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Beyond the Press Release

Develop a public-relations plan that will keep your business in the spotlight.

If you build it, they will come. This abstract concept worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. His character, an Iowa farmer, built his dream baseball field. Eventually, his vision turned into reality as the players came, followed by an audience. Hollywood makes it seem so easy! But if you want to attract employees and customers to your new business, you must publicize your field of dreams.

Trouble is, while you know that you must do more than fire up the old computer and hang out a shingle, you're not exactly sure what you should do. So you place an advertisement in your favorite magazine. Or, in a marketing frenzy, you try to promote your company on every level possible, which is as futile as trying to boil the ocean. As a result, you spend a lot of money and time, and garner very few results.

Owners of thriving ventures know that, just as they must start with a good business plan to launch their businesses, they must develop a solid public-relations plan to promote their enterprises.

If you have a good plan, and devote enough time and energy to carrying out that plan, you will obtain a great deal of positive publicity for your company--at very little cost.

What Is Public Relations?
Public relations--or PR--is, literally, the relationship your company has with its public. Your public includes your current customers, your future customers, and even potential customers. Your employees, if you have any, are a part of your public, as are your neighbors and the local press. All these people have an interest in your company--in the prices it sets, and in the products and services that it provides.

The relationship you create with these people will have a profound effect on the future of your business. The function of PR is to publicize your company to these people, and to create a positive image of your business which will translate into sales dollars. No one will know that your company exists if you don't tell them, but you must tell them in a systematic, planned manner. If you don't plan what you want to say, and how and when you will say it, your public will be left to develop their own opinions without any guidance from you.

It is important to remember that PR is not marketing, although it can play a key role in marketing your products and services. Defined literally, marketing is the use of pricing and distribution to sell a product. Certain PR practices can aid the marketing process, and as a new business owner, you can learn to use PR to enhance your marketing plan.

Do I Really Need a Plan?
Imagine yourself in a car, beginning a long road trip. You want to drive from New York City to Las Vegas. So you throw some clothes together, point your van southwest, and head off. You don't know how long the trip will take. You don't know what the weather will be like along the way. You don't have a road map.

You don't have a plan.

You may get there--eventually. But it will be much easier if you first research what you want to accomplish, and plan how you will achieve this feat.

Planning the publicity for your business is similar to planning a trip. It may require a little extra time, initially, but it will save you time--and money--in the long run. You may be successful without the plan, but you have a much better chance of arriving in Las Vegas if you have a map in the glove compartment and consult it regularly during your journey.

Craig S. Rice, former president of Royal Crown Cola Ltd. Canada, and author of Marketing Without a Marketing Budget, says planning should be an ongoing part of your day-to-day business operations. "When should you plan?" he asks. "All the time. You should always be thinking about next steps, just as a sports coach or combat commander is constantly evaluating tactics."

All good planning begins with research. Consider your road trip: In planning for this journey, you must first decide on your objective (in this case, Las Vegas). You should then consult a map, select the roads you would like to travel and the places you would like to visit along the way, and determine how long it will take to drive there. Once you've determined these basics, you can plan the best method for achieving your goal. You will plan when to leave, when you will stop along the way, and when you will finally reach your destination.

Similarly, in creating a PR plan, you must first do your research. What does your public know about your business, if anything? Who are your competitors? How do they publicize their businesses? Understanding your competition will help you rival them in the marketplace.

With this information in mind, determine your objectives. What do you wish to accomplish with your PR plan? Of course, you want to expand sales volume. However, what other things do you want to achieve? Perhaps you want to increase the number of repeat customers your company has. Maybe you want to introduce a new product or service. If your company is very new, your initial PR plan may include simply getting the word out about your business. Write down your objectives. Look them over. Rearrange them. Put them into a logical sequence. Naturally, you cannot increase sales volume before your potential customers know about you. Put your goals into an orderly list of achievable objectives.

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