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Getting the most for your public relations dollar.

In the current economic environment, most marketers are under ever-increasing pressure to contain communication costs. To an extent, field of public relations has benefited greatly from this pressure.

Yet, as cost effective as public relations can be, its mere application does not automatically ensure efficiency and economy. As with advertising, direct mail or any other communications technique, getting the most from your public relations budget requires certain procedures and disciplines.

Consider the following guidelines:

* Establish realistic, concrete objectives - Too often, managers neglect to ask themselves what public relations should do, or what problem public relations should solve. Is the problem one that public relations can solve? Or might other techniques be more effective?

The answer to these questions, of course, depends to a great extent on a given company's business and market circumstances. But regardless, keep in mind that it will be difficult to determine what public relations techniques are most cost effective, if you do not first determine the results those techniques should deliver.

* Develop and work from a written program - Once objectives have been established, it is important that the strategies and tasks for achieving those objectives be formalized into a written program, complete with budgets and timetables.

Why is a written program necessary? First, the discipline required to formalize public relations actions into a program is itself a productive exercise for organizing and refining the logic and feasibility of the proposed actions. For example, it is easy to say that you are going to increase visibility of your company's proprietary hazardous waste disposal technology among state regulatory officials. But it is quite another matter to explain when and how you are going to meet that objective.

Second, a formal program creates a standard for accountability. The "have faith" school of public relations may have worked for traveling carnival promoters, but few companies today are willing to place blind faith - let alone commit budgets - in procedures that are not detailed and targeted to achieve specific results.

* Integrate public relations with other elements of the marketing mix - While public relations can be an effective tactic in and of itself, today's smart marketers recognize the synergy of integrated marketing, which in the context of this discussion means, integrating public relations with other elements of the marketing mix - advertising, direct mail, sales promotion, etc.

The specifics of integrating public relations with advertising, or other communications efforts, will depend on the creative strategies, themes and messages those efforts incorporate. Nevertheless, there are some general guidelines to consider when evaluating whether public relations will strategically complement other communications elements.

Consider integrating public relations with other communications elements if:

A. Brand benefits require substantiation/believability - Arguably, most messages would benefit from improved believability. That said, public relations, due to its non-paid, editorial orientation, is particularly effective in giving advertising messages an added dimension of credibility.

B. The messages themselves are complex - Since public relations is not as restricted by the time and space constraints that limit how much can be said in a given advertisement, public relations messages, appearing in a less restrictive editorial format, are highly effective in allowing a marketer to tell the whole story - or at the very least, a more complete story.

C. Clutter and differentiation are issues - At the most basic level, integrating public relations with advertising and other communications disciplines provides another way for a marketer to get the message across. You never can tell, it just might be public relations that ultimately strikes the most responsive cord with consumers, and differentiates your message from the sea of sound-alike promises that are not substantiated by the credibility of public relations.

D. A spokesperson is key to message delivery - Often, a credible expert spokesperson can make an important difference in ensuring message believability and receptivity. If you are selling a new insect repellant, for example, why not augment the animated bug in the advertising with a public relations program that features a real live entomologist, who is an expert in insect mortality?

E. The advertising itself is newsworthy - Since advertising has become so much a part of popular culture, it is often covered by the news media. Clients with innovative advertising frequently see that advertising treated in a news context, and benefit from repeated incremental airings at no cost. A heads-up public relations effort is usually responsible for such coverage.

Advertising or promotion cannot do it all - Often, public relations can work particularly hard when it is targeted at a market that is not cost effectively reached by advertising or other disciplines.

* Spend where you need results most - A sad axiom of the public relations function is that no company ever seems to have as large a budget as it needs. Rather than concentrating finite monetary resources in the area of greatest need, there is a strong temptation to dilute expenditures over several areas. At best, such a philosophy compromises results. At worst, it renders impossible any assessment of results.

* Expect and plan for the unexpected - Public relations, perhaps more than any other communications function, is sensitive to opportunism. On the positive side are the "good news" opportunities - anew contract, the technological breakthrough, the successful takeover bid - that invariably occur unexpectedly, yet almost regularly. On the negative side are the less fortunate incidents - the chemical spills, the plant closings, the product recalls - that also have a habit of cropping up when you least expect them.

To deal with the unexpected, anticipate and budget for these occurrences and develop contingency plans in advance. Playing catch-up always costs more.

* Monitor and learn from your competitors - Every industry has its public relations leaders - products, people and technologies that always seem to receive more than their fair share of media coverage. Experience suggests that in almost every case, the visibility these leaders receive is no accident. They work at it. And a smart manager will watch carefully how others establish leadership and appropriate the most successful techniques.

* Carefully balance your resources No two companies approach public relations in exactly the same way. Some rely on inside resources, others on outside agencies, while most apply a combination of the two. Regardless of your company's approach, the objective is to achieve the most cost efficient balance of internal and external resources.

Use your agency to help you in areas where you lack internal expertise and where you need a specialized capability for a limited period of time. Conversely, optimize the productivity and cost efficiency of your internal staff by matching their activities to their capabilities and resources.

Use your agency to help you in areas where you lack internal expertise and where you need a specialized capability for a limited period of time. Conversely, optimize the productivity and cost efficiency of your internal staff by matching their activities to their capabilities and resources.

* Look for leverage opportunities - Leverage occurs when a public relations opportunity arises that can benefit two companies simultaneously. For example, publicizing your company's product or service may also create exposure to a related product or service from another company. To the extent that market segments for both companies overlap, a smart manager will evaluate every program's potential for cooperative leverage opportunities.

* Merchandise results to your markets - Making results work hard sounds like obvious strategy. Yet it is surprising how many opportunities to make additional impressions are lost because the merchandising of public relations results was not considered or budgeted.

One particular corporate client generated a significant amount of business press coverage. This particular client was so pleased with coverage his company had received that he proudly catalogued the press clippings in expensive binders, which were prominently displayed in his office. And that is where they would have stayed, had the client not been reminded that the clippings' real value was among analysts and customers, where they served as credible endorsements of the company's strengths and growth potential.

* Measure your program's effectiveness - If your budget allows, by all means build valid measurement into your programs. If your budget does not allow full-scale measurement, try to avoid the temptation to apply "quick-and-dirty" methods that could only serve to compromise the credibility of an otherwise sound program. Instead, make realistic, logical, objective evaluations based on what actually happened in the market.

A simple, yet often overlooked, measurement technique is the built-in response mechanism. Can you offer a brochure? Is there a postal box number to which readers or viewers might write? When the mail arrives, you will know whether you are reaching a given market.

* Maintain a continuous effort - Smart communicators know that frequency is essential to message retention. And so it is also with public relations messages. A communications program is an investment over an extended period, increasing budgets as revenues and market conditions warrant. People might not respond the first time they hear your message, but your chances for a response improve with every impression.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Marketing Techniques
Author:Thompson, Fred D.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Building a sound management foundation for strategic planning of manufacturing.
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