Anyone who runs a business knows the importance of publicity, but what exactly does that mean?
Some people will say it means public relations, others will say it’s marketing, and yet others will say all a retailer needs is social media. Well, it’s a balance of all of those things.
When confronted with the decision of hiring a professional to perform these services, many times people lump both marketing and public relations into one category. And, while some agencies or departments can do both, there is definitely a difference between the two, experts say.
“A lot of people offer marketing, branding and public relations and I think that’s where some of the confusion is,” Nancy Hassel, the founder and president of Long Island Pet Professionals, said. “People will come to me for my public relations skills and then want marketing too, but I am not a marketing expert.”
This is why, she explains it’s important for retailers to understand the difference between the two, as well as know what the person they are hiring has the skills to do. If the expectations are set from the beginning, it makes for a more profitable relationship on both ends.
If a business owner decides to do their own, it becomes even more important, because depending on what the end goal is, it may dictate which approach they take – marketing or public relations.
“One of the easiest things I do, to explain public relations to someone who doesn’t know what is, is by having them explain how they do public relations,” Hassel said. “They will say they took an ad out in a paper for grooming and some people come in and think that’s public relations; and then I show them an article from a public relations professional. I will explain to them that public relations is not taking an ad out.”
Pet Age talked with a variety of marketing and public relations experts on both sides to help clarify the differences and help business owners make a better informed decision about what is best for them. Many, even shared their strategies for success, and in a lot of cases while the two are different, they tend to work best in tandem.
Jeffrey Sussman, a marketing professional, author and teacher, has found that using events to draw in customers tend to do extremely well for all kinds of retailers wanting to market their business.
“I would have a retailer set up an event, or contest of some kind, and to increase sales for the customers, everyone who entered the event or contest would get discounts on products,” Sussman said. “One example is, I had a pet store print coupon books for the contestants, so there were coupons for each month. We tried to make them seasonal, an example being flea and tick coupons for the end of spring beginning of summer. This way, it kept customers coming back because they felt compelled to use the coupons at their store and not to shop at the other stores.”
In terms of attracting customers, getting publicity for the store is the best way according to Sussman.
“With media, it’s important to have a press release or a media alert, but your story should have a quality about it that’s inviting, something that is different or unusual,” Sussman said.
Sussman said that social media and websites are useful, but in his opinion, are overrated.
“I have a Facebook and a LinkedIn and if I wanted to notify people who are connected to me, I certainly can do it,” Sussman said. “If there are not people connected to me, they are not going to find my notification. I am going to have to reach out to them. When you have a brand name and are well known, social media can be very effective.”
Colleen Sheehy Orme, a marketing professional, said to always think of your brand and emotion, they drive sales and help your business.
“Don’t lose sight of your brand, and emotion drives customers to purchase,” Orme said. “You’re already in an emotional business. People treat pets like their babies. So that is giant advantage pet retailers have over other retailers.”
One of the big problems Orme sees with business owners is they try to be the CEO, the chief of everything officer.
“The advice I give to business owners is easy, but difficult for the average owner because they are passionate about their business and they have built it with their own blood, sweat and tears,” Orme said. “Keeping this in mind it is critical to ‘Keep the emotion in the product and not the execution.’ What does this mean? It means be passionate about what you have built, but when dealing with customers remember that businesses should be non-emotional and professional. The emotion should be in the product, what moves the person to buy it. It should not be in the owner, say if there is a conflict or potential problematic consumer interaction. You hear it all the time, but it’s true. The customer is always right.”
While many businesses feel that a down economy may seem like the end of the world, Orme said it’s the time for businesses to stand out.
“Competition is going to the wayside, that’s an opportunity to stand out,” Orme said. “Most businesses have become strong and defy the odds because they believed and they are stubborn. Their greatest strength can be their greatest weakness. They could be stubborn by not listening to the customers. They sit there and talk about what they are used to doing, and they don’t adapt to the change that needs to be made.”
“Consulting with someone may be worth more than just remodeling your store or redoing your website,” she said. “They spend money but they don’t spend it where they need to. With your business, don’t find quick fixes. You need to go back to your brand and emotion. Go back to the beginning.”
Jason Richelson, founder of ShopKeep POS, thinks email marketing is the best way for retailers to go. It is how he marketed to customers when he was in the retail business and it’s how his point-of-sale system uses marketing.
“ShopKeep is a full POS system, it prints receipts, collects cash, lets people use credit cards, and it even collects Paypal. It’s everything you expect from a point-of-sale system plus more,” Richelson said. “We are a very merchant focused company. We think about what merchants need for small business marketing. When I was a retailer I did a lot of email marketing and it worked great, social media is great but email worked the best.
“I found that when I would ask people for their general information, including their email address, around 90 percent of the people would give it to me. That’s what ShopKeep POS let’s you do, it lets you collect email address to make groups with them and send targeted emails to people to help promote items in your store.”
Along with Richelson, Sussman also suggests using traditional marketing to get people’s contact information and to build your marketing contacts. If you have a bunch of contact information, it sets you up in the future to do email advertising or target marketing.
“Hold an event and have a sign-in or sing-up sheet where you get the people’s names and their email addresses and whatever other information you need,” Sussman said. “Something that draws people in is charity, not only people but the media also. If you donate a portion of your sales to something, usually your sales go up. While celebrities drive people in, the big name celebrities are often hard to get but politicians are also very good celebrities. Local politicians are always in need of publicity and to raise their profile and it will help draw people into your event.”
Adam Jacobson, the executive vice president of Pet Pantry Warehouse, uses a lot of direct mail and target marketing, to reach his audience. He created a club card to rival local big box pet chains that had come around.
“We have a club card that gives customers discounts on most of the merchandise in the store,” Jacobson said. “Then we remarket to those direct customers based on previous purchases. We also create internal newsletter that we print and provide at the stores.”
Jacobson uses a referral network with local groomers, trainers and veterinarians to help promote their newsletter by providing content. The newsletter is published bi-monthly and has promotions that are based on a 30 day cycle.
“I can’t imagine companies not doing it this point in the game,” Jacobson said. “We assist them by marketing them in our stores. It allows us to provide our customers with the most relevant information. Within that newsletter we use it to promote the pet food that is on sale those months.”
Phyllis Ershowsky, principle of PKE Marketing and PR Solutions, said a lot of people that have their own business want to save money and feel they can do public relations themselves, when in her opinion, they should be concentrated on running their business.
“It may be challenging and scary that you have to spend money on marketing and public relations,” Ershowsky said. “But it will be a very cost effective to invest in a professional, and it’s not something you have to jump into right away.”
Before you jump into finding public relation professional, Ershowsky said you should take your time finding someone.
“In the public relations industry there is an accreditation called APR (Accredited in Public Relations),” Ershowsky said. “There are people that not only have worked in public relations for several years but also have taken additional courses and become accredited. Once you find that person, take a look at their website and their work. See if it’s something that relates to you and your business. Then see the relationship. Are the two of you on the same wavelength? See if you are compatible.”
Choosing a PR Firm
Enid Traub, the director of marketing for Dogtopia, said when choosing a public relations firm that you should take a look at their clients.
“Get references, speak to one of their current clients and a previous client if possible,” Traub said. “Remember that the references they offer are clearly going to say positives, so ask questions geared more to the style of communication and the manner in which they work. Find out who will actually be working with you day to day, often the people who pitch you on the business are not your account team.”
“Make sure you feel comfortable and like the people, you’ll be spending lots of work time with them,” she said. “Understand the PR firm’s fee structure and if you are working with a retainer, make sure you have a clear understanding and agreement on how much time will be spent on your brand and what activities are included.”
When first meeting new clients, Hassel first asks what they want her to promote that is news worthy.
“I have to first find out if they have anything or if they are just trying to get into the press, or if they have something I can make newsworthy, that’s the first step,” Hassel said. “Besides print, I also try to get our clients on the local news station to speak about different news topics on the shows. After they get in the news I suggest they hold a small event. Now that people know about your place you have to give them a reason to come. I have clients have a happy hour or a pet photographer in the store and a portion of proceeds go to charity, but that isn’t always necessary; though the press like it.”
Ershowsky said her company believes in advertising in the traditional ways of advertising in print and television. But, added that social media is a great way to keep the conversation going.
“Social media lets you talk on an ongoing basis,” Ershowsky said. “If you have a customer that asks why you discontinued a product, that they really wanted that product. You can talk to them and explain why, but also, most likely, you are going to put that back on your shelves eventually to get more sales. Also, if someone has a complaint, you can now fix the situation with them.”
Hassel said social media is great but don’t let it take away from your website.
“Some people will spend all their time working on social media,” Hassel said. “Some people over the past year or two years don’t have a website, but really just a placeholder and they just use Facebook. The problem is not everyone has a Facebook, as crazy as that sounds.”
“I always go to the person’s website first because it should have all the info I want to know about a person or company. But if there is just a placeholder and it has a copy write date of 2011, I lose interest. The same can be said for the media if you pitch them a story.”
Lorin Grow, the founder of Furry Face, didn’t originally have a social media presence and didn’t have a website.
“The way we got into it, is we didn’t have a website and we had been through several previous attempts to create a website,” Grow said. “Many of them were just templates and they were not right for us. The website actually came from a customer that regularly came in my store. They made it and it was everything we hoped it would be and ended up winning an award. As a joke I said, ‘What else do you do?’ They told me they did public relations, I had no idea what that meant at first.”
The company Grow worked with, helped their social media presence.
“I run the day-to-day happenings on our social media pages,” Grow said. “Each month, the public relations team will run a campaign that lasts the entire month. It starts with a brainstorm session and we all agree on the campaign, they design it and submit it to me. I may tweak it or change it and then they change it and submit it back to me.”
Grow said the public relations team has helped her save time and helped her with any issues she has.
“I remember I was trying to promote something on Facebook and Facebook kept kicking it out of its system, my pr team was able to help me and did it in a matter of minutes,” Grow said. “They introduced me to Offerpop.com, I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have time to research it. They told me everything about it and all I needed to know.”
“The public relations team looks out for me and my company’s exposure to make sure we are best represented. I pay a flat fee for the year and they are available to me as needed.”
Traub said the public relations firm they use is an extension of Dogtopia’s home office team and allows them to have a high level of public relations expertise without adding additional marketing staff.
“In working with a PR firm, we benefit from multiple team members with extensive experience contributing to the success of our business,” Traub said. “This is essential.”