Crucial Relations
Visibility and Credibility Needed to Support Your New Business
San Francisco Examiner

When Antone Sabella, fourth- generation owner and general manager of A. Sabella's, decided to update the image and menu of the 100-year-old, family-run restaurant, he immediately hired a public relations consultant.

"We needed to get the message out that we were not just a tourist- driven restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf, but a fine dining establishment," he said. "The major local and national coverage that we received helped change the public and media's perception of us and built our credibility."
  A graduate of Cornell University School of Hospitality Management and a former client of this writer, Sabella knows the importance of a well-integrated plan of action.

The plan included designing a new logo, changing the menu and sending out press releases about the restaurant's efforts to become a fine dining house for local people rather than just a Fisherman's Wharf tourist attraction.

Antone Sabella, owner of A. Sabella's at the Fisherman's Wharf, found that a good PR campaign helped to update and improve the restaurant's image.
  "I found the public relations exposure a valuable complement to our marketing and ad campaign," he said. "The constant exposure in the press was not only beneficial in attracting new customers but in maintaining existing local customers, which is crucial in the restaurant business."

You may have a situation similar to Sabella's: You are an established business looking to create a new image, or you could be an entrepreneur or consultant launching a new business.

Do you have a great product or service to sell? Perhaps your company has made valuable changes that set you apart from your com petition. The only problem is no one knows about it.

How can you get the word out about your business and gain credibility in the most cost-effective way? A well-directed public relations campaign, targeted to the appropriate audience, will deliver the visibility and credibility needed to support your new business, career venture or corporate identity.

With more than 20 years' experience in sales and marketing worldwide, Wayne Bayliff, newly appointed director of business development for the National Auto mobile Club, recognizes the effectiveness of public relations in promoting businesses.

"PR is an extremely cost-efficient and effective method to establish your company's name and credibility in the market," Bayliff said. "People are much more likely to believe the good things that they read about your company in an article vs. an ad."

What is PR? Unlike advertising, which is paid exposure, public relations is earned exposure.

An effective PR program complements your overall marketing, sales or ad campaign and gives you the maximum exposure with the least cost. Most small businesses can't afford a full-length ad in a major publication, but the value of a full-length story on a company exceeds its PR outlay.

Placing an article about your company in the newspapers or trades, appearing on a radio or TV segment, or being booked as a speaker in a professional organization all adds credibility to you and what you represent.

"There is no stronger way to achieve credibility and increase a company's sales than a well-executed public relations program," said Bob Moog, founder and CEO of University Games in Burlingame.

Launched 14 years ago on April Fools' Day, University Games was a brainstorm of partners and college buddies Moog and Cris Lehman. They wanted to create games that were highly interactive, entertaining and imaginative. Today, University Games operates in more than 25 countries.

"When we started the company, the fourth employee was a full-time person in public relations and pro motions," said Moog. "PR is the most cost-effective way to tell a young company's story and the most efficient and effective voice to both customers and consumers."

Before implementing a public relations strategy, it is essential to keep the four basics of PR in mind:

1. Resourcefulness is what separates you from your competition. Play the role of the consumer or client and step outside yourself to find what you can offer that makes you and your company different. Look for what is newsworthy. Timing is everything.

Are you an innovator? Do you provide a service or product that fulfills a current need? Just don't think of yourself in your own universe. You may be part of a growing trend, which can be attractive to an editor or producer.

Tie into cross-promotional opportunities and events with other profit or nonprofit companies to get your name out into the community. The arts, education and health organizations or the use of such technology as video conferencing can be a creative collaboration for some far-reaching PR results.

2. See yourself as a resource for the media to refer to or interview in your industry. Position yourself as the expert, an accessible and reliable source of knowledge and information in your field.

Let the media know you exist and keep them updated with useful information about your product and company.

A well-crafted press release or pitch letter, backgrounder or fact sheet supports your position and implement your PR efforts. For samples on how to write a release, you can visit any bookstore or local library for information.

3. Rapport is the key to success in your promotion. Public relations is personal relations. Building trusting and lasting relationships with the media and community leaders and organizations is what really counts in business and in life.

How do you establish this rapport? Be honest and clear in your message. Don't send out puff pieces, which and press releases lacking substance and news.

Remember to include concise answers to the basic questions of who, what, when, where, why and how in announcements to the media and community. Put yourself in the editor's place, receiving hundreds of faxes, e-mails and letters a day. Make your message important enough to stay on the desk rather than landing in the wastebasket.

When speaking to the media, be prepared with a well-rehearsed pitch, short and to the point with a catchy hook to whet the appetite. Be sure to follow up after sending your information.

4. Round up all the trade or newspaper articles written about your company and add them to your sales and marketing materials. They give you that added edge and credibility. Once you have gained some worthy PR, reap its benefits and build on its effective ness to get that next customer or client. Although costs can vary greatly, PR consultants generally charge $1,500 to $3,500 a month, depending upon the services provided. Hourly fees could range from $75 to $125, but most consultants prefer working on long-term retainers.

How do you measure if your PR efforts have succeeded and if they have reached your target audience? Ask yourself: Are your phones ringing? Have your sales or customer base increased? Do you have impressive press coverage in newspapers, magazines or trade journals to add to your marketing and sales material?

In Antone Sabella's case, "I would notice approximately a 40 percent increase in sales during the months that we received favorable reviews, articles and television exposure," he said.

National Automobile Club's Bayliff, said, "Whenever we gain publicity for helping stranded mo torists in unusual situations, we see an upsurge in membership applications" for the emergency roadside service.

One additional word of advice: Don't forget the P in PR: perseverance.

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