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Public Relations: Your Key to Business Growth in the New Year – or Any Time of Year

By Shannon Cherry, APR
Posted Sunday, October 24, 2004

The New Year is here and we all are making our resolutions. What about yours? What’s your business resolution for the upcoming year? Taking stock of where a company is and where it's headed is always good to do a couple of times a year.

Businesses that want a leg up on their competition need to focus on boosting their public relations (PR) efforts. This keeps them from going under when the economy is weak, and gets them ahead of their competitors when sales start picking up. With the economy emerging from recession, now is the perfect time to get a fresh start on your PR strategies.

So what exactly is public relations? It's a strategic form of communication that’s used to obtain positive exposure for your company and keep key publics informed. It's news releases, feature stories, interviews, analyst meetings, application stories, speaking engagements, newsletters, websites, product launches and events. It's also developing a key message that differentiates you from your competition and selecting the mix of tactics that will get your message to the marketplace with the most impact.

PR is different from advertising. Advertising and promotion are about salesmanship. Consumers know it and are on the defense against being sold something they don't want or need – especially when money’s tight. Public relations is about conveying information. By providing information to consumers directly or through trusted third parties, PR is a cost-effective marketing effort that has a big-payoff: credibility and visibility. That's why PR should play a key role in your business plans in the upcoming year.

So what are the best ways to use PR to kick-start your business into high gear?

Think of more than just a press release.
Media coverage can be an excellent way to influence public opinion, but today's media includes more than newspapers and television. Think outside the box to find the right medium for your message and your target audience. For example, handing out small gifts bearing your logo, maintaining a presence at trade shows or getting more links to your website are all wonderful ways to generate public relations.

Keep messages simple.
People in the US get bombarded with more than 4,000 marketing messages a day. Who has the time and energy to decipher complicated jargon? Stick to one message, and learn to tell it in various ways to make your point.

Position yourself as an expert.
Give advice on your business topic freely. Write articles for online publications, business journals and magazines. Participate in online forums and speak to local groups. When you consistently provide information of value in these outlets your reputation as an expert will make itself.

Focus on people, not products.
“Make the product the hero” is an old expression that's not right today. The product can play a role in allowing a person to be a hero, but the product itself probably isn't heroic, and it shouldn't be portrayed that way. People long for stories they can identify with, small achievements – where an obstacle is overcome or a person does something surprising. People want to connect with somebody, not something.

Today's successful companies make public relations a priority. Whether selling direct, through distribution channels or via e-commerce, a successful company must achieve and maintain a strong market presence through a continuous and effective public relations program.

About the Author
Shannon Cherry, APR helps small businesses and nonprofit organizations to be heard. She’s a marketing communications and public relations expert with more than 15 years experience and the owner of Cherry Communications. For more tips and tricks – or information about her services, visit (www.cherrycommunications.com). Contact her at shannon@cherrycommunications.com.