Getting started with low-cost public relations activities

So you’re managing a small business or not-for-profit (NFP) organisation and really want it to be successful? You’re pretty busy right? And there isn’t a lot of money to throw around…  If so then this blog is for you.  In this series we’ll look at the basic principles of successful PR and offer some simple, low-cost ideas you can quickly put to work for you.

PR doesn’t need to be tricky but it does need to be planned for a specific audience, have a long-term focus and give people the opportunity to interact with your organisation.

Not surprisingly then one of your first steps needs to be to considering who you want your messages to go to. Once you know that you can start actively doing things to positively influence them.

Who are your messages intended for?

Are you wanting to communicate with your;

  • Current customers/members?
  • Potential customers/members?
  • Neighbours?
  • Suppliers?
  • Key contacts – people who might refer others to you?

Looking down the list it’s likely you’ll be keen to influence a number of these groups. To help you target your activities it’s important to think about the type of people in each of them.

Make yourself a list of the audiences you want to target and see if you can answer these questions about them;

  • Are the members of the group male, female or a mixture?
  • What ages are they?
  • Where are they located geographically?
  • What level of computer skills do you think they have?
  • What level of education might they have?
  • What ethnicities are they?
  • What values or interests do they have in common?
  • Why might they be interested in what you do?

You might want to re-visit this list a few times in the next few days to make it as complete as you can.

In the meantime here’s something concrete you can tackle straight away – a quick health check for some key customer touch points.

Are you damaging your reputation today?

Your reputation is affected by all the experiences your customers have with your people, premises, brand and products/services.  It’s easy for simple things to create barriers or unpleasant experiences so it’s well worth taking a few minutes to regularly check you’re not shooting yourself in the foot.

→ Making the most of incoming calls

What happens when someone rings your business? Do they get to talk to you or another well-informed person? Do they often need to leave a message? Is your recorded message up to date?  How long does it take to get back to them?

If someone has taken the trouble to contact you it’s crucial they get a good response to their call.  You might like to ask a friend to ring the business as a ‘mystery shopper’ to see what response they get or simply make a point of listening to the way incoming calls are handled.  If you can’t always have a person answering the phone most phone providers can now send voice messages to you as an email – making it easier to respond quickly.

→ Making the most of incoming emails

What happens when someone emails your business? How long does it take to get a response? What gets done when an email can’t be resolved straight away? 

This is a great time to try out the ‘contact us’ links on any websites you have or directories you are listed in to make sure they work.  Have a look at the inbox and make sure responses are being sent within a reasonable timeframe.  Beware the auto response function as you can easily end up sending messages which are out of date or simply inappropriate to the enquiry the person made. Ensure people who have taken the time to contact you are getting a quality response or you risk losing them for good.

→Making the most of your business premises

Is it easy to find your business from the road? Is the signage in good repair? Is the approach to your main door tidy? Do you have appropriate posters or notices on the walls? Is it a safe and pleasant place to visit?

Having trouble finding your business will annoy people and that’s not a great way to start. Tatty flags or grubby signage suggests a lack of caring that may also be off-putting.  Take a wander and have a good look at your premises from the outside then enter through the main door.  You may find a few simple tidy ups that could help improve the visitor experience straight away.

Coming up next…

Next time we’ll look at some specific PR activities you might like to try. You’ll be well placed to get going if you’ve given some thought to your target audiences and have made sure you’re ready for when they contact you.

The author – Belinda Barnett – is studying communication, media and public relations at Manukau Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.

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