By: John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.
Public relations can often be overlooked as a powerful tool in communicating your store and its brand throughout the community. Whether you are creating news, sponsoring an event or contributing to a charitable organization, a prudent public relations strategy can create the following benefits in your trade area:
• Community relations strengthen brand links to your trade area
• Public relations provide low-cost brand awareness that’s not perceived as advertising
• It helps develop strong relationships with community and business leaders
• Provides another avenue to establish credibility of your store and brand
Public relations can incorporate a number of items, and each should be interwoven in a consistent theme. At the beginning of the year, identify key people, events and community tie-ins that you wish to be a part of and create an overall cohesive strategy linking these activities. The obvious public relations tactics are the high-profile, low cost events in order to gain exposure. More subtle tactics, such as networking, can contribute to improving your visibility equally as much. Below outlines some key ideas to include in your overall public relations strategy:
Network With Local Leaders: Identify all of the key leaders in your community and put forth a schedule to meet a minimum of two per month. Your list should include the Chamber of Commerce president; fire and police chiefs; youth organization leaders; strategic business leaders; and other key networkers. Associating yourself with these “tippers” will quickly and efficiently cascade your brand and its activities throughout your community. Consistently getting in front of these key leaders in your area, keeps you top of mind.
Create News: Working with the local newspapers to generate news regarding your store or brand is an excellent way to get a third-party endorsement. Many of the editors, and in particular the beat writers, are constantly looking for local flair from area businesses and its up to you to entice them. Feed them information on an ongoing basis and they will appreciate your stream of idea-starters. Tell them about new items or new employees, for instance, to fill the hopper.
Community Events Sponsorship: Building an important link to community events is another excellent opportunity to grow the business in conjunction with your local store marketing activities. Tying in with the school systems with year-long programs that reward students for outstanding achievement is a nice way to gain exposure within the school systems as well as fundraisers, car washes and contests. Chamber events provide the opportunity to get to know the other businesses in the area. Lastly, organizing store tours is a great way to get families to visit together.
Adopt-A-School: This is an excellent partner program that benefits both the local school system and the store. Working with the schools, you can customize a program that creates goodwill for your store and the school. This is a great way to win the hearts of kids, and their parents as well. Help support a local school in your community with once-a-month, hour-long “life” sessions that tie to your store in a fun, memorable way.
Help A Charity: Some of your local store marketing programs are designed to increase awareness of our brand, others because – it’s the right thing to do. Working with charities enables you to give back to the communities in which you are located. Charitable work – and when its tied with vendor promotions – can be a great experience for your staff as well as a way to drive traffic to your store and ultimately, benefitting the charity.
Inform Your Vendors: Your public relations efforts should not be limited to your trade area, media and your customers. Keeping your vendor partners informed and included in your strategic plans enables all parties that can influence your location to share a common vision. Include them on press releases, share strategic business visions and ask them to support, as well as participate in, your success.
Ask Your Customers: Lastly, one way to tap into the minds of your customers for feedback — is to ask them! More often than not, customers that are asked frequently about their experiences will more than share insights with you. In addition, by formalizing a written survey or having them give you their contact information, enables you to target marketing efforts directly to them in the future. Reward customers for filling out satisfaction survey or on Facebook that can provide valuable information from your key sales source.
Public relations can be a great way to become “known” in your community and help foster relationships that your competition won’t be able to touch. This ongoing community relationship-building with both customers and suppliers, can prove to be a vital part of your overall brand effectiveness. Savvy operators that master the art of relationship-building, may be able to spend less money on advertising to enhance their brands.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.