Public Relations: The Media and The Message

There was the front page photo and caption in the Sports section of the San Francisco Chronicle. And we were ecstatic when we opened TWA's in-flight magazine and found the long-anticipated feature on another client. Then there was the time we landed a guest spot for a client on the Bay Area's leading news-talk radio show. All were public relations coups for three very different clients. But they all had one thing in common: a compelling message customized for targeted media. Each of the above instances illustrates how a well-planned PR strategy can net results. But here's a reality check.

Each of these campaigns was simply one component of our client's ongoing marketing program. And each took over a year and cost hundreds of thousands in agency fees to accomplish. Public relations, or any marketing program for that matter, should not be undertaken on a whim. It must be committed to and sustained throughout a company's existence.

Targeting The Audience

Let's start with the first example. This client was a national restaurant chain that had built its reputation on moderately priced, well-prepared meat-and-potatoes fare. We were asked to help the local franchise launch its barbecue ribs campaign to the regional market.

Research conducted by the chain's corporate headquarters revealed that men were the decision-makers in selecting the restaurant. No surprise there. What was interesting, though, was the fact that men most often chose to eat out after either watching or participating in a sports event.

Based on this knowledge, we developed a public relations program consisting of print advertising, radio spots, in-restaurant promotions, and publicity. We created the ads, table tents, and other printed materials. To elicit radio coverage, we hand-delivered picnic baskets of the b-b-q rib dinners to sports announcers during game broadcasts. Every announcer who received the ribs gave our client on-air mentions.

We then devised a press event to elicit TV coverage: an all-you-can-eat "Rib-Off," featuring '49er football players the day before a big game. To get the team franchise to agree to let the players participate, we promised a $10k donation to United Way on behalf of the player who could eat the most ribs.

The event was to take place on the steps in front of the Hyatt on Union Square. Sports editors of both print and broadcast media were personally contacted several times throughout the month leading up to the event.

The day of the event, the playersăincluding several celebrity namesăshowed up in their jerseys. The director of the local United Way chapter was there to receive the check, which we'd enlarged to poster-size. And the press from two major TV networks and both San Francisco dailies arrived with camera crews.

That night we were on the news and the next morning we were on the front page of the SF Chronicle's sports section. The two weekends following the event, sales at the two local restaurants spiked 65 percent, tapering off to a 30 percent increase over the next three months.

Establishing Credibility

One of our greatest PR challenges was the U.S. launch of a new wine closure developed by France's largest cork manufacturer. The closure was unique in that it fused at the molecular level the premium part of cork with synthesized cells, resulting in a closure that looks like cork, but performs like plastic in its ability to prevent leakage and cork taint.

There were many obstacles to the closure's introduction in the U.S. marketplace, not the least of which was resistance by winery marketing directors, due to their perception that consumers would balk at a non-traditional closure. After conducting a focus group of consumers, we were able to establish that consumers were in fact open to alternative closures, once they understood the advantages.

Armed with this information and a media kit filled with laboratory test statistics, we launched a PR campaign consisting of ads and direct mail to winery marketing directors, addressing head-on their objections and establishing the closure as the "best of both worlds." After landing features and mentions in every top trade publication and, toughest of all, in an in-flight magazine, sales efforts for the closure were made much easier. Two years after the campaign's launch, sales for the closure comprised 80% of the company's total cork sales in the U.S.

Making It Newsworthy

The third success story offers a good lesson in the technique of aligning PR efforts with news of current interest to the media. Our client, a well-respected AIDS researcher, hired us to help promote his East Bay clinic, with the aim of increasing funding from corporations and individuals.

The clinic differed from others in that it offered free services to HIV-positive African American and Hispanic patients living in the East Bay, a well-documented under-served population in need of medical support services in general and AIDS-related services in particular.

We developed a comprehensive media kit that included statistics of HIV incidence versus treatment facilities, our client's impressive curriculum vitae highlighting his AIDS research, a brochure describing the clinic's services, and a backgrounder with an overview of the issues.

After identifying priority media outlets to pursue for feature coverage and speaking engagements, we launched our mail and phone campaign. Within six months, we'd secured speaking engagements for our client on several of the prime radio and cable talk shows, including the Ronn Owens Show on top news-radio station KGO, as well as features in major East Bay newspapers and two top medical publications.

Realistic Expectations

While these examples are not printing industry-specific, they present important tenets in public relations: Research provides the necessary underpinnings of a successul PR strategy. Determine your audience and direct all efforts to developing effective communications for them. Target your pitches to the media you are wooing.

Too often, PR is viewed merely as a vehicle to announce an award, a new piece of equipment or a new hire. But an effective PR program is an on-going, long-term investment - wa point that's emphasized time and again in Jay Conrad Levinson's book, Guerrilla Marketing. Public relations takes lots of time and loads of perseverance.

Companies tend to pull the PR plug when they don't see an immediate increase in sales. But, tying PR to direct sales undermines its full potential. Unlike any other marketing strategy, public relations brings benefits in positioning, branding and, yes, sales over the long term. While it's the least expensive weapon in the marketing arsenal, PR offers the greatest value in its ability to promulgate a company's worth and its worthiness to clients.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2000 Charlotte Mills Seligman

February 22, 2000
Print & Graphics
Col#11, 2/00
Printing Journal
Col #11 2/00
Public Relations #2
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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