What is Your Business Plan to Deal with a Disruptive Event?

black_swan_eventHaving worked in the technology industry for the past 20+ years, I have seen a few significant changes and technological breakthroughs. Most of the time they are unexpected – there is a reason why these are called “disruptive.” Few can truly see it before it happens.

According to Wikipedia, Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term “Black Swan” as a theory to explain:

  1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities)
  3. The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of the rare event in historical affairs

The bottom line is you won’t see it coming, and the announcement that brings it to light will be shocking, to say the least.

A Microscope for the Masses

One of these events just occurred last month. I read about it on Yahoo! News on March 24, 2014, where it was announced that Manu Prakash, a professor at Stanford University and his students have developed a new microscope that is literally “built” out of a flat sheet of paper, a watch battery, LED, and optical units that when folded together, much like origami, creates a functional instrument with the resolution of 800 nanometers – basically magnifying an object up to 2,000 X.

Adding further impact to this breakthrough, apparently it is unbreakable, can be transported to literally anywhere in the world, and, could retail for $.50 each.

What do you do if you work for Carl Zeiss, Leica, Nikon or Olympus, some of the leading microscope manufacturers in the world? I suspect these companies are right now doing their very own business plan evaluation to try to answer this question.

How Would you Respond?

I suspect that the day the news announcement was made, there were a few “oh sh%@” comments that made it through the halls of these manufacturers! No one likes to be surprised, and everyone usually, at least initially, thinks the worse.

To start, this is an interesting case study that will unfold before our eyes. The reason is that from a humanity perspective, this really is a good thing. Now under developed countries might have a way to scan for blood diseases, in locations that were never before deemed possible. New medical breakthroughs might even result. Lives might indeed be saved from this invention.

So, from a public relations perspective, the last thing a company should do is to attempt to discredit the competition, or in any way try to make the product sound inferior or to be avoided. In fact, words of congratulations might even be in order, almost from a peer-to-peer perspective. Here is where crisis PR avoidance tactics should be studied and adhered to.

Simply stated, what these microscope manufacturers might now have to do is to redefine the marketplace such that their product line is differentiated enough from this new competitor that there is still a need for purchasing their product. This is one of those “easier said than done” statements. The classic case is the buggy whip manufacturer story. The disruptive event of inventing the “horseless carriage” or automobile basically wiped out their industry – leaving the only defendable segment being that to provide Hollywood props for movies such as the Indiana Jones series.

According to Mindspring.com in their review of the Microscope industry, Carl Zeiss and the E. Leitz component of Leica are mostly German made. They tend to be more expensive than the Japanese made Nikon and Olympus. Their segment is the very high end, likely for researchers. Sometimes they are worth the extra money and sometimes not. In the bio-med market, Nikon and Olympus are the real powers, likely due to either features offered or a reputation they have developed within this industry.

In my next post I’ll offer some strategic tips on how one might tackle such an event, and how that strategy might be part of the foundation of what your business plan story should tell.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

What Story Does your Business Plan Tell?

what_is_story_of_your_business_planMost people have a pretty good idea of what a business plan is, and what should be included in it. If asked, I would suspect that many people could also tell you that a business plan should include an overview of the business, what the product or service is, the markets being pursued, the competition, as well as some sort of financial model.

In the same way, if someone asked me how an airplane worked, I could tell you that lift was involved, and that the shape of the wings creates a vacuum, which that then helps the plane to get airborne. But, I don’t think you would want me actually building an airplane …

In some ways, this analogy applies to business plans. There are subtleties involved as well as a good deal of work, which might preclude your ever getting the plan completed. In the end, if your being funded is dependent upon having a plan, it might be worth reaching out to someone who has actually written one before.

As a business plan writer who has written over 25 different plans, I understand that each one serves many needs and provides content for different audiences. For example, one of the sometimes overlooked attributes of a business plan is that it must tell a story – about you, your idea and your vision – and how new funding will make your story come true. If your reader can’t quickly get the story, it is unlikely they will agree to fund your plan.

The Vision

Business plans sell a “vision” or a “dream” of what you see that a new business could be, could operate as and could deliver value to your target audience. Your initial audience are investors, potential partners and initial employees you will need to launch your vision.

In this way, a business plan is really a marketing document that is written to pitch your idea to this group and get them excited about the prospect of “getting in” on the ground floor. This sense of urgency of what a fantastic opportunity that awaits must be communicated. You need to tell a story of how your business can provide a greater good, or how it can help address a common challenge. And, if it is done right, your business could then earn everyone a nice profit at the same time.

If this sounds like what is driving you to prepare a business plan, then you should recognize you have a story to tell. Just like a great Public Relations campaign, you have a story to get into your prospects (i.e. investor’s) head. So, it is time to think like a PR professional, at least with regards to the structure and content you decide to put into your business plan.

In my next post, I’ll offer five ways to turn your business plan into a great story.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

Leveraging a Blog in Public Relations

blog_lynchpin_public_relationsIt is no secret that social media has a bigger role in the world of marketing communications and public relations. This transformation occurred due to a couple of trends. Notably, the emergence of a “Web 2.0” world where feedback can be provided (and is expected) directly to an author. There is now an expectation that feedback can be provided easily and immediately. Secondly, in today’s digital world, it is increasingly popular and economically feasible to begin targeting ever-shrinking audiences on a wider scope of topics. The economics of yesterday’s printed media world no longer applies. This has had a profound impact on public relations.

Let me explain.

Magazines and other printed publications are really just businesses that must make money to survive. The traditional business model was to drive a large audience, representing a group of potential customers that advertisers were interested in speaking to – becoming a source of revenue for these publications. The path to growth for this business plan was simple – expand your audience. As a result, the natural evolution was a world dominated by a few, large publications with big audiences.

Then along came the explosion of the Internet and Web 2.0.

Now online “communications hubs” sprang up in all areas, on just about any topic. The online “story telling” world became highly fragmented and dispersed. Getting a story out now requires a bit more work … more publications must be sought and more placements must be achieved in order to reach the same sized audience.

At the same time, the cost structure of media publications changed. Gone is the expense of publishing a magazine on expensive paper with capital intensive printing presses. And, no need to pay for delivery or distribution costs … the digital distribution model is basically free. In this new world costs have dropped significantly. So, it can still be profitable for smaller audience publications to survive with a smaller advertiser, provided they can find one. If a value proposition can be derived that makes sense to both parties, then a business model can still exist. The digitization of our newspapers, magazines and other publications made this evolution necessary and, I would propose, also possible.

The Blog as a Lynchpin of your Social Media Strategy

Given this communications transformation, it has now become critical to have a blog as part of your public relations program. A blog provides you with a platform to support Web 2.0 activities – the ability for your audience to directly converse with you – while at the same time offers a highly focused venue for you to speak on niche or highly focused topics. Given the leveling of the media “playing field” and the need to reach out to a higher number of media venues, each with smaller audiences, it can be a real benefit if you have your own platform to manage these communications. With control, you have direct insight as to what topics are more popular, and what pain points are most “top-of-mind” for your audience, which can then be an excellent source for new articles to pitch to other publications.

From a company’s perspective, today’s digital communications world offers a unique opportunity to build an online presence through a self-managed media platform. Of course, transparency is needed, however, wouldn’t you rather find out immediately if a customer or prospect was upset, had questions or was experiencing some other issue that could be addressed? This type of interaction is much better dealt with through a forum that is actively visible to and managed by a company.

Certainly it is an investment to create and build a blog, especially if you are just starting out. But, this investment will pay off once you begin earning a share of voice in your marketplace. After all, a blog is really the only social media venue where any content can be realistically added. It is pretty tough to explain a company’s philosophy or value statement in 140 characters or less. And, even if you could, how long will that message be visible? Blog posts, on the other hand, last for years, provided each post has its own dedicated page that is searchable on the Internet. Over time, you can gain a considerable collection of published articles that are all in support of your value proposition and reason d’être.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

8 Ways to Leverage Search in Press Releases

search_engine_publis_relationsIt should come as no surprise that with the transition towards a digital distribution model for news delivery, the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has only grown. It simply must play a role in any digital public relations campaign. This is hardly a revolutionary thought. What makes this task a challenge, however, is the fact that the factors behind how search engines work keep changing, and the fact that you just have to think a little differently when writing a press release. It is no longer reasonable to simply try and write the best announcement – you must think about SEO as part of the process.

Take Google’s latest Hummingbird algorithm update. Many public relations leverage keyword linking as part of their SEO strategy. Now, keyword relevance has declined in importance, at least according to searches performed in Google. What is more important now are search “phrases” as said in conversation. Google is now placing more relevance on conversation queries, and how they can be best addressed from within a search engine window (ideally from a mobile device). Here are a couple of good articles: FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm and How Google’s Hummingbird Update Impacts a PR Agency.

The take away is that you need to either invest the time to educate yourself on the latest trends impacting search engine optimization, or need to hire someone to do so.

Here are 8 other suggestions on how to best optimize your search engine placement, resulting in better awareness and exposure for your press releases that are issued as part of a public relations campaign:

  1. Be sure to pay the fee and publish your press releases through a news distribution service, such as Business Wire or Marketwire. The ones that offer a “linked” online presence is best. Your story will simply be viewed more times and seen as more relevant via Google, Yahoo and other news search engines.
  2. Use good content in your Press Releases, and publish a copy of the release on your website
  3. Offer a .pdf of your press release, optimized for SEO, on the same page to help maximize your online footprint; .pdf files are indexed just like an .html page
  4. Integrate this release page with other content that someone might want to read after finishing reading the press release, to further engage them on your topic
  5. Offer a registration page at some point during the process to then follow up with these visitors
  6. Write a complementary blog post on a similar topic, to then offer further content and support for those seeking to learn more about the news event you published
  7. Leverage any free PR distribution sites, especially if they offer HTML linked keyword submissions
  8. Broadcast the issuing of your press releases by the social media channels best for your audience so your followers get first notification, which will then also help your search engine rankings

 

As is typically the case with disruptive innovations, the scope of change is often wider than originally conceived at the point of inception. In a paper-based news world, the only distribution options were paid subscriptions and walk-up sales at newsstands. In a digital world, news is found in many different locations in different ways, which includes the searching of relevant topics by keywords. In this world, SEO plays an important, continuing role to ensure messages are heard in a timely manner, by the right audience. In fact, I would argue through a better distribution model that is more efficient than the world has ever seen.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing and public relations professional, and a business plan adviser, that specializes in preparing and executing business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+ or at gbenzie@yahoo.com

Are Paper-based Communications Dead?

paper-based-communicationsPaper-based media has long played a prominent role as a way to communicate. Go back in time, however, and it could be classified as a disruptive invention. Stone tablets, monuments and cave walls used to be the only options for non-verbal communications, and had done so for thousands of years. Then the Egyptians created Papyrus, which became the new medium to tell a story. This invention dramatically expanded an author’s sphere of influence.

Today a similar transformation is underway. The digitization of communications and knowledge is having a similar, dramatic effect on how stories are told. Access and speed to information has been radically changed – news stories now break in minutes – which has greatly changed how public relations and media professionals work. Marketers must now decide if it is worthwhile to pursue paper-based news publications. How should you grapple with leveraging online PR while not impacting your existing paper-based communications’ effectiveness?

In order to address this question, the right “textbook” answer is to talk with your target audience. What do they currently read? How do they get their news?

Unfortunately, this can be a difficult question to answer. The reason is that the process of how we get our news today has also changed. It is more than simply replacing paper with digital. Let me explain.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the way many of us got our news was by listening to Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings and other news anchormen. They created a predictable framework for us to stay current with the news. CNN changed everything by offering news 24/7. Twitter and social media took this change to a whole new level. Now we learn about news “nugget by nugget.” If a breaking story occurs, those of us with smart phones get tweets, texts or alerts within minutes of the event. Others get news every time they open a web browser, or have a spare 10 minutes, or by still reading the paper over breakfast in the morning. As a result, the answer to the question of “Where do you get your news?” becomes complex – there is no one answer. It comes from a wide variety of sources, which can change from week to week.

As a marketer, this diversity of sources means that public relations outreach just got more complicated. The way your audience gets news has become highly fragmented. And, they have less time to allocate to any single activity. As a result, your marketing communications strategy now must span multiple sources – paper and online – in an attempt to include each of the publications and venues your audience might come in contact with.

It should also now be apparent that traditional methods have lost at least some of their effectiveness. That is why all the big newspapers have invested in building their online presence. Those that don’t will simply be left behind. New approaches are needed to cut through the clutter to gain attention of your audience, at which point they can then be in a position to actually hear what you have to say. When viewed in this light, it is no wonder why public relations professionals have embraced social media as a way to cut through the noise and get their message to a specific target audience. The type of medium isn’t so much of a problem as getting the attention of your audience.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

In Pursuit of a Social Media Persona

social-media-marketingIn a prior post I made a few observations on the incredible proliferation of social media, and what a great thing this social transformation has been for marketers. Never before has it been so easy to reach out to a group of prospective customers (or clients, which are different according to Mr. Godin’s recent post) that all share a common attribute, interest or buying behavior. This exercise is a given for anyone writing a business plan or hiring a business plan writer today.

The next question is “what do I do next?” How do I take advantage of this built in community?

The first step is to identify a couple of top profiles or “personas” you are most interested in getting to know. Your objective is to identify what type of person is most likely to gain the greatest value from your product or service, and hence could become a future brand advocate. Ideally, this person will become so passionate about your offering that they become an influential reference to secure new business not only for themselves, but for others in their community – your target audience.

It might be helpful to consider where some of your best customers or clients came from in the past. Were these people that bought your service or product for themselves, or were they buying on behalf of someone else or the company they worked for? Was there a life event that triggered the purchase? Or, was their purchase tied to an entertainment choice? In all likelihood, you will identify several of these personas that make up 80 percent of your buyers, based on the 80/20 rule.

Once you have identified the first profile, the next step is to figure out where this persona “hangs out” in social networks. If they don’t, then social media may not be of much value for you. Assuming they do, your next task to join that community. Here is where a line must be drawn – don’t try to fool others that you are a potential buyer – full disclosure is necessary to build trust into your relationship. Deception might get you one sale, but it won’t build you a following.

Why So Many Social Media Groups?

social_media_choicesI remember back at the start of the 2000’s learning about Twitter and what it could do for marketing. I attended a marketing association meeting at the University of California, Irvine. Over 100 different individuals were in attendance, with each claiming that Twitter was going to change the world. I rushed home to sign up and secure my name (@gbenzie) before it was too late.

Flash forward 10 years, and Twitter has continued to grow and be relevant, even without a solid revenue model. Meanwhile, it seems like another 100 or so social media groups have formed on just about every topic you can possibly imagine. How do all of these sites remain viable and in existence? Who can read all of them?

The answer is “no one.” But, that isn’t such a bad thing.

My thinking on this topic is that social media has become a convenient platform to share a passion. If you have an interest and like to talk about it, then you will really like talking about it to many others. This helps folks to be involved, stay current and aware of changes as they occur. No one can be a member of all groups, and that is fine. Just pick the ones that are relevant to you, and then go after these groups with a passion and pursuit that will be noticed by your peers, prospects and customers. Quality trumps quantity in social media, but you still need both to be successful.

With the incredible efficiency that is now possible by creating a social media group, websites or blog, the cost of joining a new group, adding a new member or maintaining a group has plummeted. In essence, the bar to enter has been virtually eliminated, which has in turn opened the door for groups to form on just about any topic, with many new ones being formed every day.

The Need to Focus

Marketing communications professionals and public relations practitioners must make a decision on how social media should be applied to their marketing or activates mix. Part of this decision involves choosing what social media groups to pursue.

With only a limited number of hours in the day, how much time should be devoted to social media marketing, outreach and interactions? The answer depends on several factors, including where your audience is located and how active they are in these types of sites. Further, it is also dependent upon your own knowledge of social media and how much you are engaged in talking about and sharing the issues facing your target market. Let’s be honest … if you don’t have any interest in the issues facing your prospects and customers, then you might be doing more of a dis-service to try and “pretend” to be engaged. Curating a marketing or public relations program through social media can’t be “faked” very well.

In the end, I would argue that the incredible proliferation of social media sites is one of the best things for marketers that has come out of the Internet transformation. Now there is a way to reasonably and cost effectively reach your target audience in a non-threatening, advisor type of role – provided you are willing to make the investment of time and effort to get to know this audience and the challenges they face.

It is for this reason that Social Media is a pretty important factor that should be a part of every marketer’s arsenal of tools and resources. Likewise, it should be no surprise the popularity Twitter now shares with reporters, writers and public relations professionals … even if they haven’t quite mastered the revenue model. If there is a news story that is breaking, somehow it manages to be trending on Twitter before anyone else has figured out that there is a story!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

How Much Public Relations can be Outsourced?

PR_outsourcing_decisionIf you are fortunate enough to work for a company that is expanding, that growth can be difficult to manage. What once could be done by you or a staff member can become unmanageable, or may simply not the best use of your time. When that time arrives, you have to make a decision. Do you hire more staff or is it best to outsource some of the work?

As part of that decision model, the question you should ask is what are your core capabilities? And, equally important, what do you want to focus your time on building in the future? If a task is critical and highly strategic to your success as an organization, a compelling argument can be made to “staff up.” This option lets you have the most control while at the same time keeps your intellectual capital tightly in-house. Alternatively, if the task is important, but you could benefit by using a third-party that focuses entirely on this function, it might add greater value to your organization by following their lead and work with them to grow your business.

I have had experience doing both. Based on this knowledge, I would recommend the use of third parties, especially if they have had experience working in your industry doing outreach to the audience of editors, writers and publishers you seek to influence.

It is a time-consuming task to stay “on it” when reaching out to the influencers of your target media contacts. Relationships aren’t made over night, but they can be lost pretty quickly if sufficient conversation and communications are not regularly performed. In the field of Public Relations, there is another important factor – those that are in the PR business can simply achieve greater success in connecting with key media contacts. Think of it as peer-to-peer communications vs. vendor-client relations. Even though a PR firm is technically working for a client, when they reach out with a pitch for a story angle, my experience has found that the pitch is more readily received and considered when coming from a PR pro rather than from a PR staffer at a vendor organization.

The next question to ask is how much can be outsourced? Can a PR firm do all of your Public Relations work, all the way to the strategic planning and messaging goals for the year? Should you bring in your PR firm to quarterly / annual marketing strategic planning events? It is here where I would propose there is a line that can’t effectively be crossed. Strategic messaging and communications objectives are important decisions that must be made in the framework of product and corporate strategy. It is not reasonable to task a firm or group of consultants with trying to understand the direction your company is going, which will then only take away from their time doing what they do best – maintaining the relationships of their peers in the publications and media organizations you are targeting.

Going further, if you were to include your PR firm with strategic planning and corporate messaging discussions, you stand to lose one of the key benefits a PR firm can bring to a vendor organizations – separation in the eyes of the media world. The line that you benefit from when your PR firm is aligned closer to your target media will be blurred. Are they part of the vendor, or are they still a separate PR firm? Once that line is blurred, you might then be in a “lose-lose” situation, having lost the big benefit while at the same time relying on outsiders to tell you how to run your company’s communications strategy.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

The Public Relations Transformation

A transformation is underway with public relationsThe role of a public relations today has changed from what it was a decade ago. Interestingly, in the same way that the Internet has completely changed how we book airline reservations, execute stock trades and write letters, its impact on journalism and public relations has also been nothing short of phenomenal.  Those of you who have worked in public relations during this transformation might now think the industry has spiraled completely out of control! Some might even argue that it is now at risk of losing its relevance.

I come from a different perspective. To start, I wasn’t a journalist prior to my current role in the industry. Instead, I began my career in finance as an accountant. After moving my way up the corporate ladder, I found a passion for marketing, which is a discipline I have now been practicing for nearly 15 years.

From what I can gather about the “early” days of PR, strict lines were drawn between what news was published, how it was distributed as well as the role that the newspapers and magazines played in getting the story out to the general public. For example, press releases used to be written just for editors and others working at news publications. It was then at their discretion as to what was printed and deemed sufficiently “newsworthy” to publish.

The Internet changed all of that. Now anyone can post any press release on a website, and with a little effort, can get their release picked up by other aggregator sites. In the end, their target market can find out about their news by simply doing a Google or Yahoo! Search by keywords. This is a completely different news distribution model, and has transformed the role of today’s Public Relations practitioner.

Given the relative ease of publishing content, the value of a public relations professional has now become more about managing that content, driving the direction of what new stories can be told about the topic as well as getting the “right” placements that matter most in the eyes of the public. After all, not all placements are created equal.

It’s a New World

With the breakdown in structure of the “old” model, traditional news organizations have lost some of their power – many more approaches now exist to tell us the news, ranging from tweets to YouTube to a myriad of news aggregation sites and the search engines. But, as the dust settles, I would argue that the traditional news media still have a “trump” card that should be played, and that of trusting their experience and knowledge to report the news accurately and fairly. Unfortunately, it appears that some organizations are not able to embrace this philosophy or execute upon it with 100% success.

We are all quite familiar with the recent events transpiring during the Boston bombing incident on April 16 where false news reports had to be retracted, based on the desire for CNN to be the “first” to break an angle of the story. Clearly this type of news reporting is less than ideal. But, on the upside is the fact that nearly anyone can write about a news event, or a story they deem as newsworthy. And, those with camera phones have given us unbelievable footage of news right as it is happening.

Meanwhile, from a marketer’s perspective, this changing of the guard brings new opportunities for “earned” vs. “paid” placements. It is amazing the amount of exposure that is now possible by applying Search Engine Optimization, cross linking and blog support. Alternatively, from an “end user’s” perspective, I sometimes struggle with how to best stay current with the day’s events as well as knowledge on my craft. But, I am getting better, and the proliferation of smart phones has certainly made it much easier to stay on top of the news that matters most to me.

The question to ask is what is your objective? Here is where my thinking like a marketer has helped my career in public relations. I continue to filter my actions into what can best support my client’s or company’s public relations objectives. If a goal is to position a company as a thought leader in a particular industry, then those are the only types of stories I should pursue. My “news” will then be focused on reinforcing that objective, be it through press releases, contributed articles or quotes in third-party stories, etc. In this regard, public relations is the same as it has always been. What has changed is the rules. The number of venues, distribution channels and publication options has increased exponentially, which is both a blessing and a curse. The complexity and volume of work has skyrocketed, but so too have the opportunities for success. Given all of this incredible increase in complexity, focus has instead turned on just getting a story out and getting it placed. The journalistic quality of articles has sometimes been given a back seat.

Is this a best case scenario? Perhaps not. For me, my goal is to strive to be better, including how I write and the quality of my stories. But, in the end, it is all about getting the word out there so my prospective customers have a favorable impression of my company, ideally just before being engaged with a sales representative from my company. Improved, positive familiarity with the brand helps to facilitate a better sales opportunity and a higher likelihood of closing. Those public relations professionals that embrace this new role and focus on achieving this objective will do well. Those that are frustrated with this transformation and still public relations as being more akin to being a news reporter might not be as well suited for the role of today’s public relations professionals.

Please let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other comments to add to this topic!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business model adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

Public Relations on a Shoestring Budget

public_relations_on_shoe_string_budgetBy Gordon Benzie

 

Having just discussed the importance of measuring the incremental marginal value and marginal cost of public relations as a way to determine an optimal level of investment, sometimes that option simply doesn’t exist. If you only have a limited budget, then you must simply learn to make do with what you’ve got.

For the purpose of this post, let’s assume you have at least some funds that can be allocated to PR. For your initial public relations campaign, you need to start small. Regardless of your budget, spending a high proportion of available cash flow on an untested, unknown marketing activity is needlessly risky, so don’t do it! Instead, set a few targeted objectives and allocate a modest budget to accomplish.

Most importantly, you must be able to measure these actions with metrics that matter. Then give yourself a minimum of 3-4 months to lay the foundation for your Public Relations campaign to allow for a bit of a “runway” to experiment with a couple of activities. Often a campaign will “grow legs” and set in motion other, related actions that bring rewards and opportunities you never even considered.

First Steps

Once you have mentally committed to this “experiment,” the first step is to identify an objective or goal that can be measured and is a reasonable expectation. You don’t need to talk to a marketing consultant to know that if you are currently ranked #50 amongst your competitors, issuing a press release won’t get you to #1 over night!

To help illustrate, let’s say you own a shoe store, located in a mall. Your customers primarily consist of those who are either already at the mall and see something interesting in your window display, or are repeat buyers. Given your knowledge of the business, you know what a “normal” traffic baseline is, so for this example, our goal is to increase foot traffic by 20 percent. Note I am not directly targeting an increase of revenue, but instead that increased traffic will lead to more sales. My hypothesis is simply that a rising tide will raise all boats, leading to more sales. If increased traffic does not improve sales, then a different problem might exist.

The Campaign

Now we have a goal, the next step is to think about is what event or activity can be established and communicated to achieve more traffic at the store. Perhaps you are friends with a local celebrity in the area, in which case you could advertise they will be in your store next Saturday to sign autographs. With this “call to action,” you can now invest the time (and resources) to draft a press release announcing this activity, which then would need to be published in time for your prospects to read about it and make time in their schedule to visit. You could then reach out to your local paper to make a short announcement, even inviting someone from the paper to attend (if they are available). A few phone calls and some time spent writing the announcement sums up your investment for this trial activity.

Another example might be to sponsor a local school event by providing running shoes for some (or all) participants. This could be a way to raise awareness to the other athletes in the area your commitment to being part of the local activities, helping to make your store be known as one that is investing in the community. In “marketing speak” this is referred to as brand awareness. With this scenario, the investment cost all depends on what you want to give away.

In the end, the activity or campaign will then need to be measured against your objective to see how it fared. Missing your objective can teach you just as much as over-attaining it. Dissecting this activity can reveal enormous intelligence on how your customers perceive you, as well as insights into their buying behavior. From this knowledge, you can then adjust your approach, message or outreach to hopefully continuously improve your results and return on investment.

And that, after all, is the key to unlocking the future upside in any business.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+