How to get ‘free pub­lic­ity’ for your busi­ness

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Leisure -

I WAS just think­ing, most readers of this col­umn are into some form of busi­ness. Be it sell­ing chick­ens or freez­its, that’s the re­al­ity of be­ing a Zim­bab­wean these days.

If you are an emerg­ing or sub­merg­ing busi­ness, hav­ing mul­ti­ple streams of in­come is be­ing clever. So as a com­mu­nity ser­vice, I elected to share the wis­dom that I have ac­quired as a pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sional.

One of the chal­lenges that most small busi­nesses face is that of build­ing cred­i­bil­ity. That abil­ity to gen­er­ate promi­nence and stand out from the crowd. How can you achieve this with­out hav­ing to pay back-break­ing ad­ver­tis­ing fees?

This took me back to the days when I was start­ing out in PR. As I was be­ing briefed as to what was ex­pected of me by my new em­ploy­ers then, it be­came ap­par­ent that they had taken me on board just to gen­er­ate pub­lic­ity for them.

Lit­tle did they know that what they were ask­ing for was just a frac­tion of what my job de­manded of me. The hu­man re­sources peo­ple were clue­less. Not be­ing one to short­change my em­ploy­ers, I set out to write down my own job de­scrip­tion that shocked them out of their socks.

I also un­der­stood why the fi­nance depart­ment was re­luc­tant to in­vest much in pub­lic re­la­tions. In our trade we call it, “putting money where your mouth is.”

They had the im­pres­sion that PR is a free or cheap method of gain­ing pub­lic­ity. It re­minded me of my late high school ac­counts teacher, one Mbakada, who would al­ways says that in busi­ness, there are no free lunches.

He was right. One has to learn that in busi­ness any­thing that does not have a price tag is not worth it. Busi­nesses should in­vest money in some­thing if they want value in re­turn.

So how do you work to gain pub­lic­ity for your busi­ness, with­out break­ing the bank. Which is dif­fer­ent from ad­ver­tis­ing, it­self a pre­cise form of mar­ket­ing, and cost­ing an arm and a leg too!

Pub­lic­ity is part of the broader field of pub­lic re­la­tions. It helps de­fine or shape what a cus­tomer or prospect thinks through a series of ap­pear­ances in var­i­ous forms of me­dia.

It gets your com­pany, brand, prod­uct or ser­vice on the radar screen of the me­dia with the aim of get­ting in­ter­view op­por­tu­ni­ties or even­tu­ally be­ing fea­tured in a story. The ef­fort is to garner me­dia cov­er­age or ex­po­sure, to gain pub­lic vis­i­bil­ity or cre­ate aware­ness.

I prom­ise not to take you down that “bor­ing” road of ex­trap­o­lat­ing pub­lic re­la­tions the­ory, save to say that while the first two are one-way, the oth­ers al­low two-way means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, al­low­ing for feed­back, which has be­come the norm.

The prin­ci­ple of cre­at­ing pub­lic­ity re­mains rel­e­vant in this age of so­cial me­dia. It re­quires an ap­proach that is part of a broader com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy in your me­dia plan­ning. Now don’t look at me that way. You have one, don’t you? A strat­egy, I mean.

If not, then stop read­ing, be­cause you are not be­ing se­ri­ous.

Any­way, my PR stu­dents roll their eyes when I re­late the story of my life in the pro­fes­sion (for the umpteenth time, I’m told!)

I got my plum job af­ter be­ing head-hunted by one of the most sought af­ter chief ex­ec­u­tives in Zim­babwe at the time, Don McDe­vitt, who was ap­pointed head of Dun­lop Zim­babwe in early 2000.

The tyre maker at the time was sad­dled with se­ri­ous rep­u­ta­tion and im­age is­sues. It was a frog that re­quired a bit of lip­stick in the short-term, while man­age­ment worked on fix­ing its fi­nan­cial re­cov­ery.

Yours truly was lured from Bu­l­awayo Mu­nic­i­pal­ity (BCC) where I was se­nior pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cer. I came well rec­om­mended via my very pop­u­lar ‘On the lighter side’ col­umn in The Sun­day News. I should add that it had noth­ing to do with pub­lic re­la­tions, nor busi­ness for that mat­ter, or any­thing close to be­ing sane.

It was my ex­pe­ri­ence as a jour­nal­ist that seemed to at­tract Don and his merry-men at Dun­lop. I call them merry be­cause they brought the com­pany back to life, and put a cheer in what was for years a very de­mo­ti­vated work­force. To say that they were dis­grun­tled is an un­der­state­ment.

My man­date was clear and pre­cise, to put Dun­lop Zim­babwe back in the spot­light. I asked man­age­ment what good things they were al­ready do­ing that the world out there should know about? These had to be ac­tiv­i­ties that were wor­thy to gen­er­ate news­wor­thy ideas we could mar­ket via the me­dia.

In your own area of busi­ness, you can ap­ply the pa­ram­e­ters that I used back then to gen­er­ate that much­needed pub­lic­ity. These are the kind of ques­tions that you can ask your­selves:

Have you ap­pointed a new man­ager in your or­gan­i­sa­tion, some­one with a great rep­u­ta­tion and with a fan­tas­tic story to tell? Don McDe­vitt was our ‘rock-star’ chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer who did not re­quire em­bel­lish­ing. He looked good in front of the cam­eras too!

Have you done any­thing wor­thy for char­ity and your com­mu­nity? Dun­lop Zim­babwe was do­nat­ing tyres to or­phan­ages around the coun­try while spon­sor­ing a num­ber of na­tional sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for years.

Has your busi­ness pro­duced some­thing unique from what is avail­able on the mar­ket? Dun­lop launched prod­ucts for the trans­port (kombi) and farm­ing sec­tor that were de­signed for test­ing con­di­tions and also con­trib­uted to traf­fic safety.

Do you have some­thing valu­able to share in the form of ad­vice or in­for­ma­tion? Are you are ‘thought leader’ in your field, or do you know of an in­flu­encer through whom you can build the pro­file of your brand? Dun­lop ran a col­umn in the pa­pers of how to care for your tyres as an ex­am­ple.

How are you tak­ing care of your work­ers over and beyond what you are obliged to do? Dun­lop be­gan a schol­ar­ship scheme for the chil­dren of em­ploy­ees who had done ex­cep­tion­ally well. They also re­launched com­pany sports teams in soccer, net­ball and ten­nis.

Dun­lop even went above and beyond to in­cen­tivise bonuses and threw a “gala” for em­ploy­ees, pen­sion­ers and their spouses to thank them for out­per­form­ing them­selves.

We did not hes­i­tate to sum­mon the me­dia on each of these oc­ca­sions. That was in ad­di­tion to ar­rang­ing reg­u­lar “meet the press” ses­sions with the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and fac­tory tours.

The re­sult was the devel­op­ment of pos­i­tive pub­lic­ity for the com­pany and the cul­ti­va­tion of an ex­cel­lent re­la­tion­ship with the me­dia. There was no buy­ing of space, nor jour­nal­ists to achieve this. What we pushed were sto­ries that the me­dia felt were worth shar­ing with their au­di­ences.

But then, I hear you say, you are just sell­ing toma­toes! Go back to the part that says you should have stopped read­ing this ar­ti­cle. You are not be­ing se­ri­ous!

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