The latest business book making the rounds talks about the fall of advertising and the rise of PR. One of the tenets of that book is that PR confers credibility, while advertising does not.
In today's economy, keeping customers is important and developing new ones is essential. There are many ways companies go about making their presence known to their target market: advertising, event sponsorship, direct sales, etc.
What it really comes down to is credibility. After all, people do business with people and companies they know, like and trust. Can you be trusted to make good on your promise to the market? How do you prove it?
Enhancing awareness and promoting key value propositions is important as companies look to generate sales and market share, but information exclusively generated by a business is by its very nature one-sided, and therefore suspect. In order to validate sales messages in the market, companies must have third party credibility.
Here are four tips on how to gain third party credibility and use it to your businessís advantage. Some of this may sound basic, but if you donít have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, you will not rise above the noise, and you will fail to gain third party credibility.
Placing ads in publications goes a long way to protecting a company's brand, but does not serve as validation for supporting a company's products or services. Feature articles, however, especially when written by unbiased staff journalists, depict an outsider's view of a company. When a companyís target audience reads about it in a respected publication, the article immediately conveys third party credibility, which can then be used as a valued resource in the ongoing touch required for complex sales cycles.
Of the basic types of feature stories (hard news, trend analysis, case studies, applications stories, and instructional), third party credibility can most often be accomplished by pitching trend analysis, application stories or instructional overviews. These are by their nature less self-serving, and therefore of greater general interest. Of course, these stories may include a company as well as its competitors, but that only goes to providing the larger business context thatís appealing to most editors.
Bylined articles are also an excellent way to work with the press. Many well-respected publications will accept bylined articles if they are not nakedly self-promotional. Thatís why the most well received bylined article pitches are typically instructional. If you can teach a publicationís readership how to do its job better, in a step-by-step fashion, youíve done a lot. The credibility that bylined articles bring to the table is industry recognition for a company and acknowledgment of its expertise. It demonstrates to a target audience that company executives are thought leaders who understand the needs of the market.
Industry Analyst Relations
Just for background, industry analysts position themselves as experts in their fields and are therefore often looked for market knowledge and company intelligence. They study a particular market (often a very narrow aspect of the market) and the companies that make up that market, providing validation of market size, potential and trends.
Itís important to conduct media relations and industry analyst relations simultaneously, because of the inter-relationship between the press and analysts. Journalists typically seek out analysts to support or refute claims made in feature articles, while analysts will follow companies that generate significant media coverage. The two pursuits, while different in approach, hang together.
In developing a sound analyst relations program, make sure to identify the key analysts that cover your market. Introductory briefings are typical in the industry. The purpose of introductory briefings is two-fold. They establish a working relationship with the analyst, and they provide a forum for feedback on strategy and positioning as it relates to the market. Once this relationship has been initiated, it is imperative to keep the analysts updated with new company information, usually on a monthly basis. That way, they are more likely to be willing to include your company in one of their regular industry reports, or even to serve as a media resource to validate claims made in feature articles.
A company's success is often viewed through the success or industry acceptance of its top-level executives. Yes, executive visibility is sustained by the two previous methods mentioned above, but don't stop there. Speaking opportunities and event participation in panels with other respected industry professionals is crucial for executive credibility, which in turn further validates the company as a whole. Being selected to speak or serve on a panel conveys third party credibility from the perspective of the event organizers. (Keep in mind; of course, that executive visibility also is a benefit of properly executed press relations.)
In embarking on an executive visibility campaign, first identify the strengths of your company executives and the topics on which they can speak with authority, and then identify trade shows and events that will allow them to showcase their knowledge. Create a matrix of events that looks forward at least a year if not 18 months (obtaining speaking opportunities is time-consuming, because so many executives are vying for so few opportunities). Once a calendar of events has been created, you can coordinate speaking opportunities with company announcements, thereby increasing the probability of being chosen to speak due to timely news hooks. If you can schedule a speaking opportunity with a corresponding company announcement, the credibility of the speaker is greatly increased as you can point to concrete evidence of their subject matter expertise.
Also, keep in mind that scheduling conflicts often cause speakers to drop out at the last minute. You may find that in the two weeks or so immediately before an event, organizers may be scrambling to fill sudden gaps in their schedule. Being flexible enough to fill in at the last minute is an asset that will be appreciated.
Donít forget about your business relationships when looking for third party credibility sources. Business contacts can serve as great points of reference, getting your sales force in the door of prospects much faster than traditional ďcold calls.Ē They also go a long way to substantiating credibility with a target audience. By making existing business relationships aware of your messages and value propositions, customers, partners and market influencers (venture capitalists, accountants, lawyers, etc.) can then be used to validate your position in the market with prospective alliance partners and customers.
Relationships are key in any business process. Make sure you get the most out of them by incorporating them in your communications strategy as third party validators.
Remember, there are many different ways to create awareness for your company, but with customers at a premium, being able to deliver on a promise to the market is what will make your company stand out from the crowd. Branding and general awareness are important for generating leads, but when it comes time to sign on the dotted line, people go with people and companies they trust.
Marc Hausman is president and CEO of Strategic Communications Group, a public relations agency based in Silver Springs, MD. Contact Marc at [email protected]
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