Public relations is an essential marketing tool for any company seeking to raise awareness, promote products and services, and boost sales. In contrast to advertising, public relations tells a story, often produces grassroots word-of-mouth “buzz” and can be extremely cost-effective. As a marketing discipline, public relations has a few inherent advantages. For starters, media placements that are generated by a public relations program serve as third-party endorsements for your goods or services. For example, an article in a prominent magazine or daily newspaper that promotes and tacitly recommends Nike sneakers has more credibility with consumers than an advertisement in that same publication about the same product. And while there are no guarantees that you will get the kind of press coverage you wish for, a focused, respectful perseverance will give you your best shot. (For more on how to get media coverage for your company, see “Turn Your Company Into a Headliner”)
For firms that are planning on incorporating a public relations program into their broader marketing effort, it is important to keep in mind a few strategies. With the proliferation of media outlets and news programming, producers, editors and writers are in perpetual need of compelling story ideas. Most businesses or nonprofits have a unique narrative that if communicated skillfully has the potential to be a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal or a segment on the Today Show. Media professionals search for creative story ideas to fill their endless hours of programming. With the right tactics, your business story can fill that void. Here are some of those tactics:
Put a Voice to Your Company
Identify someone in your company who could become the official “spokesperson.” On its own, a company is an inanimate entity that has little to offer the media. However, with the introduction of a spokesperson, that same company is transformed into a life form that pulsates with energy. He or she must be articulate and composed and, most importantly, must project the image of a guru or expert. Companies that do not have an obvious candidate for the role of spokesperson should consider hiring a public relations firm that can train someone to become that savvy, authoritative voice. Remember, the spokesperson automatically becomes the public face of the company, so he or she must project the corporate culture and be appealing to the targeted demographic. For example, an attractive female is a better choice for spokesperson of a cosmetics company than a chubby, balding male. Media professionals are in constant need of industry experts who are willing to appear on television or in print. By positioning clients as industry experts, we have had great success at generating bushels of media placements.
Capitalize on Cause Marketing
An additional tactic that has proven to be of great value is cause marketing. Cause marketing is a method of twinning corporation and for-profit entities with charitable or nonprofit organizations for their mutual benefit. In the early 1980s, we partnered Famous Amos Cookies with Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA), at the time an obscure organization that promoted literacy. The partnership proved to be a transformative one for both Famous Amos and LVA. Famous Amos cookies became an iconic national brand, and literacy became a pet advocacy issue for millions of Americans. This was realized through grassroots media events in cities throughout the United States and national print and broadcast interviews. Amos became the national spokesperson for LVA, and the PR efforts surrounding this partnership helped brand both organizations. This cause-related marketing effort inspired Ben & Jerry to become environmentally involved and is credited with much of the media coverage the company enjoyed early on. Regional companies should consider partnering with regional charities in order to generate media that is appropriate for the area. A small supermarket chain with stores in New York State, for example, may want to implement a cause marketing program with a local soup kitchen in the same market, thereby ensuring that the news stories are relevant to the indigenous media. Executing a media event at the soup kitchen during a weekday lunchtime feeding with the supermarket’s spokesperson provides a recipe for media coverage success.
Besides projecting an image of philanthropy and community involvement, a cause marketing program enables businesses to connect with their customers on a more human and personal level. Cause marketing is a great public relations tactic because it is relatively inexpensive and highly effective and, most importantly, because it builds a corporate culture that emphasizes compassion and charity. There is no disputing the importance of being involved in the community, but many companies do not promote their contributions. Through in-store signage, media placements and the resultant awareness, these activities will certainly generate good will (customer loyalty) and inspire others to lend a helping hand.