I’m amazed at the amount of focus today’s marketers put on social media, when in reality few if any companies ever built their brand on Twitter. I would argue that social media has its place within the communications mix, but the lion’s share of resources should be devoted to PR. And here’s why:
Throughout the last 15 years at my company, Avnet, a global distributor of technology products and services with $26 billion in sales, we established and positioned our global brand through building strong editorial relationships in the electronics and IT industries’ business press and, eventually, with national magazines, newspapers and TV producers.
Since 2000 our VP of Public Relations, Michelle Gorel, our PR agency, Brodeur Partners, and Kathy Kerchner, a media training consultant and former award winning TV journalist, have teamed up to media train more than 500 of our company leaders (plus our marketing pros) throughout the world.
We then turn them loose to speak to the press and earn their stripes as subject matter experts and thought leaders. In most cases, those folks joined Avnet from other companies and had not been permitted to talk to the press before.
We help them understand it is their job to engage with media. We first started with our C-level execs that they are all responsible for brand. Their engagement and the positive coverage will impact our brand in many ways, touching customers, suppliers, shareholders and employees. They also had to be examples to others if we were going to succeed.
One phrase always worked: “Would they prefer to read about trends in the industry from competitors or set the tone themselves?” Once they were on board their staffs knew it was important to support and cultivate our PR strategy. The results speak for themselves.
All told, the effort has helped our team to cultivate important relationships: We garner 50% of the coverage among the competitors in our industry, and consider PR our lead branding activity.
My philosophy is that anyone can buy ad space, but your target customers will believe what they read in an article or online compared with what they see in an ad.
Our marketing executives know this, and are on board with a partnership with PR. When they have a story to tell, they use all the tools at their disposal, including advertising, e-newsletters, social media, blogs, SEO, advertising, direct mail and video.
But they work with PR to get the story out to editorial channels because it augments their efforts, and because they get more bang for the buck.
For instance, our marketing people engage with business partners to create and produce events and education seminars to attract target customers, and our PR people blitz the media to ensure publicity before, during and after those events.
In a digital age PR is the content gift that keeps on giving.
For example, the story can appear originally in a print article, then the editor or reporter repurposes it online, in a blog or a tweet with a link. Then, readers also share articles electronically, and so do our PR teams.
What’s really important for companies is to show their human side, their personalities. Do your employees volunteer in the community? If yes, tell that story in words, photos and video. Does your company sponsor special events? Tell those stories, tying your company’s involvement to larger social or business initiatives.
Wouldn’t you prefer to do business with a company that is active in—and gives back—to the community? To build your brand reputation through storytelling, the messaging is key.
Marketers have to sell products and services; PR professionals have to sell the bigger story. As long as both disciplines understand one another’s goals, everybody can work together and win in the marketplace.
So, to sum it up, here’s what I would advise in order to build and maintain a strong marketing/PR relationship:
• Media train your marketing executives and educate them about the advantages of PR in supporting and publicizing their campaigns.
• Establish regular meetings between PR and marketing to share ideas and make sure PR is included in the overall marketing strategy.
• Encourage marketers to use more video featuring your company’s thought leaders and engaged customers endorsing your products or services. Nothing beats a third-party testimonial.
• Encourage your company employees to use social media to enhance and repurpose your company’s marketing and PR efforts.
• Establish strong guidelines for business use and monitor social sites. PRN
Al Maag is chief communications officer of Avnet Inc. and former chairman of the Business Marketing Association [2011-2012]. He can be reached at al.maag@Avnet.com.