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+

Did Labor Unions Really Kill the Twinkie?

The nostalgia world may never be the same after the events from earlier this month. After 88 years, Hostess, the makers of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, is going out of business. According to the story that ran on NBC.com, the CEO blames the unions, which made the decision to go on strike as part of the latest round of labor negotiations. The company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for the past 10 months or so. Last week it was announced that all assets will be liquidated, resulting in about 18,000 employees losing their jobs – certainly an unfortunate turn of events.

When I first read this news story, it struck me as interesting how strong the focus was about the role that the Labor unions played in “bringing down” the company. Since the labor unions would not accept new lower salaries, the only choice CEO Gregory Rayburn had was to shut down the company.

That is one way to tell the story.

Another angle is that the company failed to adjust to the times. Over the past decade or so, eating habits changed – the focus today is on eating healthier foods. Given this trend, it is not surprising that a company such as Hostess began having problems, given its product line. I don’t think anyone will argue that the nutritional value of a Twinkie is not too high … according to info published on Livestrong.com. At 150 calories per Twinkie, it has 4.5 g of fat, 20 mg of calcium, 20 mg of cholesterol and 19 g of sugar, equivalent to almost 5 tsp. Double each of these figures for the typical way this product is sold, as a two pack. Other Hostess products don’t fare much better.

This brings me to my point. When you are crafting a story for the press to cover as a business communications or news announcement, there are many options on how to pitch it. Seldom is there just one story. In this case, perhaps the Hostess CEO and management team sought to blame the unions for the downfall of their iconic institution in order to deflect a different line of questioning – such as what were you doing about new product introductions a decade ago when this trend first became obvious? A few days later, more details began to emerge indicating that maybe there were other issues impacting sales. Clearly their cost structure was not well aligned to revenue. It might be that there is no business model that could work for these products today; however, a story focused on that theme wouldn’t do well to help the company find a new suitor. When faced with these alternative stories, portraying the problem on the unions was probably the best way for them to deflect blame while keeping the door open to a new buyer that believes they can address the labor issue.

When you have a business communication to address, sometimes you get to choose what the lead in story and news will be – more often if you proactively make an announcement or hold a press conference. If this is the case, best to take advantage of this opportunity. Other crisis communications, such as an oil drilling platform explosion and fire, can’t really be modified to give it a good “spin.” Over time, if your story has more to it, then it is most likely that the rest of the story will follow. But, it will be secondary to the original announcement, which might just buy you some time to get through your crisis, should you have to experience this type of announcement.

 
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+.

Measuring the Value of Outdoor Advertising

As a marketer, you must make many choices on not only what your primary message should be, but also on what medium is the best to communicate your vision. I just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about a nice win that the NASDAQ just pulled off – getting Kraft Foods to drop their big board listing on the NYSE to go instead with a listing on the NASDAQ (see article here). I can only image what the lead time and typical sales cycle is for such a decision, as it is clearly more than just a simple administrative change such as switching banks. Beyond the logistics of such a change, there is clearly a message at play – Kraft wants to be seen more as a company that is closer aligned with the technology companies that now dominate the listings on NASDAQ.

Stepping aside from that whole decision process and what was involved in closing the deal, the point that got my interest was when I read about what was publicly stated as the key reason that Kraft made the swap. According to the article, it was “the prospect of cost savings and the marketing visibility afforded by NASDAQ’s landmark advertising billboard in New York’s Times Square.” Cost savings in today’s economy is certainly justifiable and reasonable. What was interesting is the reference to the billboard that NASDAQ has in Times Square, which I am sure each of you has had the chance to either see either on TV or in person.

Wow. So, what Kraft is essentially saying is that this outdoor advertising venue was the tipping point that pushed them to close the deal. A couple of questions and comments come to mind here. First, what benefit is Kraft really envisioning? Increased brand awareness? I think that pretty much everyone in the world has now heard of Kraft Foods, so that clearly can’t be the case. How about awareness of what Kraft stock can be purchased for? In today’s digital world of price tickers, I have a hard time believing that it is this type of awareness that they are talking about.

I would propose that the awareness they seek is being viewed as part of the NASDAQ’s group of more tech-heavy, startup type of companies that are more typically on that exchange versus the NYSE. But, this message simply wasn’t part of the article. Maybe NASDAQ is trying to expand their positioning to be more than just a home for tech firms, and this was a way for them to point out other reasons for making the swap? If any of you have any background info that can help explain this decision, your comments and feedback would be most welcome!

So, there you have it. The decision to pay millions (?) of dollars a year by NASDAQ’s marketing team to keep that lease or own that real estate with its prime placement in Times Square actually led to a sale, which can now be tracked directly to that investment. The next question is: “Did the marketing team put this into their ROI calculation to help justify the expense?” There probably was some sort of awareness factor, which then translated into some sort of increased branding … but, to actually get a sale as almost a direct impact from the billboard / outdoor sign? I am guessing “no.”

In concluding, first, I hope that the marketing team at NASDAQ saw the article and is now pointing it out to their executive team. Second, I am not endorsing a marketing campaign composed entirely of outdoor advertising – an integrated approach covering multiple channels and awareness media is best. Third, to those thinking that there isn’t really any value to brand advertising and that any quantifiable new sales are not really possible from such expenditures, maybe that assumption isn’t quite always the case!

 
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+.

What Role Does Social Media Play in your Marketing Plan?

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. It has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop and the way we share these experiences. Consumers would rather buy from someone they know. Absent this type of referral, a product or service review by an independent third party is deemed as nearly as valuable and certainly more credible that what a company says about itself.

According to a recent McKinsey research survey, “Social technologies as a group have reached critical scale at the organizations represented in our survey. Seventy-two percent of the respondents report that their companies are deploying at least one technology, and more than 40 percent say that social networking and blogs are now in use.” The below charts published in the McKinsey report demonstrate the consistent growth social media has experienced within the business world.

 

There are two ways you can leverage social media as a business tool: As an internal means to improve productivity and efficiency, and as an external means to further engage with your customers.


As an Internal Tool

Social media can be used as a collaborative platform to better share ideas and solve customer issues faster. Here social media is being used as a shared IT application, no different than the use of browsers for web surfing or applications for word processing. As a collaboration tool, it should be centrally managed with a set of agreed upon usage guidelines to encourage appropriate behavior that isn’t offensive and makes good business sense.

 

As an External Tool

Here is where inflated expectations sometimes lead to unrealistic lead generation, branding or awareness assumptions. The likelihood of acquiring a million users that want to use your product after reading your twitter feed is probably unrealistic, unless there is a highly compelling event that can give you the exposure for such traffic volumes. A more likely scenario is one where your customers reference and, ideally, praise your product or service within their existing social media sites and usage patterns.

The critical question to ask consider is “How easy are you to work with?” How difficult is it for one of your customers to extract data from your service and upload it into their social media sites? If it is easy, then social media might indeed have a role in your future growth. Also, what content are you providing? Is this information that will be helpful for them as part of their purchase decision and evaluation? What is of primary importance, however, is that you think about it now, and that you realize that the way we use social media will likely change over time. Today we are in the middle of a communications transformation. This means you have to be ready to make the time, effort and financial investment to stay current and learn with the rest of the other companies.

Just in the same way that every marketing and business plan should have a competitive review and a strong positioning, companies today writing a business plan or marketing plan must now have a Social Media component. Businesses must now recognize that this is not a trend that will quietly go away. Social media is an important communications vehicle that should ideally be used both internally and externally as part of your marketing and communications plan.

 
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+.