Crafting a Public Relations Plan

Connecting with customers in ways that develop trust in your brand and goodwill within the community is a vital strategy to your business.

By Jim Callahan

One of the most important and often overlooked parts of being in business is the need to let customers and prospective customers know who you are but, more importantly, that you have something of value to offer.

Whether it’s for low fuel prices, the quality of its homemade biscuits, the variety of fresh and exotic coffee flavors or the wide selection of craft beer, a c-store earns whatever reputation it has among local residents. That also goes for the things that retailers do in their respective communities, which can range from charity drives to social events.

Discovering how to effectively convey messaging is important for a convenience retailer, whether it’s getting the word out about a candy promotion or soliciting donations for a food drive.

Advertising is an important part of any marketing plan and it’s not too difficult to measure the return on investment, which has to be examined for its cumulative effect over a long period of time rather than in spurts of one or two months. Moreover, one must have patience and almost a blind confidence to determine what marketing efforts are needed and in determining which are working.

RELATING TO THE PUBLIC
Advertising product offerings effectively is always good business.

One of the well-practiced ways that’s effective is word of mouth—often through satisfied customers. Of course, this doesn’t alleviate the need to use newsprint, radio, television and—today—social media.

There are virtually no major companies in today’s corporate world that don’t budget some for advertising. Just look at the number of big brand names that spend big-time on annual Super Bowl advertising.

Consider this: 30-second Super Bowl ads went for $42,000 in 1967, $1.1 million in 1995, $3.1 million in 2010, and for an unbelievable $5 million-plus for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial this past year. The spectacular growth in demand and cost at this phenomenal business event—and football is big business—is proof that big promotions can generate excitement.

However, most of us in the business aren’t ready to commit to such extravagant advertising budgets. Instead, targeting customers in more personal ways can be just as effective. Moreover, connecting with customers in a way that develops trust in your brand and goodwill within the community is a vital strategy to your business.

More and more, U.S. consumers rely on iPhones, iPads, Facebook and Snapchat. Developing public relations campaigns that integrate such communications tools will only help your efforts to create a solid public relations plan.

However, advertising doesn’t need to be as expensive as you fear because there are many ways to get your message across without breaking the bank. Below are a mix of examples and suggestions to engage your customers that will bring attention to your stores:
• Years ago, a local radio station in upstate New York was going to give a trip to Super Bowl 29 in Tempe, Ariz. The cost for each participating business was $4,800 and they were expecting 20 sponsors. With only six stores, I ran my own program, which included two tickets to the winner, airfare to Arizona, a nice hotel and meal money—all with a modest advertising budget of less than $2,000 (Give me a call and I’ll share the details).
• Obtain advertising help from your local and national vendors for pushing new products.
• Give inexpensive small American flags away to the first 1,000, 500 or 200 customers and provide details to local news media and social media sites.
• Have a coloring or essay contest for an area school awarding prizes and perhaps $100 to the school—call local media for a photo opportunity or more realistically take your own high resolution pictures and send them to the local television stations. Even more effective is posting such announcements on your company’s website and on social media.
• Sponsor an Easter egg hunt with a couple of employees in costume, or at Christmas time offer free photos of kids with Santa. In addition, consider taking Santa to a nursing home and submit pictures of Santa with patients, kids and your associates to local media outlets.

There are numerous ways to connect with your customers and the community. Creativity and a good game plan are two key components.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of professional experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan1160@gmail.com.

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