While many companies think about their business operations and marketing, few spend as much time thinking about how to raise public or community awareness.
Public relations is an important part of business success. Regardless of what your business makes or offers in the way of services, your primary function is to build relationships. Relationships are connections and interactions with those other than yourself. Without them, you won’t have anyone to interact with, sell to, or receive support from.
If we have learned anything about relationships is that they can take time to build, and require trust and reliability in order to be successful. This means there needs to be reciprocity – or the idea that you give as much as you receive.
This is where public relations comes into play, and why it is essential that people understand what public relations is about, and how they can use it to raise the visibility of their business or organization.
What Is Public Relations?
Public relations is a process of communicating with people to build a mutually beneficial relationship between your business or organization, and a public audience.
This is different from marketing, because marketing is focused on creating interest or demand in what products or services your company or organization delivers.
In short, marketing is about creating a relationship between a potential or existing customer for the purpose of generating interest in what the company has to offer. Public relations is about communication, and building a mutual relationship between the company and the general public with an emphasis on what impacts the community, or society as a whole. Marketing is more self-serving, whereas public relations is designed to be more mutual.
Based on those definitions, it is clear that public relations can play a marketing role.
In fact, at Social Web Tactics, we believe there are two core public relations functions: one that is corporate (investors, crisis management, internal communications, editorials) in nature, and one that is marketing (blogger and press relations, events and activities, sponsorship of other organizations / causes, community outreach) in nature. Often times, the corporate pr and marketing pr functions are divided, but the truth is – the two function at their best when they are integrated and coordinated.
Lastly, it also is important to remember that successful public relations is about balance. You have to be willing to listen as much as you speak, and give as much as you take. Remember, public relations, like every aspect of your organization’s operations, is about relationships. From that first interaction with a prospective customer, to a final sale, to customer support, smart business people listen to needs and act. When it comes to raising your awareness with a public audience, you need to make sure that your plan includes listening, giving, and respect, as well as outbound action, otherwise, it will not succeed.
Tips On How To Raise Public Awareness
Now that we have covered why public relations is important, and what it is, let’s dive into some basic tips on how your business or organization can raise its public profile.
Ask Yourself Questions
The start to any good, well thought-out public relations plan is start asking questions.
For example, what does your company, school, government agency, or organization what to achieve with a public relations program? Are you trying to raise awareness of a particular cause, opportunity or challenge? Are you trying to change perceptions or inject a positive element into a topic that receives more negative attention? Perhaps there are achievements you want to share – either from people in your organization or the organization as whole?
Sometimes it helps to think about all the things that your organization has done that you’re proud of. Make a list of all the great things going on at your organization, and be sure not to be limiting or too critical. The goal with starting a public relations plan is to first get all your cards on the table.
A teacher making a change to a classroom’s curriculum or approach to teaching a lesson may seem like its not newsworthy, but it could be part of a broader story on how teachers at your school are using flexibility and administrative support to improve student learning. With a flood of negative stories about school budget cuts, teacher shortages, and other problems, injecting a simple, positive story can be a huge boost to your school and its reputation.
The same could be true of a restaurant that starts to include farm to table produce, or employees of companies who get involved in community service projects, or a government contractor that sponsors family and morale events for the military.
Every organization and its employees make positive decisions every day. Ask your teammates or colleagues what the company’s goals should be with public relations, what the organization and its people are doing, and if there are broader trends that you can tap into.
Also, keep in mind that its OK to ask these questions now, and ask them again in a few months. You do not need to think of everything the first time you set out to create a public relations plan. In fact, the best thing you could when you get started is to set a date to review everything in 3 months. Another key to good public relations is to be flexible, always willing to ask questions, and responsive to new trends or moments.
Create A List Of Media And Other Important Community Contacts
Create a list of local media (TV, radio, newspaper, and online news and community websites) and the reporters that cover your business type or industry. You may also want to have a list of other important community contacts, such as local government officials, community leaders, religious organizations, important business executives, and other influencers.
Making these lists can take a few days to create (depending on the size of your market). But focus on each one separately, so day by day you have a new tool for your future public relations activities.
Introduce Yourself And Ask: What Does The Public and Media Think?
Asking your own organization about its goals and achievements is a good starting point. However, during the planning time, you also should ask the public and media what they are thinking. Knowing how others perceive your organization and/or your industry could go a long way in determining what you need to do in public relations. In fact, just the act of introducing yourself and asking to listen to others, can provide an immediate positive benefit to your organization.
For example, you can:
- Conduct a Survey Monkey (or use another online survey tool) survey or poll. You can do this for your customers and/or employees to ask them what they like the most, as well as the things they want to see improved. This can be done with teachers, parents, students, business partners, or the community at large. You can make the survey about an industry or trend and use Facebook advertising to promote it (eg, Do you believe online education or homeschooling is beneficial to students?).
- Meet with area businesses to discuss local or regional issues that are of concern to them. There may be opportunities to partner together to help the community in ways you had not considered.
- Write your local media / reporters, and ask for a meeting or phone conversation to see what kinds of stories they are working on, what interests them, and if they have any perceptions about your business. Local reporters are often more accessible, and looking for stories. By instead of blindly pitching them a story that may not be relevant, they will respect and appreciate you more if your first outreach is to ask them, “How can I help you? What are you interested in covering?”
Reach Out To People Using A Consistent Schedule
Outbound communication to the public, be it your existing customers, prospects, media, or a broader community, is important.
First, you need to create a plan for reaching out to people. Do you want to send a newsletter? If so, will you email it or print it and mail it to them directly? Will you conduct door-to-door canvasing? Or perhaps set up a table at a local fair or other kind of public event?
Another option can be an online event, like a webinar, or an outbound calling campaign from an internal team or third-party you hire.
Identify all those ways in which you can reach out to people. Then think about what the goal of that outreach is about, and what you want to achieve from it.
Second, whatever your outreach activities are, you need to make sure your frequency is not overwhelming. Sending an email newsletter once a month will reduce the likelihood people reject you or flag your content as spam. What’s more, sending a newsletter once a month or every 3 months if far more manageable than sending one every week or every two weeks. Whenever you start to do something new, especially when it involves interacting with the public, it is always better to start small and scale up.
Local businesses, such as schools and service companies, have benefited tremendously from simple outreach strategies. They lead to positive press exposure, and if they include some personal communication, open the doors to additional attention when reporters are looking for quotes and more context for other stories they are writing about.
Invite People To Your Activities and Events
Regardless of what your company or organization is about, good public relations is inclusive.
Since you want to raise your public profile and positive image, there are not too many better ways than holding an activity or event, and inviting people outside your customer base or employees to attend. You do not need to focus on just the media – invite people from the community, including business and religious leaders, members of the press, and others.
Of course, this means you need to have an event. In-person events are better than online events, but do not let that discourage you from doing and sharing both types.
Activities and events can include a third-party charity or activity that your employees are involved in. Anyone running in a Marine Marathon? Is your school holding a bake sale and cake walk to raise money for something? Or perhaps your company or organization is just holding an open house, or a party to celebrate new hires or someone’s retirement? The point is that all kinds of moments can be shared with the public. By inviting people to events, you show them that you are interested in sharing your world with them.
Respond To People When They Call Or Ask Questions
If you want to make a good impression with the public, make sure you respond to people when they call or ask questions. For some organizations, this will fall to a customer support team. But many companies and organizations have small teams that wear many hats. A school principal, an accountant, a plumber, or a restaurant manager may be thrown into customer service roles more often than they anticipated.
The important thing to remember is being responsive and polite will help your long-term plan to enhance your reputation. There is no shot-term gain to answering a phone call or listening to a customer complain to express displeasure. However, the fallout from not being responsive or a good listener can undue months and years of hard work in a matter of moments.
That is one of the reasons why this is such a critical habit or process for your public relations activities. If you are unsure about how you are doing in this department, ask your customers and your internal staff. They will be quick to tell you where things need to improve.
Get Active On Social Media: Create Content and Advertise
Getting active on social media is an excellent way to raise public awareness of who you are, and what you are doing.
First, know who your audience is and what social networks they use before you get active. Social media marketing and public relations takes time. If you are going to start building relationships, you need to have a thorough understanding of who your audience is and where they are, before you start creating social media profiles. We always caution people to not take on too many tasks at once, because that is a very quick way to create expectations you cannot meet and burn out.
Second, start with only those networks you can manage well. You can always expand. If your organization can reach its audience through Facebook – then create a Facebook page and outreach strategy. If your audience responds to you best through more visual channels, such as Pinterest or Instagram, then use those.
Third, look at what opportunities you have to advertise on social media. Facebook local advertisements can be a very effective and not very expensive. They are great ways to reach a large, public audience with news, information, events, and more.
Don’t Forget Radio and Local Public Access Television
With so much attention being paid to social media and technology, it is easy to forget that traditional media is still king. Most people wake up and watch local news or turn on the radio. People listen to the radio in their cars on their way to work. And at night, it is not uncommon for people to watch local or cable access programs.
We mentioned above the step of creating lists of media contacts. Local broadcast networks and public access stations are a great way to raise your profile.
These stations are often looking for programming ideas that meet the needs of a wide audience.
To that end, think about seasons and holidays. What events are coming up that people need to think about? For example, accountants and CPAs always build up towards April 15th. But there are moments when they should reach out to the public such as new tax laws or regulations, quarterly filing deadlines, and more. It is similar for people who are involved in education, child services, or recreational centers for children. How can parents handle snow days, holidays, long vacations or summer vacations? What about back-to-school shopping and preparation?
Reaching out to these stations and their programming managers is a good starting point. As we noted above, start with asking about their needs. And then talk about some of the things you do during the year. You may not get an opportunity right away, but establishing a relationship and then maintaining consistent communication will help plant the seed for opportunities in the near future.
Monitor And Comment On National, Regional And Local Trends
And last, but not least, another effective way to get the public aware of your business or organization is to monitor and then comment on national, regional, or local trends that relate to your business and the community as a whole.
Setting up Google Alerts (https://www.google.com/alerts), for example, is a great way to get news and information about key trends delivered daily to your inbox. Perhaps you see a flood of stories about other school systems having budget problems or low test scores? It may be a great opportunity to showcase your school’s success. If you are a restaurant owner, you may see news stories about a restaurant chain’s problems with food supply issues, or bacteria. That could be an opportunity to talk about your quality control, or local sourcing.
Commenting can take the form of an article you submit to a news organization, a “Letter to the Editor,” or a blog post. You also can create a short video or podcast.
There are lots of ways to express yourself.
The key is to remember that you never want to kick people when they are down. You can respond to an industry event or something that is going on, but always make sure that the story you are telling is your own. It needs to be about what you are doing.
Also, you want to remember to create content that interesting, and responds to a market need or challenge that is being discussed. There is so much content flooding the internet. Seinfeld was a great show about nothing. But the last thing you want to do is be seen as the company or organization that is about nothing.