If you want an overview of the fundamental principles of PR for small businesses and startups this is worth a watch. It’s more than two and a half hours, but it explains the theory and practice behind successfully using public relations to deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time via the right delivery channel.
I’m a big fan of Porter Airlines. I like their marketing and PR and I enjoy flying with them whenever the opportunity arises, but I can’t help feel they’ve missed a trick. With a key vote due on on December 4th at City Hall on whether to vote on the airlines plans to expand Toronto Billy Bishop Airport to enable it to fly jets as part of an ambitious expansion plan Porter has a window of opportunity to control its own destiny with a smart PR program.
The company should take a page from the WestJet PR playbook. Earlier in the year the company flew one of it’s new Q400 aircraft – currently the largest plane authorized to fly out of Toronto’s downtown airport, and Porter’s workhorse – past the downtown airport. This was a signal to many that it was looking to add it to its network. [The company has already said that if Porter is allowed to fly jets from Billy Bishop then it should too.]
With one of the biggest issues around Porter’s plans the impact of jets on residents’ quiet enjoyment of the waterfront addressing and allaying these concerns could play a significant role in getting the vote before Council. Demonstrating that the C100 ‘whisper’ jets will not negatively impact local residents’ lives could be the difference between the company getting the go-ahead and being forced to go back to the drawing board.
How would I do that? Porter can’t currently land a new C100 at Billy Bishop – the runway is too short to safely land and take off again. What it could do is, known in the aviation industry, as a go-around. A go-around is where a pilot aborts a landing [often because of a safety issue or unexpectedly bad weather conditions] at the very last moment. Airlines and aircraft manufacturers have also been using a variation on the theme – a low, slow, runway pass, at air shows for many years to show off their new machines. Porter needs to organize a go-around of slow pass over Billy Bishop airport before the Toronto City Council Executive Committee meets on Wednesday – and it needs to invite the press, supporters, opponents.
Why would I do it? First, it would give the company a great media shot of C 100s at the downtown airport – a vision of the future, as it sees it. Second, it would demonstrate that the jets would not result in significant additional noise from the airport – reinforcing press reports from the first flight about the quietness of the airplanes engines – and removing many of the arguments of those opposed to Porter’s plans. Third, it would undoubtedly be covered by every major media outlet in the city as well as many across Canada and within the aviation industry. Fourth, it would add weight to its argument and provide ammunition to the arguments of supporters of its plans.
There are many other benefits from getting C 100s flying past Billy Bishop. T minus 2 days and counting.
Albert Einstein is quoted to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. On this basis most public relations programs are insane! Despite new technologies, new distribution channels and the real-time internet, that gives people the potential to communicate with almost anybody else instantly, public relations has remained the same for more than 100 years and fails to deliver the results that many businesses expect.
It might be reasonable to expect that having tried the traditional approach to PR unsuccessfully that more businesses would try something different. And yet the majority of new customers for PR agencies are companies that have recently fired an agency because they were dissatisfied with the results.
There are two main scenarios:
- The first is where an agency has been unable to secure the coverage in key magazines, websites and blogs that they promised [and that the company believe their product or service warrants] and feel they haven’t got the return on the investment they have made. The customer has often spent many thousands of dollars a month for, usually, for a minimum of three months].
- The other is that a constant stream of press releases, intensive media relations, interviews and the resulting coverage in publications, on websites and in blogs has not translated in to the business outcomes they had hoped [and, in some cases, been promised] for.
Small businesses that try public relations and find that it doesn’t deliver results do one of two things: they start a beauty parade for a new agency, hoping to find that the same combination of resources – press releases, media outreach, interviews and coverage – will deliver better results. Or, they stop doing public relations and divert the money in to another marketing activity or, in many cases, another part of the business. The companies that choose the first approach invariably end up at the same place they were with their previous agency and do one of two things. They start a beauty parade to find another PR agency that they hope will use the same combination of resources… you get the picture?
If traditional PR hasn’t delivered your business the outcomes you’d hoped for then you might want to think differently about public relations. You might be surprised at the impact it will have on your business.
Here are a few ideas:
- Ditch the press release. Yes, you read that correctly. The first press release was developed as a crisis communications tool by the Pennsylvania Railroad as a way to communicate information about the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck to journalists en mass. It was designed to control speculation and control the message – not as a way to build long-term relationships with an audience. It was later adapted and, in conjunction with another staple of the PR industry – the wire, became a way for companies in regulated industries to communicate information to multiple audiences simultaneously in order that they met regulatory compliance rules that required them to ensure nobody gained an advantage from prior knowledge of information.
- Don’t pay others to talk to the media on your behalf. Your audiences, whether the media, prospect, customers or purchase influencers want to hear from the entrepreneur behind the business, not a paid spokesperson. As an entrepreneur you are the best person to talk about your business: while PR people can talk on your behalf, they’ll never tell the story as clearly, passionately or honestly as you can.
- Paying a PR person to be the voice of your business is paying somebody to act as a gatekeeper for all of your business’ most valuable relationships. If you stop paying the PR agency then you lose the relationships so why not develop and nurture them yourself?
- Focus. Too many PR programs are coveralls: they try to find ways to communicate with multiple audiences as efficiently as possible. They are a short cut! Often these audiences have hugely different rules of engagement, languages, frames of reference and burdens of proof yet companies attempt to use the same tactics and collateral to build relationships with them all. Identifying a small number of target audiences, understanding how they think, talk, where they hang out and which communications channels they use will help you fine tune PR tactics in order to increase their effectiveness.
- Look beyond the media. Public Relations has become synonymous with media relations – when in reality, the media is just one public [or audience] for a business. When you are planning a PR program consider who your other audiences are and develop strategies for building relationships, based on mutual benefit and trust, with them.
- When traditional media-based public relations hasn’t delivered the results that you want in order to grow your home business it’s insanity to continue to do the same thing hoping for a different outcome. What non-traditional PR tactics have delivered results for your home business?
The key to any successful public relations program is to deliver the right message to the right audience, at the right time and via the right distribution channel. To find out more about how your business can benefit from thinking differently about public relations contact Lyndon on 1.647.773.2677 or email firstname.lastname@example.org