Public Relations - An Overview
First a quick definition: For our purposes, we'll consider "public relations" to be communicating with customers or any audience without paying for that communication. Advertising, by definition, requires some form of payment. If you buy a print ad in your local newspaper, you are advertising. If you convince a reporter to write about your company in the local newspaper, that's public relations--at least that is the traditional view of public relations.
Today companies and organizations can communicate directly with customers through websites, blogs, and social media. Instead of thinking about public relations in terms of "I hope I can get an article in a publication," think about it in much broader terms. Public relations is how you communicate with your audience, whether on your own or through another outlet.
In short, if you publish a blog, what you write about your company is public relations. So if you currently think:
- I need a PR firm to handle my public relations, or
- I should not create a press release unless I have major news to report, or
- I need the media to spread the word about my company, then
… you are mistaken. A solid public relations effort can help you build a strong relationship with your customers without spending advertising dollars, especially since a variety of web and social media tools are now available.
In fact, many experts consider public relations to be much more effective than traditional advertising. The reasoning is simple: if you run an advertisement describing your product, your audience may be less than impressed; after all, don't you have a vested interest in saying how great your product is? But if a third party reviews your product, that reference carries much greater weight.
What can public relations do for your business?
- Increase public awareness of your company and your products; in short, improve brand awareness without expensive advertising
- Enhance your overall corporate or personal image
- Spread the word about new initiatives, products, or accomplishments
- Improve employee morale and employee recruiting
So what are your options for spreading the word about your business?
- Press Releases. A well-written press release can gain immediate attention and widespread notice. By using online press release publication sites, your news could be read by millions.
- Traditional Media. Mentions in print, on TV, and on the radio can be powerful. (That's why many companies and individuals work incredibly hard to land a segment on a show like Today.) The exposure you gain can create explosive growth you could otherwise never afford.
- Company Blogs. Can't get others to talk about you? No problem, talk about yourself! You can also tap other blogs to tell your story for you.
- Podcasts. Don't like to write? Speak! Talk about creative ways to use your products, provide maintenance tips, answer customer questions, etc.
- Online Forums. Your best customers may be happy to participate in online discussions about your products and services. You can answer questions, provide additional information, and while you're at it stay in touch with customer needs and interests.
So where should you start? For almost any business, the first step in building effective public relations is to provide a comprehensive website. Don't just sell products or services. Provide content about your company, your employees, your products, your charitable efforts. Let your customers develop a real sense of the company. Announce new products. Announce new services. Provide maintenance, warranty, and repair information (if appropriate). Answer common questions.
In short, instead of simply focusing on what you want people to purchase, focus on what your customers want to know about your company, your products, and your services.
Embrace different communication tools. Create a company blog, but don't just promote yourself. Provide information from which your customers can benefit. Comment on news that relates to your industry. Leave comments on other industry blogs. Use blogs to put a "face" on your company. You can use a social media tool like Twitter to alert customers to special deals. For example, a San Francisco bakery lets customers know what items are hot and fresh that morning. Other companies "tweet" their one-day-only sales to their customers. Is that advertising? In a way, but it's also free advertising.
Think of public relations as a way to better manage how customers and potential customers think about your company and your products and services. Public relations is, at its core, simply a marketing tool: take control of your own message and use a variety of tools to get the word out about your business.