Don’t just sit there – marketing series

Resting on your laurels will ensure loss of market share
Core Creative
This is the eighth in a monthly series of marketing tips from southeastern Wisconsin.
This month’s advice is from Bruce Bock of Core Creative, of Milwaukee. Each month, the featured firm is also providing a commentary on a specific area of business
Regardless of size, companies content to rest on their laurels often lose market share to those executing well-strategized public relations and advertising plans. Like any marketing vehicle, public relations efforts require thoughtful planning to achieve positive results. So it pays to take a good long look at how to get your company’s PR efforts off the ground.
Ask 100 practitioners to define what public relations is, and you’re likely to get 100 different definitions. Textbook definitions describe PR as everything from “the shaping of perception through communication for the achievement of positive goals” to “the art of communication.” Essentially, PR is a way to shine a light on your product, service or issue. But from the viewpoint of a budget-conscious marketing manager, PR is simply this: non-paid media communications.
Why use PR?
Public relations has a number of benefits that make it a highly-effective tool. It is broad reaching and cost effective. Consequently, there are no excuses for your company to be without some realistic, workable PR plans in place.
For example, a single well-written news release can generate feature news coverage and thousands of exposures for your product, service or issue. In addition, PR is an effective tool for delivering multiple, complex messages – something hard to do in one-page ads. Perhaps most important in the ever-changing world of business, PR is flexible in terms of its execution. One feature article placement can be reprinted and used as a direct mail piece, incorporated into a Website, or used as background material for media relations efforts.
When to use PR
The obvious time to use PR is when you need to create awareness for a new product or service. However, PR can also be used to help maintain or increase market share once it has been secured. PR should also be used when credibility or legitimacy is desired. That is achieved via the implied, unbiased third-party endorsement that newsworthy media placements carry. PR is also an effective tool to lessen or manage the effects of unfavorable publicity. Keep in mind that PR doesn’t produce an immediate payoff like direct mail often does.
What do you want to achieve?
Setting realistic goals and objectives is necessary to keep your company’s efforts on track. Review the following:

  • Set goals – What are your company’s primary business objectives? Is there a specific timeline? A company’s marketing plan should clearly define objectives which can aid in the PR planning process.
  • Determine role of PR – How will PR fit into your company’s overall marketing mix? Will you be using it as a primary marketing vehicle? Or to support your ads with news coverage?
  • Target markets that can grow – Which markets can produce new growth? Does it make economic sense to attempt to capture or grow market share in those segments?
    Planning your PR efforts
    To start PR planning, remember one thing: research. To make the right decisions, it’s critical to first get up-to-date, relevant information. Chances are that your company will have current industry information. However, if your company is entering a new market, success can be largely dependent on the kind and quality of the information you procure. Research should include:
  • Brand/Product Category – Take an objective look at your industry. Summarize any recent industry trends. Where does your company fit into the big picture?
  • Competition – Who are your competitors? What are their strengths? Similarities to your company or product? Differences? Are there opportunities to better your competition?
  • Product or Service Features – List any significant or unique features of your product, service or issue. Those features will be incorporated into main PR messages that will differentiate your company from your competitors.
  • Target Audience/Customers – Who uses your product or service? Why? What motivates them to buy – is it reliability, or simply price? Who would you like to use your product or service?
    Developing key messages
    At this point, you must determine what PR messages need to be conveyed to either change or reinforce the audience’s attitude about your product or service. This is the point at which PR differs from advertising. Because the message will most likely be delivered through the media, it must be newsworthy. Ask this question: if only one thing could be said about your product or service, what would it be?
    Don’t expect your audience to completely understand or embrace your message the first time. It will be necessary to reinforce messages sent to your audience continually.
    About your audience
    Your audience is the target for your communication. In most cases, audiences will include customers, trade media and consumer media. A common mistake made by many companies is to develop PR and other marketing messages without knowing the audience as well as they should. Ask these questions:
  • Target Audience – Who are you talking to? Define your major audiences and their “hot buttons.”
  • Current Attitude – How do audiences feel about your product, service or issue now? That of your competitors’?
  • Desired Attitude – How do you want them to feel about your product, service or issue tomorrow? Once advertising, direct mail and PR have created awareness, it is PR’s job to reinforce or create these feelings and attitudes.
    The main part of PR strategy is determining how you will communicate your messages. The PR toolbox includes vehicles such as media pitches, sponsorships, media tours, case studies, technical articles, written and video news releases, and many others. Sticking to proven methods will get results, but if your budget allows, try something creative such as a special event.
    Who’ll handle it?
    Now that you are thinking in a PR mindset, it makes sense to look at your options for either developing a plan or executing the plan once it’s done. Here are the major options in terms of cost and level of integrated marketing experience.
  • The freelancer – Freelance PR specialists can often be a cost-effective solution when there is project work that must done quickly. Generally speaking, however, the freelancer won’t have the resources available to some of the other options. Look for freelancers who are members of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). This professional association helps ensure that you are working with someone who has good public relations practices, ethics and resources.
  • The in-house hire – Another option is to hire an in-house PR professional. If you are planning to commit to a PR campaign, having a person dedicated to the task is good for continuity and consistency. Although there are additional costs and logistics to adding another employee, an in-house person may be more cost-effective in the long run.
  • The full-service agency – Full-service agency professionals know what works in a wide range of industries. High-quality work and a large PR arsenal make them valuable marketing partners. The agency rates you can expect to pay in the Milwaukee market range from $80-125/hr. Make sure to consider the agency’s management structure prior to hiring. Will you have day-to-day access to the persons actually doing the work?
  • The consultant – Most marketing consultants have specialized industry expertise and come with a very high price tag. However, if you are after specialized industry information, the results can be worth the higher expense. Consultants typically work alone or with a network of other consultants.
    Keep in mind that the above are only generalities. If you have the right chemistry with your PR counsel (and that is important) any of the above options can achieve the desired results. Whatever route you choose, make sure there are methods available for evaluating the results of the PR work.
    But remember, if the work isn’t planned in the first place – it won’t get done. And chances are, your other business objectives – i.e. sales goals and yearly profits – won’t be met either.
    Bruce Bock is director of public relations at Core Creative Inc., a Milwaukee-based full-service communications agency. He can be reached at 291-0912.
    Core Creative’s top 10 marketing tips
    1. Analyze or conduct research to determine your position in the marketplace. Ask yourself some tough questions about your company. What makes your product/service special? (Remember the basic ways to compete: you can do things faster, cheaper, better, bigger or differently.) How do your customers perceive your product/service? In what areas are you particularly strong or a little weak? What are the strengths and weaknesses of competitive companies? Determine who you are and/or who you’d like to be, then hammer that message home repeatedly.
    2. Know your audience. What motivates them to buy? Ask your current customers why they chose you, or what their current needs are. Ask your front-line sales people for input; they should have a good feel for your customers’ needs. While you’re at it, ask your sales staff what advertising support would be helpful in their sales efforts. (No sense creating marketing materials that your sales staff can’t or won’t use.)
    3. Establish a marketing communications strategy that serves as your central focus and ties your ad messages together. A crude, but effective strategy could be written simply by filling in the blanks here: Advertising will convince (target audience) that my company’s (product) offers (product benefit) because (reason why).
    4. Set marketing goals. Have an objective in mind so you can measure the effectiveness of your efforts and determine if you got a reasonable return on your investment. Are you trying to improve your company’s image? Build name or brand awareness? Generate sales leads? Answers to those questions will help determine which media you use to get your message out.
    5. Develop a flexible, one-year marketing plan. Lay out a roadmap of where you want to go and how you plan to get there, taking into consideration the best media to reach your target audience. Then follow that plan closely as you can, keeping in mind that you may have to adapt “on the fly” to changes in marketplace conditions. Don’t stick your plan in a file drawer after you write it. Use it as a guide.
    6. Integrate your marketing efforts. In most cases, it’s best to use a combination of media (newspaper, direct mail, radio, etc.) to get your marketing message across. Your audience is oftentimes a moving target – you need to move with it to reach it with enough frequency that the audience recognizes your message and eventually feels compelled to respond to it.
    7. Get outside help. Unless you have an in-house marketing department, it’s better to hire a freelancer or an agency to produce professional materials and ad messages than to try and do it yourself. You may be doing more harm than good because “home-made” ads and brochures can lack credibility, can be ineffective and end up wasting your time and money.
    8. Investigate your public relations options. Advertising is great, but if you don’t have the budget, PR can be an effective, affordable way to reach your target audience via the media. Oftentimes, feature articles are written because an editor received a single news release that sparked some interest. Keep in mind that PR is a long- term image-builder, not a quick fix to marketing problems.
    9. Form strategic partnerships. Partnering with charity groups and sponsoring events such as fun runs, local sports teams, etc., can make your company more visible with your target audience. Aligning yourself with the right organization can get you valuable exposure and create feelings of goodwill toward your company.
    10. Measure the results of your ad efforts. Ask, “How did you hear of us?” Or conduct, “Did you buy?” surveys. Try to determine the correlation between increased sales or inquiries and your ad and PR efforts. That way, you can prove to yourself (or upper management) that marketing works and the investment is worth it.

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