Public Relations was once more about word of mouth for businesses, but in the time of social media where everyone has a platform, we’re shining a spotlight on why good PR is more important than ever to gain an edge on your competitors.
Public Relations is more than just advertising. While traditional advertisements let customers know you exist, Public Relations builds your brand and gets people talking about you, influencing prospects more than straight advertising.
Johanna Baker-Dowdell is a Public Relations professional and storyteller with Strawberry Communications, and she tells us a bit more about PR including what business owners can do to promote themselves, what professional PR consultants do, and how businesses can handle a PR crisis (or prevent a crisis happening in the first place!).
So, what is Public Relations?
Say you have a bakery and it’s one of five bakeries in a single neighbourhood. Why should locals come to your bakery over the other four? What is it that sets you apart?
“I like to think of public relations as your story – a story that enhances your business reputation or profile,” Johanna says.
“It might be the story of how you came to start your cupcake or truffle business, or it could be the inspiration behind the product that customers travel across town for. Either way, it is something that sets you apart from your competitors and it is unique to you.”
Why is it important for businesses (big and small) to have good PR?
Good PR helps to build trust in your brand and your business for the long term.
“You want people to take notice of your business – and you want them to share what they love about your business with others so you get more customers,” Johanna says.
“Good PR does that for you.”
How can you improve or build your public image and avoid being left behind in the digital era?
We’re aware that many Baking Business readers have been in business for many decades, and that the pace at which technology moves and changes can be overwhelming, but Johanna says keeping up with your competitors and maintaining your brand doesn’t need to be stressful.
“The first thing here is to know you don’t have to be everywhere,” she says.
“It’s really easy to get so caught up in marketing and advertising a business that you run out of time to actually create those amazing things your business is known for.
“So do some research and find out where your customers are, and go there. For bakeries, patisseries or chocolateries, visual platforms are important so look at Instagram and Facebook, or a website. Concentrate on one or two platforms and do them really well.
“Another way to see where you could focus your efforts is to Google your competitors and see what their digital footprint is.”
Johanna says being proactive is really important, and businesses should follow up of customer requests or comments as quickly as possible. Additionally, ask customers who love what you do to recommend you either by posting on social media, leaving a review, or good old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
What can a professional PR firm/consultant do for a business?
There are plenty of things you can do yourself to improve your business’ public standing, but if you’re time poor (aren’t we all?) or just want someone who really knows the ins and outs of marketing and PR, a professional Public Relations consultant can help.
“A PR firm can help a business with the research listed above, help them craft their message and get them opportunities in the media/social media they may not have considered,” Johanna says.
“All of that will help tell the business’ story.”
What consequences can a PR crisis have on a business/brand?
A PR crisis can be anything from a negative Google review that gains traction to a customer going to the news after finding a mouse baked into their loaf of bread (not ideal, but it happens!).
We’ve all seen businesses and brands fall victim to a PR crisis, and in the time of ‘cancel culture’, it’s vital to know how to respond accordingly to any negative publicity. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a disgruntled customer leaving a negative review can be enough to derail a business with enough traction and an inadequate response.
“If handled badly, a PR crisis can be disastrous for a business/brand,” Johanna says.
“However if handled well it can actually work in the brand’s favour because customers will see what happened and how it was handled, which might promote respect for that business.”
If a business finds itself with a PR crisis on its hands, Johanna says that facing it head on is important.
“The instinct could be to avoid dealing with it, or even deleting the post, but failure to acknowledge sends an even worse message than the crisis itself,” she says.
“So, acknowledge the issue, explain the circumstances and apologise, but do it publicly. Honesty is always the best policy in a crisis because lying or avoiding the issue just prolongs the bad publicity, and it can escalate.”
Is fighting back against a negative customer or review ever a good idea, or does “the customer is always right” still stand as best practice?
Anyone in a customer service role will have heard the words “the customer is always right” more times than they can count (often coming from a customer who is objectively very, very wrong). Is it true though?
“I don’t think people really believe the customer is always right in every situation anymore,” Johanna says.
“Like I said earlier, if you’re honest about what happened and acknowledge the review or customer and present a solution, it might tarnish the brand, but it’s more likely you will win fans (or loyal customers may have already come out in support of your business already).”
Overall, Johanna says the best advice she can give business owners from a PR perspective is to let your customers see the person or people behind the business.
“We might love the products, but we connect with the people,” she says.