Hitting the headlines


When it comes to promoting your business, PublicRelations is just one of the ways you can use to get your standout from the crowd. But what exactly is PR? PR Expert Alison Gallagher-Hughes highlights what it means and how to do it.

What’s so great about your shop?

Have you got a standout High Street location? Is there free parking nearby? Do you stock a range of quality brands, excel in customer service, create a talking point with your front window or stage regular in-store promotions and events? You may have, or do many of these things, but are you shouting about it?

One of the four Ps of the marketing mix – or seven Ps if you are in a service sector like retail – is ‘promotion’. This strand of your business operation is essential if you wish to grow or maintain a profitable business in the ever-changing, fast diminishing retail landscape. Public Relations (PR) is one of the ways that you can undertake that promotion but what exactly is it and how do you go about it?

Being PR strategic

As a journalist who later qualified in marketing communications, I used to consider the term PR somewhat old fashioned and generally misunderstood. The concepts of ‘spin’ and ‘burying bad news’ often spring to mind, and after many years in the business, I am now resigned to seeing a blank expression appear on the face of a person who asks me what I do and doesn’t comprehend the answer.

Maybe PR has suffered ‘bad press’ or ironically, failed to undertake its own PR. Because essentially PR is about reputation – creating it, retaining it, generating awareness of who we are, what we do and developing trust between ourselves and our ‘publics’ – customers, prospects, community and business partners. We cannot control what people think of us, but we can certainly influence their thinking by informing, educating and entertaining them.

PR can be delivered using a variety of approaches depending on the size of your organisation, the sector in which it operates, how front facing it is and how responsive it needs to be. There are PR disciplines that specialise in political, celebrity, not-for-profit, public sector, research and event management fields. But within the pet trade, we work to achieve corporate and consumer relations – building our brand to create visibility for our ‘offer’.

Ideally, PR – and any component of the marketing mix – needs to be ‘strategic’. This doesn’t need to be complex or weighty, it just needs to be a plan that works with the other components of your business operation which can be delivered in a timely manner. For example, you are probably thinking about ordering your Christmas stock towards the end of summer – promoting it needs to be undertaken with the same forethought as stock control.

Prepare, undertake and deliver.

Some communication channels provide the opportunity for two-way engagement. This can be useful in providing us with the opportunity to undertake ‘listening’ which we can use as the basis to plan future activity – a cycle which allows us to be responsive to change and tap into the wants, needs and desires of customers. Chances are that you may already be doing this with social media. It’s a channel that’s easy to use, provides immediacy and allows us to be part of ‘the conversation’ with different groups. It also allows us to check out the competition, see what they are doing and see if there’s anything worth replicating.

Being social

Social media is just one of the many tools in the PR toolbox and consistency, along with other channels, will help make your business more prominent. Other ways in which you can undertake corporate and consumer PR are:

Media relations – press may not have the stranglehold it once had but for many businesses, print is still king. The range of consumer and business titles are vast – national, regional and local and many now have digital platforms which can publish content with greater immediacy. Producing regular press releases to highlight your standout activity and key milestones can help heighten awareness.

Advertorials – these are the paid spaces offered by traditional media which can be used for word content instead of display advertising. It allows you the certainty of space to tell your story which you can make seasonal or topical to tap into the concerns and interests of your audience.

Newsletters – print or email, these are ideal vehicles for keeping your existing customers informed and engaged. They don’t have to be elaborate or expensive – a single page of double-sided A4 could be sufficient. Always think ahead with newsletters to ensure that they stay current and relevant to when people will be reading them – not just when you are producing them.

Online content – some of the content that you may want to use for all of the above can also be used online – on your website. Try to condense it for the web and accompany it with good visual images to grab the reader’s attention. You may want to consider writing the occasional blog – this can be more personal, opinion-led content. Blogs are also great for updating your website and helping it move up the rankings for web searches.

Dynamic content – this could be video or audio, which you could use on your website or social media to help your content ‘come alive.’

Brochures and printed materials – these are sometimes considered ‘marketing collateral’ but can also fit in with your PR strategy. They can help support events and seasonal, promotional activities. Alongside the ‘sell’ of product spotlights, consider adding a little context which could tap into buying psychology – why might someone want to buy a particular range of products at this time? Think cooling and hydrating products during the summer for example.

Events – do you take part in town centre initiatives? Themed events, summer carnivals, window display competitions? All these are worth shouting about along with in-store promotional events that you may undertake with suppliers.

Sponsorships or partnerships – is their brand bigger than yours? Does is lend synergy or align itself to your values? Linking in with another brand – be it commercial, community or charitable – can help extend your reach and in the case of charity, provide you with the ‘halo effect’ of supporting others. So, if you have some near end date stock why not donate it to a local rescue and tell the story?

Speaking engagements – have you ever been asked to do a careers talk or Chamber of Commerce event? Well, that’s PR too! In addition to influencing your immediate audience, why not extend the opportunity by taking photos at the event and highlighting your involvement?

So, what connects all the above activities? Essentially, we are storytelling – the art of conveying a narrative which serves to trigger an emotional response and meaningful resonance. These stories go beyond the facts, apply provided context and paint a vivid picture with which the customer can relate. It can be used in advertising but also in PR. Remember the Intel Inside campaign? It went beyond selling a computer chip to the application of that product in the things that we as consumers could relate – Costa Coffee’s coffee-making machines or the navigation equipment of a North Pole explorer.

How does this apply to a pet retail business? Think about how the products you sell are being used, the companion animals that connect us and are our sole purpose for operating. We are in an emotive business – think like a customer and tell the stories that they will be interested to hear. It is easy to convey and connect with the things that we love.

Often, as business owners we are so busy doing the job and all the essential work that goes to support it, that we often forget to promote ourselves. I can understand why – there are only so many hours in the day, but committing yourself to doing two or three PR activities – maybe social media twice a week, an occasional press release and a couple of print options every year – may provide you with the frequency and consistency to help get you noticed and keep you connected with the customers who are the lifeblood of your trade.