As our world has evolved and our communications paradigm has not just shifted, but rather completely transformed, it is more important than ever to take a holistic approach to all of your customer-facing interactions.
When you are creating your sales and marketing plans, which are key to your branding and identity, where does the role of public relations fit in? For many businesses, it is thought of as a unique part of the marketing mix—a few press releases to announce charitable contributions, new business openings, new hires—the expected items that you should, well, send a press release about, right?
Right–sort of. You should do due diligence in promoting the happenings of your business, your employees, your footprint in your community. However, your public relations strategy should be a living, breathing part of everything that you do with your business. As our world has evolved and our communications paradigm has not just shifted, but rather completely transformed, it is more important than ever to take a holistic approach to all of your customer-facing interactions.
I encourage you, especially the small business owners among us, to re-consider how you define “sales,” “marketing,” and “public relations” plans. An effective approach may be to create one solid and comprehensive communications plan, which will include aspects of each part of your business and define a core set of principles, messages, strategies and tactics to guide your team in any external-facing interactions.
Now, the natural next question is, if I barely have time for a press release, where will I find the time for writing a full communications plan!? The answer is that while it will require an initial investment in time, if you incorporate certain practices into your daily routine, you will find you are not only saving time, but also increasing sales opportunities, and you’ll reap a huge return on that time investment through increased brand awareness and foot traffic.
The best place to start is by taking an inventory of your existing communications practices. Get your sales team in the room, your receptionist, a representative from each department, and discuss how and what you communicate about your business. You will want to audit the following:
- Sales materials
- Press releases
- Phone messages
- Social media properties
- News coverage and clippings about your business}
Really, anything you can think of that your audience sees and hears about your business. From there, take a close look at the brand messages being communicated and confirm if they are indeed consistent and if they are the messages that you strategically want to get out. What you are currently communicating will help you fine tune your strategy for the future, and the next step is to create some message priorities and consistency.
Now, it is time to analyze the current “message penetration” of your communications and to identify opportunities for improvement or enhancement. Is the news coverage about your business what you hoped it would be? There should be no question after consuming information about your business of: 1) what you do, 2) who you serve, and 3) why you should be your customers’ choice. If those messages are not coming through in your current communications, it is time to think very hard about your key messages–what you want them to be and how you will ensure they are consistently communicated.
This is where the communications plan comes into play. This document should be a set of guiding principles that you refer to before creating any written materials about your organization. The plan might include template materials, key messages, and processes for communicating with your diverse audiences. This plan should also include strategies for integrating your marketing communications across channels—from print to online, traditional to social, business to business, corporate to consumer. What you say on Facebook should be consistent with what you say in a press release, and the timing should coincide with strategic sales and business decisions.
Considering how and what you communicate and doing so consistently will make public relations part of your culture versus a “must-do” and potential afterthought to your daily marketing strategy. Remember that the story you tell about your organization is as important as how and where you tell it. Public relations and a comprehensive communications plan will help you tell your story in the right ways, to the right people–yielding the right results.