How to get ‘free publicity’ for your business
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!