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3/14/2004

Don’t leave public relations to chance

By Stacy Cornay
Special to the Times-Call

“An optimist,” a pundit preached, “wonders if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

“A pessimist wonders if there is intelligent life on Earth.”

While you’re pondering where you fit in the extraterrestrial debate, let’s talk about what’s really on my mind — public relations.

Public relations is about perceptions — creating perceptions, correcting perceptions, replacing perceptions, reinforcing perceptions. How we dress, the way we comb our hair, our choice of words, the model of car we drive ... virtually everything we do is public relations. Consciously and subconsciously, with every move we make and every action we take, we are establishing perceptions.

We are a culture that wears its baseball caps backward, tattoos its skin, streaks its hair, revs its engine at stop lights, and pierces body parts best left unmentioned. “I’m here,” we’re saying to each other. “Notice me!”

Being noticed is essential to success in business. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd — but in positive ways.

As spring approaches, it’s a good time to clean out any misconceptions that might have grown up around your business, and to take a critical look at how you’re stacking up against your competition public relations wise. Here’s a two-step process for getting the ball rolling.

First, sort. What you’re doing might not be what your customers or potential customers think you’re doing. They might not know about all of your services or products. They might not understand the scope of your activities. They may not appreciate the value or uniqueness of what you have to offer. Use surveys, focus groups, personal customer contacts or any other feedback you can to sort through perceptions.

Second, focus. If the perceptions others have of your business are what you want them to be, the next step is easy. All you have to do is reinforce the positive perceptions through your advertising and marketing. However, if the perceptions are negative, or if there are disconnects between what you are and what your customers or clients think you are, it’s time for a well-placed injection of public relations.

Focus on the why of the negative perception, or the disconnect. Why don’t they understand you? If you have trouble answering that question, turn to a professional. Those of us trained in public relations (which includes advertising, marketing and communications planning) are schooled in the whys of business life — along with the whos, the whats, the whens, the wheres, and the hows. Our business is helping you see your business.

Negative perceptions and customer/client disconnects need not be enduring. They can be changed for the better. It’s a matter of goals and strategies, of knowing what’s wrong and recognizing what it takes to make it right. It involves being up front and being willing to make changes. It’s getting the word out and putting it in the eyes and ears of the right audience. It’s not about doing the job right. It’s all about doing the right job right.

As you take a critical look at your public relations, have these thoughts in mind.

Public relations is truth. It’s being honest with your customers, your clients and yourself. It’s the integrity of your products, the reliability of your services and the validity of your claims.

Don’t assess public relations in terms of techniques. It’s really a cornerstone to your success. Your public relations posture is too important to be left to chance. You either can shape perceptions or have them shaped for you.

It comes down to being an optimist or a pessimist. You can look to the stars and dream or close your mind and flounder.

It’s your call.

Stacy Cornay is owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising in Longmont. Her Web site, which contains previous marketing columns, may be found at www.ccpr.cc.