Public Relations for small business made visual

Public Relations is all about building relationships with the company, whether you’re a sole proprietor or a Fortune 500 corporation. This graphic shows the basics for the small business owner. Public relations practices aren’t limited to these four. Not included are government relations, employee relations, donor/member relations, multicultural relations and any other “public” you can think of. Other work includes crisis communication and planning, speeches, events, etc. All require brand development, strategic planning and message development-no matter the company size.

How to manage and address your reputation

Your word and your reputation cannot afford a poor image when you’re a business owner. You might have the best bed and breakfast or the savviest bookkeeping skills or the cleanliest service, but if your referral reputation doesn’t match that, you could be out of business.

Know what’s being said about you and where. Check your reputation. They can manage negative comments for a price;  you can see where you and your company are listed for free.  They can also help you correct all the bad info out there. You’d be surprised what comes up. I did a search and one source had me working for a company I know, but have never worked for. Another client is battling outdated info. Some sources have her business location that’s been inaccurate for more than 10 years!

There are tons of review sites: Google Places, Yelp, Consumer Reports, AngiesList and hundreds more. They can be related to service, trips, professionals, teachers, the list is endless. Then several business sites such as Amazon.com and CraigsList also have review options. Your name and reputation could be anywhere. Know it. Check it regularly.

If your business is getting less than stellar or 5 star ratings, here are a few recommendations on how to address:

  1. If there is a system problem, fix it. Make sure cleaning staff have maps to location. Call two days ahead to confirm date and time and location for service or reservation. Address the scheduling needs for the client. Whatever it is that leads to the common complaints, address. It’s amazing how a poor tracking system or timing can impact customer service.
  2. If there was a lack of clarity for coupon test services like Groupon, be sure to clarify the expectations for any further patrons. Sometimes the expectations aren’t clear and so the client gets disappointed
  3. Reach out to every client on the bad reviews, assuming you can identify them and offer a  compensation for their service challenges. Either another stay, a free meal, something to try to make it work.
  4. Take advantage of using the owners comment section to indicate how you were willing to fix this situation. You should apologize on each one and not leave them hanging. DO NOT ARGUE as the owners response. If you disagree with their assessment, don’t say so on a public comment. That just starts a disagreement war and you’ll lose. Perception is key; they didn’t like the service, doesn’t matter what went wrong. I’d use language to the effect:“ We are sorry you experienced service that didn’t meet your expectations. We have improved our follow up system and are providing staff clear directions. We are adjusting our schedule to address delays. We want you to be satisfied with your  service and are willing to make it up to you if you’ll give us a chance.” If they take you up on it, you may or may not salvage a client. But if you at least show you are willing to try, anyone else reading the review can take that into account.
    1. Don’t use the exact same language on each, address the biggest concern and tell them how you’d like to fix it.
    2. Contact the review site directly. Check if they filtered” positive comments; if the positives are legitimate, then ask the review site to put them up. Understand that if you get friends to put up comments all on the same day as the negative, that can be filtered.
    3. If any of the  negative reviews aren’t accurate or you have a different perception of what actually happened you can actually challenge the review with most review sites—but you may not be successful.

It’s tough to please clients. You might also consider sending each client a follow up email after their service and ask for a review on the site you preferand provide them to the link. You could do this every Friday or something. Make it easy. Send it to the clients who love your work and your staff at first. But get in the habit of sending to all clients; checking the reviews and RESPONDING to them—good or bad.

Just remember to always respond to negatives. Try to make it right. Get in the habit of seeking positive comments. Pay attention to what’s being said about you. It matters. It’ll save your reputation.

 

Check your brand barometer.

Often non-profits (and I’ll bet a business or two) have offered programs so long that they haven’t checked against a brand barometer to determine if the program information is doing its job. And whether or not employees at every level are consistently considering their materials and programs to show whether or not these efforts are doing the public relations work they are intended. It’s not enough to offer a great program that participants find tremendous value in. From a public relations perspective, it would be important to check the brand (values of the company) against the materials that reach the public, whether through recruitment or evaluation, through the program content and experience.

Some questions to ask: Do the recruitment forms have a logo, indicate the company’s positions, and represent in overall theme and appearance what the company stands for? Do the evaluation materials live up to the standards of the caliber of the program itself? Are employees who generate new forms or evaluation tools consistent in applying the look and brand management of the company? Do they know what they are? Can each and every one of your employees articulate the brand? I’m not talking about saying the employees can recite “Just do it” and know a Nike symbol. Can employees “just do it” to solve problems in customer relations; can they be active or encourage others to be active—even on their off time? ­­­­­­­­ Do they walk the talk and does the material walk it?

And then what? Is it enough to have a tremendous program, but only participants know about it? Any evaluation from the instructors? Any public relations shared with donors/investors? Any public relations shared through the collateral to encourage new prospects? Takes consistency to keep a public relations eye to ask the questions: who needs to know what we are doing and why do they need to know? What strategy are we fulfilling, or not, by taking on this action?

Don’t let a good program down; don’t just offer the stellar program/service, but make sure in every aspect of your marketing materials that employees know that strategy and how it relates to the brand and that you know how to maximize the success of the program to relate it to key audiences.

employee relations can turn to pick up sticks

Any company large or small or government entity, non-profit or educational institution requires investment in employee relations as a front line strategy for brand implementation. Boy that’s a lot of jargon, what do I mean? Train your employees to “buy in” to showcasing the brand in everything they do.

Too often I’ve seen the business owner, the educational department or the non-profit fail to connect to staffs, who in turn, don’t consistently or effectively share the message of the organization. It’s not enough for the owner to go through extensive brand training or the leadership to determine a new direction for the company, if they aren’t in turn getting employees up to speed on the plan. This isn’t talking about transparency in operations; while I think that’s commendable, not the point. If you decide as a company that you are going to provide a service and do an ad campaign, you’d better be able to make it true down to every employee. Some examples:

Several years ago Harrah’s casino once did an ad campaign for its properties trying to copy Disneyland by suggesting they had the “happiest employees”. Without even knowing the number of employees whether in the dozens or in the hundreds, I know this campaign failed. Disneyland works diligently with significant investment in employee training and empowerment to make Disneyland the happiest PLACE. And you know, they don’t hit that mark every time. No way could Harrah’s guarantee EVERY employee was happy; you can’t control people. Some people are never going to be happy; you certainly can’t pay them to be. Life happens. And when you make a promise like that, someone just wants to prove it wrong. So they can.

A local sandwich company is promoting “freaky fast” delivery. Can’t live up to that. Even if they went to the effort of having cars on hand at the shop, an extraordinary number of deliverers available, and a limited radius from the sandwich making location, they can’t do freaky fast. Cars break down. Traffic happens. Construction happens. You know where this goes, can’t be done. And what empowerment would it take for employees to commit to making “freaky fast” happen? That could be a lawsuit if an employee takes risks and at a minimum gets a traffic citation and hopefully doesn’t seriously damage  other vehicles or people trying to fulfill the campaign promise.

Your employees can’t treat the brand as if the business were a pack of pick up sticks.

Even Pit Bulls Need PR

Last month the local animal shelters teamed up with the local newspaper blog focused on dogs to change the image of Pit Bulls, because too many end up in the shelters and they take months instead of days to be adopted, thanks to horrible reputation management.

The paper hosted a contest for the positive stories about the best pit bulls. When loved and properly handled, they’re an amazing breed. From a PR perspective, the contest was brilliant. It showcased a number of positive stories, including highlighting the misuse and abuse of the dogs and their sweet dispositions in spite of abuse. But that’s only one step in the campaign to change an entire breed’s image.

You see, bad behavior is learned. Not every owner of Pit Bulls should be an owner; they’re irresponsible by not understanding the breed, or understanding them too well and misusing the dogs or abusing the animal. The problem for the dogs is they have to rely on someone else for their reputation management. For too long, their reputation has been governed by the unscrupulous, generating fear. Or media coverage of dog attacks on children or being used as a weapon to murder a neighbor. Bad publicity rarely worth it; better to be ignored. Because few viewers/readers remember that “news” is the unusual; they just hear more stories about pits and fear stays. Part of the issue is Pit Bulls are blamed for these attacks, but the veracity of checking whether the dog is really a pit bull isn’t always verified. Don’t send me hate mail about Pit Bulls. I know there are stories of dogs doing bad things. That is the fault of the owner, not the dog. And a disclaimer, I’ve never owned a Pit Bull. I have cats and they wouldn’t allow any dog in the house.

How do you change the reputation? Public relations strategies. From a crisis management perspective, pits need better media relations–getting reporters to interact with the dogs. They need more positive publicity, so events with the dogs in action could be useful. Or they need community relations to be seen as champions, such as going to work for the law enforcement or the military, even better going to work as therapy dogs for troubled teens. The message around Pit Bulls needs to mimic the change the U.S. military did from Vietnam vets to Iraq/Afghanistan vets. Understanding the trauma our veterans have endured as a result of doing what their country asked of them has improved resources (although certainly not sufficiently) and military protocols. Public reaction to war actions went from hating to soldiers to supporting the soldiers and properly laying the blame at the politicians instigating the wars. If a similar approach were used in messaging Pit Bulls (the level of training or abuse the dogs go through to become such aggressors), change could affect public perception. But it will take more than just a handful of owners, unless a public relations firm can take on their reputation. And even then, it will take time to change perception. The dogs are battling centuries of misuse, so it will take longer than a year long campaign to change their reputation.

What businesses can take away from this is to manage the positive reputation in the first place. If you reach the level of fear and loathing that Pit Bulls do, it will take extraordinary measures to recover your reputation. Don’t become a Pit Bull business.

Is your online presence Boutique or Costco?

When you’re shopping for toilet paper or tires and you need large quantities for cheap you go to Costco. When you want that special occasion dress, you go to your favorite boutique because of the unique items, good fit and worth the splurge.

So when you write your website, blog, or Facebook content are you writing for Costco or the Boutique?  Google doesn’t think much of the Costco approach in their algorithms for sites. They are looking for the high-quality sites with unique items, a good fit and worth the effort.

They have 23 suggestions on things to ask yourself if your site is valuable to prospective users. Interestingly the questions break down to trustworthiness, accuracy, expertise and depth. Wouldn’t you want to be seen as the expert in your industry? Editing errors happen, but consistently being error prone makes it hard to take you seriously. If you can’t write, outsource to the experts who can.

Provide meaningful content. No one wants to be “sold”. Ease up on the ads. Newsprint used to the most “views” on the pages with 2/3 ads and 1/3 articles (not the full page ads). Today’s online must be closer to 90% content, 10% ads–if that. You have information and insights in your field  whether you make candy or use healing arts. Talk about the passions and provide insight that no one else has. That gets the notice of  the search engines. Make sure there’s a uniqueness in your posts on blogs, websites, social media. Be careful not to be so efficient that all the pages look the same-there’s a balance between using similar ideas for other blog sites and over posting the same article. Over duplication can actually put you at the bottom of the search engine list.

Treat your content like the boutique experience. Save the Costco approach for buying toilet paper.

How to do a radio interview

Several radio stations offer programming that might be an opportunity for you to reach listeners. If you listen to a program, likely your audience will be too. Some are willing to provide interviews for free; some use paid interview time as means to keep the program on air. Check your local resources.

When you get the interview here are a few tips to make it sound great on air:

  1. Provide an outline of questions you can answer for the host. Make them general enough to provide flexibility in the interview but with enough focus to showcase your talents. Do this a few days in advance so the host has time to prepare.
  2. Know what messages you want to get across in your allotted time–five minutes, 20 minutes or 50 minutes in a show makes a big difference.
  3. Be sure to check with the host for opportunities to promote your website or phone number or both.
  4. Sit up straight in your chair, get close to the microphone (almost like you are going to eat it). Might be uncomfortable, but you want to be heard. Get over it.
  5. Smile, throughout the interview. People can hear it in your voice. Trust me.
  6. If you talk with your hands, make sure your hands are away from the microphone and not pounding the counter. You don’t want it to sound like a drummer is in the interview.
  7. Share what you know. TALK to the host; it will come naturally. It’s just a great conversation.
  8. Then post on all your venues to promote the show: Facebook, website, twitter, linked in. You get the drift.

Want to hear how it’s done? Check in with Having It All with Jenifer Rose FM 99.1 this Saturday, June 11, at 5pm or Sunday, June 12 at 8am.