs in a company, it’s crucial that the marketing communications manager fully understands what PR can and can’t do, and be able to communicate this to upper management. A communications department is not an isolated branch of the business; a well-executed campaign includes participation from all sides.
To determine which path your small business should take, start from the finish: Identify your company’s goals; isolate those vehicles that work toward those goals; and allocate funds and resources accordingly. Integrating multiple vehicles will make each vehicle work harder and is more cost effective. Integration lowers the true cost of selling overall.
As you can see from the Marketing Pyramid, the most expensive way to sell your company is one-on-one sales calls. The most recent estimate is that one sales call costs $500. On the other hand, public relations can reach far more people at a much lower “cost per thousand, or CPM.” A good public relations campaign can result in articles in several different newspapers, publications and websites and reach millions of people. The other benefit of using some of the broader-reaching vehicles, such as public relations and advertising, is that you can get your company name in front of a prospect before the one-on-one sales call and increase the chance of being effective. It is much easier to close a sale if the prospect has already heard of your company. The advantage of using an integrated approach is that you can combine these vehicles based on your needs, your budget, your timeframe, and other variables to get the most effective program for your company.
All CFOs see is the bottom line on the balance sheet; they don’t see the stellar relationships with key media, the heightened image and awareness, the increase in marketshare, and the improved reputation.
Public relations is most important, and therefore, should be better funded, for companies with a high FUD factor. FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – an aspect of business that will influence how you approach a communications program. The media, as well as the public, experiences FUD when introduced to a new company, product, or service. Technology is one of those industries that benefit from PR over advertising because of the general uncertainty of the products in the market. PR carries more weight in those markets because of its ability to facilitate third-party credibility. Companies with a pricier product also gain more return from public relations because the public is more likely to purchase a big-ticket item from a company who has been validated by the press vs. simply advertising.
To help the public overcome their FUD, small businesses must use public relations to position themselves as dependable, quality organizations with staying power and growth potential. Outreach must be consistent; messages must be controlled; and news must include growth-oriented information. Once the public is assured that your company is not a fly-by-night business, they’ll feel comfortable buying from you.
It’s always wise to assess the company’s budgetary guidelines and constraints before making any program commitments. Even if you choose to perform most of the public relations functions in-house, you should allocate a budget for collateral and other materials, phone, fax, postage, and travel. Most companies, regardless of size, spend between 1 and 20 percent of total revenue on their communications program, depending on their offerings. Small businesses often spend between 5 and 10 percent of their total revenue on public relations. Many smaller companies decide to keep their functions in-house to reduce costs, only to realize they’re spending more on those resources that PR agencies already have at their disposal. Agencies can work more efficiently by leveraging the existing relationships they have with the editorial community.
Our next article will examine Goal Setting for Public Relations Programs.