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Slow But Steady Ideal for Your Utility’s Public Relations Program
- Mar 16, 2023 6:37 pm GMT
When I worked in public relations, everyone always dreaded an economic downturn.
When the economy went south, our clients invariably would tighten their spending. One of the first things companies tend to cut is its public relations spending – whether that’s for outside counsel or an in-house department.
It’s hard, if not impossible, to fully measure the impact of public relations.
Say you put on a successful event that draws plenty of media coverage. You were able to impart whatever information and messages you desired. You helped secure your place in the community as a valued cornerstone of your market. You fostered plenty of positive feelings.
That’s all well and good, but can you tell me what the bottom-line impact was?
As a utility, you can’t point to increased “sales.” Nor have you made the utility more efficient in some way or lowered your operating costs. The bean counters won’t see a difference.
That doesn’t mean a full-blown public relations effort isn’t worth the expense and effort.
It takes many years (even decades) to build your brand, respect, goodwill and community trust – but a single bad moment can ruin all of that and set you back for years.
Even if it sometimes appears pointless, you should always have a public relations program underway.
Let’s consider a couple of scenarios.
You put significant time and effort (and maybe even money) into a strong pitch designed to put your utility in a good light, but no outlets were interested. Or maybe an important event you carefully planned didn’t attract a single TV camera. Or perhaps your town hall meeting that you worked on for weeks only generated a handful of people who weren’t even your target clientele.
Would you consider these outright failures?
On a basic level, they are. There was no immediate positive outcome. The ban counters won’t be happy.
A better method is to consider your overall body of work. And public relations is akin in many ways to cold-call selling. Most of the outlets you pitch aren’t going to be interested, and the vast majority of people you want to reach won’t care either.
In sports, a basketball player who makes 40 percent of three-point shots is a star. A basketball player who gets a hit 30 percent of the time is likewise.
That’s not the case in public relations.
During my time in PR, I did plenty of pitching, whether by phone or email. If I got a couple of people to respond per day, I usually was happy, as were my clients.
Now that I’m back in journalism, I understand why the success rates are so low. I can receive as many as 200 emails per day, most of them pitching something or other. The bulk of them get deleted immediately after I read a line or two. A few I save for future consideration but eventually get deleted. Less than 1 percent end up as stories.
So remember that not everything you do will succeed, and don’t take rejection personally. In fact, most of what you do will fail or somehow be disappointing. Grow a thick skin.
Still, that doesn’t mean what you’re doing is a waste of time. The cumulative impact is what will count.
Part of that is in recording good moments to keep for posterity. Partly it’s to keep the utility fresh in the public’s mind. And part of it is to be ready when future opportunities for publicity arise.
If you have an in-house public relations department, it’s unlikely the utility will eliminate it completely, but in times of economic stress, the budget and staffing may take a hit; that outside PR counsel that works with you might be dismissed, at least for a little while.
That’s sometimes unavoidable, so you’ll have to make do with less – perhaps extravagant press conferences and events get shelved for a time – but there are certainly plenty of things you can still do at a low or minimal cost.
If your utility mainly handles public relations via outside counsel, it’s a common practice to reduce the scope of services during rough economic times. That’s fine, I suppose, but don’t reduce it too much.
I’ve worked before with clients who “took a break” from public relations for a while and a gap of as short as six months can reduce the hard-earned gains that might have taken years to accumulate.
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