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.
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 Another client is battling outdated info.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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t use the exact same language on each, address the biggest concern and tell them how you’d like to fix it.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.