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Managing a Catalog’s Reputation

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. While this expression can apply to the highly orchestrated catalog cover, it also applies to the overall image that your organization has among its key audiences — customers with good experiences with your company, customers with negative experiences that were not corrected, customers with negative experiences that were corrected, prospects, opinion leaders such as reporters and government officials, employees, family members of employees, members of the community in the area of your business, your competition, your vendors and the general public.

A company’s image is subject to a measure of control and modification with each of these audiences if an effort is made to communicate with each group.

That takes a sustained campaign of carefully crafted corporate messages and corporate events orchestrated and integrated to increase visibility, strengthen brand and help capture additional market share. These public relations activities must augment and complement marketing and promotional efforts to drive traffic to each of the catalog’s venues, whether it is the toll-free number, the Web site and/or retail store, and to paint a consistent, positive image of the organization.

There are more than 50,000 media outlets in the United States, including network and cable television stations, national and local radio shows, daily and weekly newspapers, monthly and weekly magazines, weekly, monthly and quarterly newsletters, syndicated news services and daily online content providers. More than 35,000 interviews are carried on each day through these venues.

And each media outlet is vying to capture the attention of its target audience. Without a strategy by your organization to reach the right media venue, the appropriate reporter at that venue and to deliver the story angle that matches your corporate mission and objective, your company can be faced with simply reacting to incoming inquiries whenever your catalog hits the radar screen of a particular reporter or media outlet. Reactive media relations vs. proactive, strategic story placement can damage the image of your catalog company.

What can direct marketing teach us about public relations? Targeting is key.

Starting a strategic media relations campaign without doing some research can be like implementing a direct marketing campaign without testing. Qualitative research helps you understand your prospects’/customers’ desires vis-à-vis your product/service and enables you to do a perception gap analysis. Message-testing research makes a difference in delivering focused, on-point messages that resonate with your primary audience.

With media training, representatives can steer an interview and deliver key messages. Trained representatives are like trained tennis players, working to hit the ball where they want it to go so it is returned to their best advantage. Effective communicators develop answers to tough questions before they are asked and stay focused on delivering the company message with every question.

Repetition Builds the Reputation — Because of “memory decay,” it takes a constant communications effort with message repetition over time to build a cataloger’s image and to build brand awareness. Pounds of press releases do not necessarily make a good media relations program. It is important to deliver real news that tells about something new — a change in your product offerings, the first of something in your catalog niche area, an effect your fulfillment operation has on the community, relevant statistics about your customer base, human interest stories about unusual customer service, an expert trend analysis on unique merchandise or a timely research report on a topic of interest to your customers.

Help reporters do their jobs. They are driven by real deadlines and need you to respond in a timely fashion. Tell the story from the interest point of their readers. Support it with statistics and backup interviews from third-party endorsers. Have photographs, background information on the organization, charts and graphs available to enhance your story. Invite editors of key publications to visit your plants and offices.

And never say, “No comment.” It is like slamming a door in someone’s face. It’s rude and that’s how a reporter will see it. You should have a company policy in effect about what you will and will not talk about. While some discussions may be proprietary, you can always say just that, and then talk about another avenue of interest to the media outlet’s audience.

And like the Girl Scouts, it is always a good idea to be prepared for a media disaster. Have a written media policy, have key representatives trained and have key messages organized.

Furthermore, quick, easy and inexpensive opinion research can be used to help you tell your story to the press. Once you receive the results of the research, you can use it as a publicity tool.

Finally, as noted in the book “How to Build a Corporation’s Identity and Project Its Image,” by Thomas F. Garbett, “The success of public relations efforts for a corporation cannot be evaluated by just weighing the clipping book … If the clipping book doesn’t add up to a cohesive, generally positive story of a corporation with a single personality, if it doesn’t have a thread of continuity going through it, then the company’s public relations efforts are less than they should be.”

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