How’s Your Public Image?

By Jeffrey H. Bryden, Editor

If you stopped 10 people on the street, or got confidential opinions from customers and prospects, what would they say? About you? About your company? Your products? Your people? This month’s column is about Public Relations — a mass communications tool with high credibility. It can help craft and maintain your corporate or product image. But you’ll usually find it (if you can find it) toward the bottom of a “Promotion” budget caption. It often tends to be one of those “when-we-get-
around-to-it” chores. Often, when it IS used, public relations is a
reactive or defensive tool, to fend off negative rumors of layoffs, mergers, product defects or recalls, to defend corporate actions, or explain job-related accidents, mishaps or lawsuits. Being used only in a defensive mode, though, severely limits the full potential of this promotional discipline. Smart companies seek to utilize public relations primarily in a proactive way. They make sure it’s part of their corporate culture. While a strong defense is important, it’s a good offense that usually wins the communications game. These companies make sure that the PR staff has defined corporate communications objectives, that strategic plans are in place to accomplish them, and that realistic budgets are established. They make sure they staff this responsibility with someone trained in public relations — an educated and experienced practitioner. They don’t foist this important area off on their spouse’s niece or nephew. Smart managers know that establishing and maintaining good relations with their firm’s publics is key to current and future business success. And as you look toward your own public relations goals, remember to consider all of your various publics: prospects and current customers, present and future employees, present and future shareholders, legislators, agencies, officials at local, state and federal levels, the media, and the local citizens of the towns in which you employ, manufacture or do business. Public Relations is not just for large companies. There are many tools even entrepreneurs can bring to bear on these publics. How many of these do you (or can you) use? Publicity Releases (news) about your company’s products and people can help build an innovative, growing image. And well crafted releases are welcomed by most news media. While “good news” stories sometimes bubble to the surface, you’ll often have to dig for news, seeking out promotions, product improvement, application, or human interest stories. Here at the North Coast Business Journal we receive dozens of releases weekly from area businesses and organizations. I think I’m being charitable when I say that only 20-25% are germane to our publication’s audience, our coverage area and are usable as submitted. The rest are all “shotgun blasts” – sent out to everyone with the hope that if enough go out, a percentage will be picked up. It used to be that paying for PR release postage was a good “hand on the throttle.” Companies were more judicious with how many releases they sent out. Now, though, the e-mail is “free” and we are bombarded with releases…welcome to my SPAM filter! By the way, here’s a tip: If you’re going to send something out, take the time to proofread it. Plant/Office/Store Tours can be a good way to “get ink” with newspapers and the trade press, allowing editors and reporters access to new product and new process information and interviews with key people. Have you taken advantage of this by hosting a “Business After Hours” through your Chamber? Special Events are similar to these Tours. Groundbreaking, ribbon cuttings, promotions, retirements and even birthday parties are important public relations activities which can impact and influence a variety of publics. Corporate Relations efforts can range from meeting with financial analysts, preparation of the Annual Report and shareholder quarterly newsletters, as well as handling all the details of the company’s annual meeting. Corporate Communications. For larger firms, being the “keeper of the flame” of the company logo, trademark and colors is often included in this department’s duties. This often includes maintaining a “corporate style book,” monitoring business card, letterhead stationery, signage, and employment documents. And issuing press releases or warning letters to editors and the media about proper and improper use of company brands or copyrighted names. Corporate communications can also include speech writing/editing for key executives – to assure continuity in statements about the company and publication of an employee newsletter. Digital and Electronic venues like creation and maintenance of the corporate website (very important these days as it’s often the initial contact point for many audiences,) videos, and PowerPoint presentations for corporate and public speeches. Charitable/Community Involvement often is handled by the PR staff. It is usually the company’s top management that’s in the spotlight of a company’s involvement in public service and their efforts must be both coordinated and visible – to maximize attribution to the corporation. This includes membership in (and involvement in) your local Chamber of Commerce. It’s good for the community and good for your company too. Once again, Public Relations is a mass communications tool with high credibility which can help shape and maintain your business or product image. And you’re going to have an image, whether you manage it or not. “Give people a taste of Old Crow, and tell them it’s Old Crow. Then give them another taste of Old Crow, but tell them it’s Jack Daniel’s. Ask them which they prefer. They’ll think the two drinks are quite different. They are tasting images.”- David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising, 1985, New York: Vintage Books,

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