Successfully building a company's public awareness and establishing its credibility is a task that should involve every key member of management. Whatever your title — CEO, General Manager, Product Manager, Director or VP Marketing, or VP Engineering — public relations needs to be as important an element of your work as forecasting, budget control, hiring, sales, or product development. Yes, it's that important.
Every company is doing public relations. It may be a conscious or unconscious effort, and it may be happening with or without any planning or management participation, but, like cell division, it is occurring constantly. If it's allowed to happen on its own, it may take the form of negative attention, or simply no attention at all.
Consider the company whose product manager receives an emailed questionnaire from an editor at a key publication requesting information for an upcoming article that would include all the players in the company's market segment. If management's attention isn't on public relations, the chances are the questionnaire will never get completed or returned, and the opportunity will be lost. Someone will read the article and wonder why the company wasn't included.
Timely reaction to opportunities is only half the story. Management neglect in the PR arena is most obvious in the lack of planning. Without it, an important introduction, or other significant business news, may be missed or ignored by the target media, limiting the company's ability to create demand for its products or services. Advanced planning input from management is an essential part of a successful public relations program. PR is a strategic tool, not an occasional tactic. Too often, management thinks PR stands for press release, so the media handlers are brought in at the last minute, rather than when strategy is being discussed. “PR in about a minute” doesn’t pay off.
Management must be willing to support and participate in planning and scheduling public relations actions. PR managers must get involved in top-level decision-making, or at least be made aware from the beginning. PR isn't nearly as effective when its tools are used only to react to events as or after they occur. As a long-term effort starting with personal contact, public relations is more than proven as cost-effective.
Great examples of management that's fully-engaged in public relations and key speaking roles abound. Apple Inc.'s Steve Jobs is only the tip of that company's public relations arrow. But you don't have to be Steve to be effective. Think about your segment of the tech industry. Aren't there execs who speak for their company and often for the entire market? That's management involvement in public relations. The result of this is that their brands receive more than their share-of-voice. Ultimately, greater share-of-voice results in increased share-of-mind and nets larger share-of-market.
Establishing good personal contacts by company managers at various levels is accomplished particularly in the tech sector by meeting with key market research analysts, publication editors, and other “industry influencers” at least annually. Major trade conferences can be a good opportunity if your company isn't located close to these important people. The rest of the year, constant communication should occur with the press by phone, by email, and even by personal letters, as well as the over-used tactic of news releases. Today, tech management can easily and broadly engage its market by blogging on relevant topics and creating a dialog directly with prospects and customers.
Ongoing contact with the press and maintaining a flow of corporate or product publicity is obviously part of the PR pro’s job. But senior and middle managers who actively and consistently participate in the PR process, even in when the news is bad, will find a much more available audience for their company's messages in the good times. Ask top industry influencers covering your business sector to meet or teleconference on a “background basis.” Assume no story will result, but that follow-up contact by the PR team may yield important coverage if you present your business or technology story in a way that relates to major industry trends or issues. This usually takes some planning.
If nothing else, being accessible to reporters, bloggers, writers, and research analysts tracking your technology builds relationships, gets the company “on their radar,” and encourages them to contact you, rather than your competitors, for information when they're writing about your market or product category. Consistently doing PR well can be an important competitive marketing edge.
Your public relations manager or agency account exec can help by inviting the press, initiating and coordinating contact, and, most importantly, getting managers prepared with newsworthy things to discuss. But it's top management that the media, particularly the business media, wants to quote, not your PR person. Tech management needs to be in the game.