Public Relations: Who Needs It?

If you have a successful business, but think you don’t need public relations, you probably are not giving yourself enough credit for successful public relations.

If you have a dress code, you have public relations. Your employees’ appearance is designed to be welcoming and professional. You are telling your customers or clients they matter and are worth the effort for your staff to look sharp.

If you use social media, you have public relations. Your interplay with customers on your Facebook page is tantamount to one-on-one public relations. Your tweets mirror the personality of your company. Poorly handled social media posts can be the death of a company and well-handled social media can breathe new life into business.

Public relations is part of how your place of business looks. It’s how customers are treated. It’s anything where a customer – or possible customer – connects with your business. It is your name, your reputation and your future.

Public relations is what you do everyday to present your business to the world. Advertising is what you use to get them into your stores, although it can serve a public relations function as well. Advertising you pay for. Public relations can be free, and, even if paid for, more cost effective.

Maybe what you mean is that your business doesn’t need a public relations professional. Why should you be paying someone to take reporters to lunch on your tab? Why should you pay someone else to be gargling martinis when you could do it yourself, cut out the middleman and have a better time? If that were all that’s involved, you’d have a point.

Jimmy Buffett’s song “Public Relations” lays out the public relations role as “boozing and schmoozing that’s what I do.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth these days.

We’ve already established that you use social media. You, or someone at work, rides herd over your Facebook, you have your own songbird tweeting away and a real sharpie on Pinterest. That’s public relations.

Once upon a time, the public didn’t have much say in what the world heard about a company. If it wasn’t in print or broadcast on the airwaves, it didn’t exist. That was then. With the advent of the internet, especially with social media, times have changed. When once you needed a printing press and a forest of paper or high-powered transmitter and government license, all people need now is a computer and an internet connection, both of which they can get for free.

Countering this isn’t always easy. Rather than “boozing and schmoozing,” today’s PR pro works at taking apart social media and putting it back together to learn the best way to get a message out. That’s how messages are targeted for a specific audience, timed just right, worded for maximum “sharing,” tracked and quantified.

When you pick up the phone to find an unhappy customer on the other end, you go into public relations mode as you try to address the situation. Do you know the best way to handle that online? Do your people? Think about it. Think about it now, before it happens.

Finally, public relations is telling a story – your story. You probably can tell your history from the day you first had your idea to the present and plans for the future. However, that’s not your story. That’s just a string of facts, probably with a few anecdotes along the way.

Your story is about where your idea came from, the unique way you made it happen and the inspiration for further changes. Chances are you aren’t even aware of your story. Your story could be the little things you do for the community that you just take for granted, but could play on the heartstrings of the public. Your story likely is hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered.

While we eschew “boozing and schmoozing,” we’re still in the business of developing and maintaining professional relationships with the media. We know how to think like reporters, editors and producers (many of us used to be in the business). We reach out to the right people, tell your story and get your story into the mainstream media.

Finally, when your world comes crashing in and you find yourself in crisis mode, you definitely are in public relations mode. You probably will feel like you’re a target. How you handle it could determine if you can keep your doors open. In general, being honest and being available combine for the best policy. However, you’re going to be busy with finding solutions, legal issues and more. How available can you be?  Even if you don’t hire a pro to do it, have a plan.

In short, whether you like it or not, if you’re in business, you are dealing with public relations. Call it image. Call it reputation. Call it anything you want. You have to deal with it. Pros can be a great help and build your business. However, even if you hire a pro, you have to remember that public relations is an integral part of your business and not to be overlooked.

If you’re looking for a hand, esd is ready to get you started. Then you can relax with your cheeseburger in paradise and a margarita, with your only concern being your lost shaker of salt.

Written by Lee Dunkelberg

Lee Dunkelberg has 40 years experience in journalism, public relations and entertainment. His documentaries and reporting have won several awards. His public relations experience began as a congressional press aide, but he has since recovered.

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