If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.
— Bill Gates
Here’s another scenario: You are a carpenter looking for customers. If you have no references or previous clients, how will you find new clients? Relying on an ad might work, but remember: Ads with good placement cost a pretty penny. If your only option is trolling your local home improvement store for people who look confused, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Instead of drifting aimlessly, hoping to find new, vulnerable customers, work on improving the outward perception of your business and how it operates. An accomplished publicist can create a plan that changes how your business is viewed by the public, the media, and beyond, and is a worthy investment into your company’s future.
Ironically, public relations is a vital part of business, and yet a public relations budget is often the first thing businesses slash when the economy tanks. Why? Because unlike sales, PR success is hard to quantify using an easy, one-size-fits-all formula. It’s difficult to measure the ROI of PR, but most businesses that hastily slash their PR budgets almost always see a significant drop in sales or sales leads.
Thanks to this transactional PR attitude, many businesses only use PR in a time of crisis. This is not only unwise, but it goes against the very nature of PR itself.
Case in point: Imagine building a sterling company brand. Your track record is impeccable and people praise your company and products to the far ends of the internet. Then one day, after enjoying smooth sailing for months, several customers bad-mouth your company in Yelp! or the reviews section in Amazon. Your failure spreads to Twitter, and the media then piles on, blowing up the crisis ten-fold.
While at a glance this might not seem like a big deal in the long run, perception kicks in and all the people reading these bad reviews come to the following conclusion: Your product is no longer the good product it used to be, and your company is under new (and poor) management.
Just 10 years ago, a significant event like a product recall or lawsuit was the prime cause of a PR crisis. Today, with the real-time nature of social media and a 24/7 news cycle, all it takes is a few Tweets, Facebook comments or posts on Reddit to send an entire company into PR free-fall.
How you respond to crisis, however, is even more important than the crisis itself. A great example is Amy’s Bakery. When the business was featured on the popular show Kitchen Nightmares, the pair running the bakery did everything wrong, from berating customers to consistently hiring and firing kitchen wait staff. While Ramsay haggled with the owners to help them make things right, the show received huge ratings and the episodes received all the attention of a deadly car crash.
Eventually even Ramsay, a foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails chef with a reputation of turning even the most poorly-run businesses around, chose to walk away from his pet project: Turning Amy’s Bakery from a mess of a business to a high-flying one. The move on Ramsay’s part was unprecedented, but the celebrity chef felt the pair running Amy’s Bakery were a lost cause.
When people began commenting about Amy’s Bakery on Reddit, Yelp! and other social sites, the crisis blew up a thousand-fold. Instead of using smart PR to neutralize the crisis, the pair took matters into their own hands, insulting their online critics, antagonizing the show’s audience, and making excuses for the whole fiasco.
In the end, after claiming their social media accounts were hacked (an obvious lie), the pair finally hired a PR firm to manage the crisis and reverse the mess they made. It was too late. By the time an “I love Amy’s Bakery” Facebook page went up and the pair announced a grand re-opening, the damage – and Amy’s Bakery – were done.
What could Amy’s Bakery have done differently? Well, everything. But the most important tip would be having a publicist in place from the beginning. An experienced publicist could have helped the owners make an earnest mea culpa early in the game, salvaging both their personal and professional reputations.
In a parallel universe, Amy’s Bakery may have turned everything around and seen their business actually grow, or at least gain customers thanks to their annoying-yet-harmless Internet celebrity status. A wise publicist could have changed the entire game, and the bakery would have the sales and popularity to show for it.
At the end of the day, public relations is a critical investment, not just into your brand, but the very longevity of your company. A good publicist or PR firm will not only improve how people view your company, but help you build a long-term base of loyal clients and fans that withstand the very test of time.