One of the best descriptions I have ever heard for a good public relations program is that it should be like thunder rolling off in the distance. You should always hear it in the background, and it should make itself known - all the time, not just when there is an event.
A strong public relations program takes a lot of work, and if you don't have the time or ability, it takes a hired hand. By way of example, I had the opportunity to take part in a community event this weekend. It was called the Fresh Air Fest, and this was the second event in what will become an annual tradition. It was a great community opportunity to come out and participate and learn about reusing and recycling. The Girl Scouts were there, Habitat Humanity was also there, and the local Toyota dealer was showing off their new Hybrid cars. But there weren't many people coming by to check it out.
Now, I know the organizer personally. She pours her heart and soul into making this, and other events, interesting, entertaining, and educational. But she was left without a lot of help getting the word out. Their great web site - http://www.freshairfest.com - was done by a volunteer who knew what he was doing, but that, some local signage on a busy street, and a brief blurb in the suburban newspaper was not enough to drive traffic on a busy day before Mother's Day. When it was over, we talked about all the things that could have been done if there had been enough time (or bodies) to do it.
To make the festival an ongoing success, we talked about what we could do to position and communicate for it all year long. One of the displays is a trashy art contest – art made from trash. How great would it be to have the art teachers in the public schools get students doing something for this? But that has to get onto the teachers' calendar in September as they plan the year – not May. Our local schools have a requirement of 20 hours of community service for 9th grade. Getting those students involved in this project would be great not only for the project but for the students themselves. Intel, a local employer, sponsors a hazardous waste pickup – old computers, CRTs, etc – on Earth Day, but wouldn't it have been great to have also done something here as well? I could go on, but the point is that PR and community outreach (whether local or industry community) is not a one-time thing. It has to be part of a sustained effort, like that rolling thunder, always in the background.
So in your business, don’t just think about PR as the press release you send to announce a new product or a new customer. Plan out your year. Think about the newsworthy items, activities, and events. Develop a relationship with the bloggers, reporters, etc. that cover your local town or industry and make it a real relationship – call them with tips as well as when you have news. And if you can’t do this all yourself, hire someone. It could be anyone, really: a freelancer, an agency, a business student, a communications student, etc. Whomever gets the job done.
Firecrackers pop – thunder makes itself known over a long distance. Make your PR thunder.
What do you think? Do you have an experience to share?