One of the cornerstones of effective public relations – and something often missed by people who think they’re doing PR – is the idea of building relationships. It sounds hokey, doesn’t it? “Public relations is building relationships with your publics.”
But who are these publics? You have to know that before you can build any relationships.
Since I’m writing this blog for all kinds of businesspeople, I’ll leave it to you to pick the word below that best suits your needs:
. . . (you get the idea).
In a nutshell, whatever word you prefer, these are the people you’re trying to affect. Right? Simple as that. You want these people to do something. You want them to buy your products or publish your work or give your organization money. Maybe it’s not about money directly . . . maybe you want them to tell other people about your products or to donate time or to learn something you think is important. Bottom line: You’re communicating with them so they’ll take action.
Most people I know who think about PR, feel like it’s a burden. Part of the problem is that they don’t spend enough time defining and looking at their audiences (that’s the word I like best). So their choices are quite limited even though, paradoxically, they may seem very broad.
Defining audiences is key to successful PR. The obvious reason is that you can target your efforts to specific groups. The less obvious – and in my opinion, more important – reason is that you’re going to find groups of people that you want to be in communication with, not just those with whom you have to.
Of course you’re not going to like every audience you want to influence, but you can certainly start with those you understand and enjoy the most. Can’t you?
It’s common sense. If you’re having fun, you’ll spend more time doing PR. It won’t feel effortful or like a horrid chore. And guess what? The more time you spend doing PR, the more likely it’ll have an effect.
Let’s say you’ve decided to open a Vietnamese restaurant. In addition to your current audiences: produce and meat vendors, industrial supply salesmen, employees, the health inspector etc, you’ve also got to attract customers or you won’t make any money.
Everyone who eats out has the potential to be your customer, right? Sure. But let’s go deeper. Why did you start the restaurant in the first place? I bet you had certain customers in mind already. Are they other Vietnamese people? Fans of Asian food? Adventurous eaters? People who adore noodles? People who want more fresh veggies in their lives? People who shun the typical fast food fare? People who love ethnic cuisine?
Some PR experts might advise you to go for the biggest audience – that giant “everyone who eats out” group.
Not me. I’m into being happy and enjoying what I do.
I’d tell you to focus your initial efforts on two or three of the smaller groups – those well defined audiences – that you like or respect already. You’ll naturally develop stronger relationships with these groups because you already understand them better than the others. You’ll spend more time thinking about how to reach them effectively – which will make you more effective. Yep. It is simple after all.
Next week: building relationships
Until next time,
Do you ever wonder why advertisements are played ad nauseum on TV and radio? Why you get 95 pleas for donations from the same organizations every month? Why magazines you subscribe to start sending reminders for renewal two minutes after you’ve signed up for the first issue?
Doesn’t it seem counter intuitive? I mean, aren’t you just sick of all of them?
We’re constantly marketed to. We’re bombarded with messages. And I’m sorry to say that if you pound people over the head long enough – and consistently enough — with the same message, that message will stick.
Welcome to the wonderful world of frequency.
My trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary of Media and Communications (1996) defines the frequency as “…the number of advertisements, broadcasts, or ‘exposures’ during a time period…”
It sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? And yet it’s the driving force behind marketing, communications and PR campaigns all over the world.
Why is frequency important? Because it makes your product – whether it’s a book or an organization, a business or a beach rental — “top of mind.”
Quick . . . When I write, “hamburger,” what do you think of?
McDonalds? Burger King? Wendy’s Carls, Jr.? Even if you prefer the little joint down the street, I bet you didn’t think of it first. It wasn’t top of mind.
So all you have to do to be successful is to spend megabucks on advertising. Simple, right?
Not quite. Who has the kind of money to buy several ads an hour, several days a week, several weeks in a month, several months in a year, to achieve name recognition?
Yep. I know. That’s why I’m writing this blog.
To me, advertising alone for name recognition makes little sense unless you’ve got the bucks to do it. I hate when I see people fall for the idea that if they just buy and ad in the New York Times they’ll be successful.
That’s a stupid approach. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Don’t even get me started on all the things that are wrong with it.
It’s almost as stupid as buying a single ad on television during a really popular show – like the Super Bowl – and then never airing it again.
People have Telflon ® minds, folks! Chances are they won’t remember the ad past the next one they read or see.
Rather than waste your money and time on one big blow-out, why not use a bunch of methods that don’t cost anything – or just a little – and can get your message directly to the people who might actually care about it?
Every one of us has so many of these options. We can pick and choose the ones we enjoy doing the most. Here’s just a partial list: Fliers, posters, press releases, press kits, bios, guest articles, announcements in targeted newsletters (church, neighborhood, community organizations), phone calls, web sites, public presentations, business cards, postcards, deliberate word of mouth campaigns, personal letters, electronic calendar announcements, op-ed pieces, blog tours, invitations to events, radio interviews, web interviews, business blogs (writing and commenting), online social networking on FB/Twitter and others, sponsorship of events (perhaps by providing volunteers), public service announcements (if you’re promoting a nonprofit organization), public access television, networking meetings…along with strategically placed ads when appropriate
Here’s an example of how you might use these to achieve frequency among similar audiences: Let’s say you’re promoting an event—a family fun run to raise money for a zoo. Your audience base is broad: families, kids, people who like animals, current zoo members. You’re main goals are to raise awareness and to inspire people to sign up for the event, to donate or pledge money.
Don’t just send a press release. Even if you get on the news, it’ll probably be too late to make a big difference for the event. Even if you’ve convinced a media outlet to sponsor the event, you can still do more. Put the event on all the community calendars – print and electronic — in your area. Announce the run in your church newsletter and all the meetings you go to, talk about it at your kid’s soccer game. Visit local community service groups and do a short presentation to drum up enthusiasm. See if you can distribute or post fliers in local elementary schools, libraries and pet stores. Offer to write an article about the importance of the zoo in your community for a specialty publication/website dedicated to kids. Where else can you find your audiences: maternity stores? Child care centers? Pediatricians’ offices? How about online listservs, someone on a social network who’ll help you spread the word?
I’m not saying you have to do all of these. But you can do more than just one.
Just remember . . . The more times your target audiences hear the message; the more likely they are to make your goals their priorities.
Until next time,
Almost everyone I know thinks of PR as being synonymous with publicity – television appearances, radio interviews, reviews, mentions on popular blogs, features in newsletters (print or electronic), articles in the newspaper etc etc – all for FREE!
I have a couple of quibbles with that perception. First of all, publicity isn’t always the most effective PR. It’s just one tool in a whole cabinet of possibilities. And second, publicity is never free. Its cost is human labor . . . most of the time yours.
And there’s another kink; publicity is totally unpredictable. You can spend hours thinking about and writing news releases, designing press kits, and contacting the media—for naught. If there’s a fire, or the president chokes on a piece of candy, or a movie star is caught with a politician’s wife . . . you’re screwed. All your effort will go down the drain. Today’s news is tomorrow’s toilet paper. Today’s PR is, um, well . . . let’s not go into that.
The big pro with publicity is that people believe it. As much as we complain about the news, we still tend to believe it. And if a story is in the news, it must be newsworthy — and true (even if the whole idea was planted with savvy PR).
What about advertising?
We’re all too smart to fall for it, right?
Not so fast. Why do corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising annually?
Because it works.
Advertising is the stuff you pay money for: ads, product placement in movies and television programs, banner ads on websites, websites themselves etc.
While some people may dismiss advertising precisely because it’s purchased, most people don’t. Most people also don’t realize that they have only a little say about how, when and where their ads will appear. Sure, you buy within certain large parameters. Say you purchase 20 ads during a three-hour block of drive-time on the radio. They might run ten in a forty minute block and then another ten across the remaining two hours. Or, they might run one after the other in a miserable row until people absolutely hate the mention of your business and swear they’ll never buy your products again.
You might purchase a ¼ ad in the newspaper – requesting that it be printed in the entertainment section — and it appears as the only ad on the page. Or it could be among three other ads and lose most of its impact. When you purchase real estate on a website you run into the same problems.
So which one is better? Publicity or Advertising?
I think there’s a place for both in the same campaign. The key is to be consistent. I don’t know who said this first, but I think of people as having Teflon ® minds. Most messages don’t stick. The only way they do is if they’re memorable (usually that means entertaining or attention-grabbing) and repeated several times.
Which leads into next week’s subject: Frequency.
Until next time,
I see part of my job in writing this blog as giving you a foundation in understanding my take on Public Relations. If I do it well enough, you’ll apply both theory and practical tools with equal comfort.
The question in today’s post sounds too basic, doesn’t it? Too simple. But the longer I’ve worked in PR, the more I’ve bumped up against incredibly limited views of my profession. To me, that’s dangerous. It closes so many doors before people even have a chance to realize they’re in a house.
So let’s start with some misconceptions.
Everyone knows that PR is about getting on the news.
Really? Is that it? Sounds intimidating.
Okay, well, it’s about lying spin, turning a negative image into something positive.
You mean like what BP is doing with those feel-good ads or how Toyota has the warm and fuzzy campaign emphasizing safety features? Isn’t that “advertising?”
Hey! I’ve got it. Public Relations is putting on special events.
I thought that was called, “Event planning.”
To all of the above, I say, “Pish.”
Open your minds! Have some fun, for Heaven’s sake.
Here’s my definition. It’s as simple – and loaded – as this post’s title:
Public relations is developing meaningful/useful relationships with your publics.
Meaningful/useful relationships are those that further your goals.
I know that sounds mercenary, but I don’t think of it that way. It’s just practical. If you own a store that sells homemade doggie treats, you want to find people who love dogs. You might want to partner with animal rescue organizations or pet stores or the folks that run the local ugly dog contests. All of those activities involve communication, developing trust, and asking for action . . . a.k.a. building a relationship.
The same holds true whether you’re a Doctor of Oriental Medicine or an author, a performer or the head of a local nonprofit. There are groups of people – or individuals — with whom you must have productive relationships in order to succeed.
Your publics can be – readers, editors, ticket-buyers, customers, patients, stockholders, board of trustees, employees, professional acquaintances, donors, your community, the media, and so forth – anyone in your sphere with whom you need to cultivate a relationship.
Believe me, you have multiple publics already. I bet you could name at least six without too much trouble.
Go on, I’ll wait.
And here’s a news flash: You’ve been working all along in Public Relations whether you realize it or not.
At least some of those “publics” I mentioned are currently part of your world. You’re building, nurturing, helping/hindering, and defining those relationships today.
The trick is to learn to be intentional so that your efforts are more effective.
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I started working in public relations years before I realized that’s what it was called. I was always the person who enjoyed figuring out how to get people to come to events. I had no fear about contacting the media or digging into a story to find the right people to interview to get the information I needed. Writing, planning, strategizing (I know it’s not a word, but it should be), building relationships with organizations and people, being on camera or radio, all of these came as naturally as breathing.
And they were fun for me. I liked calling printers and getting bids; got a kick out of analyzing advertisements for the obvious and hidden messages; loved figuring how to write a message so that it said exactly what I wanted it to. Hell, I even liked proofreading.
The thing is, all of it interested me. I wasn’t intimidated, didn’t think I couldn’t do it — I just went for whatever was needed and had a good time doing it.
Now, more than 30 years later, I’m still enjoying it. But something has happened to my profession. People equate it with “spin” and, believe me, spin is a negative word. Or . . . they think that PR is manipulative, fake and beneath them. Or they feel utterly overwhelmed by the need to do it.
Well . . . let me help.
I’m going to use this blog to write about public relations — as I see it — and eventually, I hope to take my posts and turn them in to an ebook that regular people — you, me, the guy down the street that has a store or the writer who wants to improve her sales — can use. Really use.
If this blog is useful to you, please consider making a small donation in support. Thanks!