During the height of the great recession, financial institutions couldn’t bank on good PR. Banks were being blamed for many of the problems facing our country, and word on the street was that they were closing left and right.
If your industry’s PR isn’t working for you — create your own. That’s what Bank of American Fork did.
“Bank of American Fork was financially safe and secure, but we could be subject to the negative association people began to feel with banks in general,” says Christopher Liechty, VP of marketing for Bank of American Fork. “Our marketing team decided to be proactive with our public relations campaign. The team pulled together ratings that showed the bank was secure and wrote talking points for associates so they would understand how to use the ratings when speaking with concerned customers. We were prepared.”
Preparation is the name of the PR game. If you wait until a nightmare occurs, you’ll be making knee-jerk responses — with “jerk” being the operative word. In the world of Twitter, Facebook, and viral love and hate, your company needs to have a PR strategy in place — like, yesterday.
To get you started, we put together a list of 18 tips you need to know about public relations. Find out why PR is so much more than a press release, why you shouldn’t post fake five-star reviews, and why you need to be wary of “random acts of PR.” Plus, how to really get a journalist’s attention.
1. PR is not advertising
PR is meant to boost credibility, while advertising is meant to spark awareness.
“Businesses need to know the difference,” says John Pilmer, founder of PilmerPR in Orem. “A quick rule of thumb is that in advertising you pay the media outlet for the space or airtime. In public relations, we pitch the media to publish stories or include clients in their article. This is called ‘earned media.’”
“Earned media is the gold standard of SEO, as well as PR,” adds Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder of SnappConner PR. “PR is not the same thing as ‘pay per click’ advertising and should not be measured by the same standards as ads. Used well, PR is the gasoline you throw on the advertising spark to turn it into a bonfire.”
2. Be source driven
“There are high PR dividends for simply getting into the conversation,” Snapp Conner says. “When someone covers the topics you address, is your company present? This is your golden opportunity to guide the thinking and understanding of your customer universe. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by. This is the arena where PR is golden — and cannot be replaced.”
3. Shout from the Internet rooftops
Once you get a press mention, tell people about it! Use your website and social media channels to spread your good words.
4. Get it together
PR and marketing may be different, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be best friends.
“PR and marketing are more connected than ever,” Pilmer says. “The best PR folks also know a lot about marketing and how to measure results against sales and marketing objectives.”
5. Content rules
Never be content with your content — constantly improve it and endlessly update it.
“Recent online search rules changes (i.e. Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird) require companies to return from SEO tricks to awesome content creation,” Pilmer says. “Real, relevant and recent content is rewarded in organic Google search rankings.”
6. Once upon a company
About that “About Us” page … make it phenomenal. Tell your story. Be interesting. Wax fun. Make the screen sing.
7. Know where it’s at
Make sure you’re active on all the right online outlets for your business.
“Individuals within specific markets respond differently to communication tactics,” says Linda P. Walton, founder of The Walton Group in Provo. “So even if you check Facebook every day, many potential customers might not.”
8. Press releases ain’t the only game in town
“‘Can you get my press release picked up by the Wall Street Journal?’ is the wrong question to ask,” Snapp Conner says. “A news announcement that is well-written and distributed through any of the top wire posting services can pretty well assure you of getting picked up. But a press release appearance is far from your best mechanism for moving public sentiment or sharing genuinely meaningful news. The other vehicles a great PR team can propose to you would be at least as effective — and possibly more.”
9. Times, they are a-changing
“Businesses used to do 100-year plans,” Walton says of PR strategies. “Now, strategic planning should be updated every 18 months.”
10. The customer is still right
“Customer service is very important — you can’t ‘advertise away’ bad treatment of customers,” Walton says.
11. Be upfront with your problems
“It’s a bad idea to hide bad news from your PR counselors,” Snapp Conner says. “In fact, if a crisis occurs, your first call should be to your attorney to determine the legal ramifications of the event and your actions. Your next call should be to your PR counsel, who should work hand in glove with the legal criterion. At all costs, avoid the temptation to leap forward with a knee-jerk reaction to bad news. You could end up making the situation much worse. With good PR counsel, you could actually turn a hard situation into an opportunity to react strongly and ultimately produce a visibility win.”
12. Sorry, but it’s true
For the love, apologize if you need to apologize. Consult with your lawyers and PR professionals on when and how (it’s typically fast and always sincere), but don’t be afraid to admit wrongdoing.
13. Beware random acts of PR
“Think through PR’s unintended consequences — always,” Snapp Conner says. “It’s funny, but also sad, the number of PR crises that result from well-intentioned PR efforts gone bad. Always think through the ways every communication effort will support your business’s mission. Without that focus, you become guilty of ‘random acts of PR’ that can harm your company’s reputation and brand. For example, who (besides you) cares highly about the prestigious awards you may win? Your customers would be more compelled by the reasons behind the award. So save your news ammunition to cover those issues instead of bragging about your awards. And never forget that many of the world’s biggest communications fiascos got their start through ill-considered PR. Bomb scare stunts. Hoaxes. Hashtag campaigns that actually produced horrific responses (the #McDStories Twitter campaign is a strong case in point).” (See sidebar for more info on this and other painful PR nightmares.)
14. Good reputations can’t be bought
“There is no quick and simple way to ‘buy your way in’ to a good reputation,” Snapp Conner says. “The greatest avenues to great PR are not to promote, but to share information that solves your customers’ problems.”
“Don’t ever give into the temptation to post phony reviews,” Snapp Conner says. “Authenticity in every aspect of communications is more vital than ever. It is appropriate to remind and encourage your happy customers to share the good news and to even incent them for doing so in appropriate ways. But to attempt to sway public opinion or amend a bad reputation by posting or hiring others to post phony comments or reviews is an extremely bad plan. It will backfire. It may even be directly penalized by organizations such as Amazon and Yelp.”
16. Bad grammar — it’s your lose
Everything that comes out of your company’s fingertips — from your website to your statements to your tweets — needs to be perfectly spelled and punctuated.
17. Practice makes PR
“Malcolm Gladwell was right in his book, ‘Outliers,’” Pilmer says. “It does take 10,000 hours to get really good at a craft, including public relations. Senior, accredited PR professionals cost more, but they add a lot of value at the strategic boardroom level.”
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Be memorable — on your terms.