PR Look-around: Who Are Your Public’s?

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Sometimes, the most productive action in a complex world is to break something down to its basic elements. At the risk of sounding like PR “dalai lamas,” that’s how we approach public relations. PR is a surprisingly complex communications discipline, and therefore less understood by most companies than its more cut and dried cousin — advertising. But if you begin with our simple definition of public relations – not relations with THE public, but relations with YOUR publics — it leads to a highly focused first question to ask yourself in building a successful PR program: Who are your publics?
Sound too obvious? Well, it’s amazing how many companies and even PR practitioners fail to ask. Most of our potential clients are looking for publicity when they call us in to consult. That’s fine. It’s a big part of what we do. But first you have to know where to look for publicity to reach your publics. Should it be consumer, business, or trade press; Web sites; or broadcast media? And even more important, is publicity the only way — or even the best way — to reach them? That’s why you first have to think about who your publics are. Today, it’s as likely to be your competitor as your customer.
We define “your publics” as all the constituencies your company or organization must influence positively in order to succeed. Following is a list of potential publics and some ideas for reaching them with PR communications.

Clients/Customers

This is usually the first-tier audience — the individuals or companies generating revenue for your business. To reach them with your PR program, find out what consumer and business/trade publications they read, what TV channels they watch, what radio stations they listen to, what consumer or business Web sites they visit, and what trade shows or conventions they attend. If possible, learn how they prefer to receive information — by e-mail, snail mail, fax, or in person. For smaller companies or for salespeople who have one-to-one relationships with customers or clients, gathering this data is as easy as asking them. This can even be helpful in building those relationships. For companies with mass audiences, it’s a great topic for focus groups or customer survey questionnaires. This intelligence becomes the basis of a well-targeted list of online and offline media and of venues for speaking engagements or live chat sessions.

Potential/Former Clients and Customers

Often existing client/customer media and venue lists are equally successful for reaching prospects, particularly if prospects would have the same profile as clients. This may not be true if you’re launching a new product or service that would appeal to a broader or different audience than usual. But choosing media likely to reach the new target audience can offer a cost-effective way to test a market. Also note that companies often overlook the value of communicating specifically with former clients and customers. Regardless of why the relationship ended, today’s a new day. Try sending a positive press clipping about your company with a brief direct mail letter asking for the opportunity to re-introduce your firm.

The Media

The most successful online and offline media placements happen when companies view the media as an important public. The best way to do this is to fully understand the needs of journalists and the differences in those needs across media platforms. In other words, what you provide to a Web site editor may be different than what you offer a magazine freelance writer, or a TV or radio producer, or a newspaper journalist. Journalists in all media tell us that the communication tool most overlooked by PR people is common courtesy. For goodness sake, when you get them on the phone find out if they’re on deadline before you launch into your pitch. It goes a long way toward getting positive media attention.

Analysts

We’re not talking psychiatrists here, but the financial analysts who follow particular industries for investment or venture capital houses. They watch who’s turning up in trade publications, industry Web sites, and national business pages. If you’re headed for an IPO or a new round of venture funding, make sure your press releases get to the right list of analysts. Ask your commercial wire service to send your releases to their analyst list as well as to print, broadcast, and online media. Most will do so — often at no additional cost.

Current and Potential Employees

Has anyone noticed we’re in a tight employment market? For the past several years, we’ve been adding consistent messages to our clients’ PR communications that are geared to make job seekers say, “Boy, that sounds like a great company to work for!” Positive press clips should definitely be given to prospective employees. It’s a wonderful thing when a media story about your company helps fill a key position.

Suppliers

Often the best product lines are offered on an exclusive or territorial basis. The competition to handle these moneymaking lines can be stiff. If you need to establish yourself as the “go-to” distributor, dealer, reseller, or service provider for a top supplier in order to succeed in your market, you’d better make a special effort to get into the trades or onto a conference seminar panel to let them know you’re a key player.

Alliance Partners

Many companies are growing through alliances with business partners, in addition to growing organically or through outright acquisitions. PR communications and media stories can be a great way to signal the market that you’re open to productive alliances.

Advertisers

Many organizations are looking for advertisers to help defray the costs of Web sites, newsletters, and other marketing vehicles. PR messages can be as influential as page views in convincing potential advertisers to reach their markets through your company’s outlets.

Web Site Visitors

By making it easy for Web visitors to discover whether your site has information of interest to them, you’ll win friends. Make it even easier for them to send your URL or Web pages to friends or colleagues who would be interested — even if the primary visitor is not. In other words — use your Web site for networking.

Influencers

PR is the marketing approach that builds credibility for you and your company. Anytime you build credibility with someone who already has credibility with one of your publics, you’re exponentially increasing the chances that your publics will hear good things about you from credible sources. Influencers can be anyone from trusted professionals — lawyers, accountants, investment counselors – to your customer’s mother.

Referral Sources

This public is similar to influencers. However, in addition to saying nice things about you, these people can actually send you business. Business, professional, and industry organizations are often the best places to find referral sources. Get those speaking engagements, or otherwise appear to be a recognized expert in your field. Referral sources should also know that your business ethics are unimpeachable and that you get the job done. It’s risky to refer someone. If it doesn’t work out, it’s usually the referrer who takes the blame.

Competitors

In this day of mergers, acquisitions, and industry roll-ups, make sure your competition knows how good you are and thinks well of you. There’s no need to be adversarial to be a strong competitor — and it can really pay off when US Widget and Thingamagig, LTD become Widgamagigg International.