Public Relations – Free Marketing?

Of all the marketing disciplines, public relations is one of the most misunderstood.

Some companies swear by it and spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to
develop, launch and monitor PR campaigns. Some are effective and some are not. But
they all are expensive. Are they shared with the entire organization? Do the sales and
customer service departments play a role in crafting and disseminating the message?
Not usually! But these are the folks who have to deal with the response to the PR.

Some companies don’t spend any money at all on PR – believing that is isn’t necessary
or useful. That is until there is a dissatisfied customer or partner or vendor who takes
an unresolved or unaddressed issue to the street – and then the company HAS to spend
more money than they ever dreamed of to address the problem after the fact. There are
lots of examples in the news every day that illustrate this scenario.

And then there are the companies who see public relations as low-cost or no-cost
“marketing” – and don’t feel they need to do any other type of marketing or
selling. Word-of-mouth and some limited networking will bring in all the business we
need. At least, last year we got a lot of business that way….

Here’s the truth. If you do business in the public domain – and you want people and
companies to know how you’ve helped others like them – then an integrated marketing
campaign which includes PR as a component is important in enabling your sales efforts
and delivering new customers. This year, we’ve heard many companies lament that
their budgets are reduced, or that the “referrals” have dried up or slowed down. For
those who can’t market the way they used to – or have never done any formal
marketing – public relations becomes an attractive potential option – but maybe not for
the right reasons.

Here’s how to make it work:

  1. 1. Be SMART about what marketing and sales goals you want to achieve with PR.
    Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Anything short of that
    may be a shot in the dark.
  2. Plan in advance how you will measure if your goals are successful or not. If it isn’t
    measurable in some manner, it isn’t a good goal.
  3. Work with a firm that takes the time to understand your business and your customers.
    Cookie cutter press releases and some website tune-up isn’t all that it takes.
  4. Realize that PR isn’t just about a few well-timed press releases. You need a strategy
    and tactics that will get your name where your customers will see it. Easier said than
    done – it takes thought and planning.
  5. Understand that free publicity is often not the kind of publicity you were really
    looking for. It costs much more to undo this kind of press, than to do it right in the first
    place. Your company name is valuable – and new customers are valuable – don’t be
    afraid to invest in that – even if times are tough.
  6. Set realistic time frames and budgets to give PR a chance to impact your
    organization. Don’t expect positive press right away, and don’t expect it at all if your
    story or message isn’t crafted specifically for the outlets you want. Just because you
    think it’s interesting, doesn’t guarantee the media, your trade associations, and your
    customers and prospects will.

Public Relations: it’s about planning, strategy, targeting and repetition. All of that
takes time and investment. Done well – it pays back over and over.

— Lisa D. Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2002 / All Rights Reserved

Download PDF of this Article