THE EMERGENCE OF PR AS A BRANDING TOOL
Over the last few months, we have had an unusually high number of calls about our publicity services. While a couple were from printers, the majority of inquiries have been from both start-up and mid-sized wineries, another industry we've been serving over the past several years. This renewed interest in PR has prompted me take a new look at how publicity contributes to building a strong brand.
Since the arrival of the Internet and the ponderous amount of junk email we all receive these days, customers have become increasingly apathetic to advertising. The slow economy is also playing a part in PR's comeback.
A COST-EFFECTIVE STRATEGY
Unlike advertising and direct e/marketing campaigns in which specific offers can be made and monitored via response mechanisms, the benefits of public relations are difficult to measure. Because much of the value of public relations is in image and credibility, it is also a long-term commitment—a minimum of one year—in order for a strategy's effectiveness to be realized. Whereas advertising and direct marketing may be thought of as campaigns, public relations should be regarded as a routine component of marketing, year in and year out.
In addition to PR's crucial role in building credibility with customers, employees, new recruits and the media, the great advantage of PR over both advertising and direct marketing is its relative low cost. While PR programs for Fortune 500 companies will cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in agency fees, most companies can implement an effective PR strategy for far less.
What exactly is public relations? A PR program may involve a number of activities, ranging from publicity, promotional events, and speakers bureaus to media training, crisis management, lobbying, and analyst tours. Selection of the right combination of PR activities depends on a company's objectives.
For instance, a company entering a new market may choose to focus on raising its visibility prior to launching sales efforts, for which publicity will play a significant role. On the other hand, an established firm is more likely to need a broader-based program, which might consist of a combination of publicity, tradeshow seminars, and community-based promotions.
Publicity is often thought to be synonymous with PR. While it is by far the most widely employed PR activity, it is just one of many PR programs. Also, there are many publicity activities from which to choose. Here are short descriptions of the most common ingredients of a publicity program.
Positioning Statement. Critical to every successful PR effort is development of a clear, concise and resonant positioning statement. To build an effective message, a PR firm will conduct some research on the company—interviews and surveys of management, customers, and prospects—and its competition. Sometimes several positioning messages are required, as in the case of companies with multiple sales channels. Used primarily as an internal document, the positioning statement provides the foundation from which all marketing messages are crafted.
Once the positioning statement is agreed upon, you should design a strategy for implementation, typically beginning with publicity pitches to trade media. The reason for starting with the trades is simple: Trade publication editors welcome industry news. They are more likely to give "ink" to an industry story. And feature articles in reputable trade publications lend credence to an organization's pitches to other media outlets, such as the business press.
Media Kit. Another publicity prerequisite, development of a media kit provides editors with critical information pertaining to the topic or subject being pitched. Elements typically include Backgrounder, Fact Sheet, Biographies, Testimonials, recent coverage, press releases and any other pertinent information, such as research studies, test results, etc. Elements can also be used for tradeshow handouts.
Press Releases. Regularly distributed by both mail and email, depending upon editor preference, news releases are the building blocks of feature coverage. Involving your agency in day-to-day operations is key to developing relevant, newsworthy topics for the media. While it shouldn't be expected that the media will use every (or any) release, their value is in keeping the company's name and activities in front of the media. In many cases, editors will file releases as background for larger stories.
Testimonials and Case Studies. Nothing speaks louder than happy customers. Customer endorsements are an important component of the media kit. They can also provide fodder for case studies, which are extremely effective as stand-alone mailed or emailed marketing vehicles as well as for feature pitching. Again, keep in mind the audience of the media you're pitching when selecting topics. For instance, a design publication will be more interested in how you helped a designer solve a challenge than how you solved a technical printing challenge. Also, call to ascertain an editor's interest before investing a lot of time in developing a case study, or identify several publications that you can pitch.
In next month's column, I'll discuss other publicity strategies and how they can play a vital role in building your brand
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.
© 2003 Charlotte Mills Seligman