Conducting a corporate public relations campaign can raise awareness of your company and build consumer confidence. It may be especially important when changes occur or you enter new markets. Public relations can also help improve your company's reputation.
Your corporate reputation is how you are perceived by customers, suppliers, and others. If the way you are perceived is negative, conducting a public relations campaign can reinforce positive aspects about your company and correct misunderstandings.
Assessing current perceptions is the first step to building a positive corporate reputation. Your assessment should identify areas where you can improve your communications and determine the focus of your public relations campaign. Some traits you may want to communicate in your campaign are professionalism, technical aptitude, market success, and stability. Be sure to communicate a consistent message.
Aspects to communicate using corporate public relations include new hires, management changes, investments and other business developments, product changes, and financial performance.
A public relations campaign can help to correct misunderstandings or incorrect perceptions. If your company's performance is poor, though, you should focus instead on improving your outcomes. Attempting to mislead people using public relations is likely to backfire.
Public relations may be useful even if you have a good reputation to maintain and enhance people's perceptions of your company or to increase their knowledge about your products. Keep in mind, too, that success is not determined only by having good products. Your delivery record, capacity, and financial performance are also important, so you should communicate these measures with your investors and customers as well.
Different companies appoint different people to deal with the press. Some have an official spokesperson who handles all inquiries. Others appoint a senior director or hire a public relations consultant. Whatever you decide, be sure that your company's telephone operators know where they should refer press contacts. Reporters work on tight deadlines and may become frustrated if they have to talk with multiple people before reaching the appropriate contact.
There are many different reasons for which you might choose to conduct a public relations campaign. Before launching your campaign, be sure you are clear about your goals. For example, your goals may be:
- To inform the public about changes in your company;
- To reinforce your company's strengths;
- To build awareness among potential customers as you enter new markets;
- To improve a poor reputation or correct misunderstandings;
- To build awareness of your company among executives who influence purchasing decisions; or
- To persuade customers that your company can maintain its supply standard while building new accounts or establishing new partnerships.
One common reason for launching a corporate public relations campaign is to improve a company's poor reputation or correct misunderstandings in the market. Your company's reputation is the way it is perceived by customers, suppliers, and other important groups. Some aspects that may influence your reputation include financial performance, management quality, degree of focus (or seeming lack of focus), market success, recent growth, relationships with suppliers and employees, and manufacturing capabilities.
One good first step to developing your campaign is to outline the many ways that customers perceive companies with good reputations and then conduct an audit to assess how your company is perceived. Use research to conduct your audit and then develop a summary of your results.
Here is an example of an audit summary:
- Customers recognize Company X nearly as much as its competitors, but they rate Companies Y and Z as having a better image. Many customers cited Company X as having poor customer service. Some felt the company lacks focus in its product line and does not communicate its goals well. Though products have improved in quality in recent years, a poor reputation has persisted because of past problems. The company is perceived as having lesser quality and inferior performance when compared with competitors, and its users are less satisfied than competitors' users. Many think the company is losing ground with decision makers. It is not rated highly as a potential supplier of even those products for which it is most recognized. Company X's two main objectives to improve its reputation should be: 1) To improve overall customer service and the customer experience; and 2) To inform customers about Company X's new, high-quality products.
As you can see, an audit will identify areas to focus communications. The company then can develop key messages to be communicated consistently in every point of contact with the customer.
As you develop your public relations campaign, remember to stress the positive aspects of your organization. If you hope to correct misunderstandings that have hurt your reputation, you also can use the campaign to communicate your company's point of view.
Your company's established goals and/or the results of your audit will determine the key messages you wish to communicate in your public relations campaign. Below are some examples of messages you might incorporate in a variety of circumstances.
You wish to communicate that your company acts professionally and understands the needs of its customers, providing a wide variety of high quality products and services. Here are some messages that support this perception:
- Employee training is a priority, and the company has invested $X in training over the next year.
- Employees are organized in market-focused groups to serve customers at the highest level.
- A sufficient number of employees are dedicated to serving the customer's needs.
- Total quality is the company's first priority.
- The company offers a full product range and superior support services.
- All products meet relevant safety standards.
- New product development teams are spurring innovation.
You wish to communicate your company's technical aptitude and ability to develop full product solutions that meet customers' technical needs. Messages to support this perception might include:
- The company is known for innovation.
- Specific products have been employed to meet many demanding technical applications.
- The company's products offer superior value, without compromising quality.
- The company's products conform all relevant safety and other standards.
- Research and development is a well-funded and staffed priority for the company.
You wish to communicate that you are winning market share from your competitors. Messages to support this perception might include:
- The following customers have selected the company to provide products and services.
- The company recently won a highly valued order.
- The following customers have selected the company as a key supplier or strategic partner.
- The company increased market share by X% in the last year, while competitors lost Y% market share.
You wish to communicate that your company is successful, financially stable, and has a sound management team. Messages to support this perception might include:
- The company's orders, revenue, or profits have grown by X%.
- The company has expansion plans.
- The company is a member of a number of respected groups or associations.
- The company is a leading supplier in a particular market.
You may choose to employ a variety of public relations methods in your corporate public relations campaign. Be sure to consider your target audience as you choose the methods most appropriate for your company and situation. Some common public relations tactics include:
- Sending press releases to announce new appointments and management changes;
- Sending press releases to announce new investments and other business developments;
- Distributing press packets that include business and financial performance details;
- Pursuing senior management interviews in prominent magazines or trade journals;
- Submitting feature article ideas to news media outlets that demonstrate positive aspects about the company; and
- Inviting press personnel to tour your office or factory.
Many companies do not make maintaining a good corporate reputation a priority. As company matters often seem intangible and hard to describe, they focus only on product public relations and do not inform the public about other company developments, such as growth plans or management changes. Not providing the market with information often leads to misunderstandings, reducing customer confidence. This confidence is difficult to rebuild once it is lost. Remember to provide the market with as much information as possible, so that customers can make informed decisions.
Companies facing a crisis often attempt to limit damage by talking with the press. If the company does not have a relationship with press personnel, though, and does not regularly communicate with them, journalists may recognize the company is facing problems and make matters worse.
There are many key groups that influence the success of your business, including investors, employees, pressure groups, distributors, and suppliers—and of course customers. Be sure to plan communication with all of these audiences as you develop your public relations campaign.
Treadwell, Donald, and Jill B. Treadwell.
Public Relations Society of America: www.prsa.org