Good PR is more than just a firm handshake

Public relations is an ongoing effort that should be integrated throughout your entire business, marketing and communications plans.

Many companies, even large ones, do not think about public relations until they are faced with a crisis. When that happens they are forced into bringing in the “spin doctors” to help them turn a disaster into something positive. A huge undertaking that can be very costly and in many cases not always successful.

Given what has been reported in the news over the past month about an automotive company’s nightmare and even with some election candidates, this seemed like a good time to write about the importance of having a good public relations (PR) plan.

Now there is a whole lot more to PR than smiling politely, shaking hands and handing out business cards. PR is an ongoing effort that should be integrated throughout your entire business, marketing and communications plans.

PR is many things but for the most part it is all about building awareness, creating interest, stimulating demand, reinforcing your brand and ensuring your name is recognized as a company worth doing business with. All of this does not happen with one campaign but must take place through an ongoing series of activities whose key message and actions must remain consistent and — as has been highlighted recently in the news — above reproach.

Like any other business strategy it is important to establish some key goals and clearly articulate how you are going to achieve them through a series of objectives. If you have not done so recently you need to dust off your strategic plan and take a good look at what you perceive to be the fundamental tenets of your business.

As always in developing any plan your first order of business is to identify who you want to reach or influence. Knowing who your key target group is will determine how you speak to them, what mediums they use for gathering information and most importantly what it is about your product or service that will be of greatest value to them.

In addition, there are other aspects of a PR plan that you need to develop such as focusing on your values. In a small community like the Comox Valley there are ample opportunities to meet with customers face to face in situations that are not necessarily directly related to sales. Sponsoring a community event, cultural activity, sporting event or becoming involved in a charitable or service-oriented organization all go towards building a positive impression of who you are and what you have to offer.

Public relations is all about your reputation. It is the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. In this day and age of social awareness these attributes are the keys that will separate your reputation or business from everyone else.

The big caution here though, as some have found out rather harshly, is that you must ensure what you say or the actions you take will not come back and haunt you — either tomorrow or three years from now. One of the hardest things to do in life is to re-establish confidence in you and your business if you have committed a serious breach of trust with customers or the public.

If you don’t have a PR plan, now is the time to start giving some serious thought as to what you are going to do in order to manage how people view you and your business. While a firm handshake may be a start, there’s a whole lot more to building a good public relations strategy than words can ever say.

Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached at joesmith@shaw.ca

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