PR Works in Tandem With DM

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There are many similarities between direct marketing and public relations campaigns. In each, strategic goals and objectives are accomplished through targeted communications. No catalog marketing plan is complete without an integrated public relations plan.

How can public relations help? As marketers know, a company's reputation is deeply tied to customer loyalty. All businesses must maintain a good reputation among their customer base, their employees and other stakeholders. When expanding into new markets or when faced with a crisis, public relations can be a highly effective partner in positioning and communicating a clear corporate message.

Public relations works in concert with all other corporate departments; but most importantly, it works with marketing, merchandising and customer sales and service.

A targeted public relations campaign can generate hundreds of inquiries, draw visitors to Web sites, provide important third-party endorsement, correct misperceptions, and inform and excite your target audiences. In the process, companies will likely see a boost in employee morale and a positive buzz generated within the industry. Frequently, clients report an influx of résumés as a result of heightened media attention. When developing a communications plan, consider these questions:

* What were the five biggest decisions made last year by the company?

* What would shut the company down tomorrow?

* What is your vision five years out?

* How would you define the company, it's strengths and weaknesses?

* What are your unique selling points?

* Who are your audiences?

Then, begin to structure your campaign. Establish the overall strategic goals, conduct research, list your stakeholders and identify objectives, strategies and desired results.

Public relations professionals use a variety of tactics to reach the communications goals. Typically, the media relations component is a large part of any campaign. Collateral materials -- such as press releases, informational brochures and corporate videos -- must be developed. Time is required to form key talking points that get to the heart of your story.

Spokespeople must be identified and given proper training to effectively deliver the targeted messages while anticipating more challenging questions and minimizing inaccurate reporting.

It's important to keep staff informed of the company's effort to build awareness. Fax press releases and key stories to all internal departments and offices for posting. This makes everyone feel proud and well informed.

The largest challenge in getting stories in the media is cutting through the clutter on an editor's desk. There are a few tricks we employ, but the best tip is the most basic: Good, quality follow-up contact.

While developing a proactive communications campaign, your public relations counsel should also help identify potential vulnerabilities that could negatively impact your company's good reputation. Misperceptions and damaging commentary can be communicated instantly today, but can take months to overcome. With the speed at which information is available today, companies have minutes -- rather than hours and days -- to respond.

The time to prepare for a crisis is when you aren't in a crisis. I suggest public relations counselors remain in frequent contact with all departments to monitor potential vulnerabilities and develop actionable plans in advance of a crisis erupting. This regular contact will also enable counselors to identify other positive news angles to pursue.

After a few months into the image-building campaign, it's wise to review the plan to keep it on track and evaluate the results. Building one-to-one communication with your targeted audiences takes planning and effort. With strong public relations counsel, strong results can be achieved.

<I>Lisa C. Hahn is president of Caugherty Hahn Communications Inc., Glen Rock, NJ. Her e-mail address is<I>

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