By Barbara Pellow March 8, 2006 -- When a satisfied customer tells a friend or business acquaintance about your products and services, you have an immediate "in" with those prospects. The same is true when a publication prints a story about how your business communications services have delivered a return on your customers marketing investment or reduced a client's costs through improved supply chain management. The big difference between the two is that the readership of the publication is in the thousands or hundreds of thousands, a number that is hard to achieve with word of mouth. And if people read an article in a newspaper or a magazine--whether the news is good or bad--they believe it. The publicity and promotional aspect of a marketing plan paves the way for the sale of products or services. Getting media attention is what is categorized as public relations. Public relations activities include helping the public to understand the company and its products and services. Public relations are typically conducted through the media--that is, through press releases, interviews with the media (television, radio, newspapers, magazines or web sites) or speeches in public forums. PR is considered as one of the primary promotional activities, and most importantly, when done well it is the least expensive form of achieving market visibility.PR…Building your Business The publicity and promotional aspect of a marketing plan paves the way for the sale of products or services. It builds awareness in a believable forum. In some instances the suppliers of your technology will feature your company in articles, or you may need to invite the press into your establishment. Worcester, Massachusetts, based LaVigne Inc. is one of the largest independent commercial offset printing firms in the Northeast and one of the 50 largest digital printing facilities in the U.S. In business for over 100 years, LaVigne serves clients in all 50 states and over 20 countries around the world. LaVigne was an early adopter of digital color technology and one of the initial Indigo installations in the 1990s. Because it is are a good user of HP Indigo, Printable and Kodak EMS technology, LaVigne Inc. is frequently featured in articles. The vendors benefit through a case study from a satisfied user…but LaVigne Inc also benefits because suppliers are helping build market awareness about its capabilities and use of advanced technologies. In the last six months LaVigne Inc. has been featured in the following media headlines. * HP Indigo Printing Helps LaVigne Streamline Customer Communications with Web to Press Digital Delivery * A lead interview with Chris Wells in a Wall Street Journal article titled "Offsetting Losses…Digital Presses offer Commercial Printers an Escape During a Brutal Shakeout" * Printable and HP enable LaVigne's Achievement of International CIPPI Award * CIP4 Announces Second 2005 CIPPI Award Winner; "LaVigne wins Honorable Mention for International Award in "biggest improvement in efficiency and customer responsiveness as a result of process automation." * Print 05 Passion and JDF Action featuring LaVigne's implementation of JDF * PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05 Highlight: New services are key to a new role * Kodak Enters MIS With EMS * PRINT 05 Highlight: Versioned or fully variable, digital printing is building business Chris Wells, LaVigne Inc., CEO, also leverages speaking opportunities to build visibility. Last June, Chris was the keynote speaker at the Boston Print Buyers' dinner. The Boston Print Buyers' event is only open to professionals who purchase printing--print buyers, graphic designers, and marketing pros who purchase print materials as part of their job responsibility. This was clearly an opportunity to reach the right target audience for LaVigne and deliver a strong message on the value of digital print technology. Leveraging PR Michael Panaggio founded Direct Mail Express in 1982 in Daytona Beach, FL. With the help and leadership of Kathy Wise and Tom Panaggio , Mike has grown DME from a start-up employing seven people to a fast paced, continuously expanding, vertically integrated marketing company that currently employs over 550 associates. If you do a Google search, you will find multiple references to and articles about the firm in publications ranging from the Globe and Investor to NAPL to American Printer. Mike has been a speaker at events and forums like the Direct Marketing Association, XPLOR, DICE (Digital Image Customer Exchange) and NAPL. The firm is a large Xerox iGen3 user and serves as a strong reference account for Xerox, but also leverages every PR opportunity to tell its story. Panaggio consistently reinforces the message that his firm is different. He tells clients and prospects in both written articles and speeches that price, quality, and service are a requirement for admission into the world of print. What differentiates DME is that it wants to be part of the customer's business success and strategy. Numerous case studies have been published about DME and the success it has had working with the automotive industry in improving direct mail response rates and reducing overall marketing costs. Leveraging the endorsement of the media is not only good business; it is necessary to compete in today's market. Capitalizing on this kind of endorsement is not only good business, but it is necessary to compete in today's market. LaVigne Inc. and DME are getting national coverage and building awareness with thousands of prospective purchasers. Public relations is providing their organizations with new opportunities because they are interacting with more and new external audiences. The readers' perception of LaVigne and DME is that they are advanced services providers using leadership technology. Additional Value Not only does positive press have a favorable external impact on prospects and customers, but it also has value internally. When employees see an article in the newspaper or trade journal or see a video clip from a speech by the company's leadership team, it provides internal organizational motivation. The ability to influence internal perceptions affects the bottom line by building morale, enhancing productivity and creating team spirit. It also helps recruit and retain qualified people. Making PR Happen While PR is the least costly marketing tool and perhaps the most effective, you still need to have a solid game plan to reap the benefits. 1. Prioritize Your Audiences Included would be customers, prospects, employees, media, the business community and thought-leaders that you want to reach. If your objective is to reach out to the marketing community, the priority should be case histories, articles in relevant publications like Direct Magazine, Target Marketing and 1:1 Media. Speaking engagements should focus on the local Ad Council, Direct Marketing Association, or American Marketing Association. If you have a strong supply chain management message, Purchasing Magazine could be your target. 2. The Persuasive Message Then it's time to prepare messages tailored to each audience that, while providing details about your products and service quality, emphasize your unique value proposition. The message to a print buyers' forum will be very different from the communication to the local advertising council. In one instance your focus will be efficiency in the procurement process while in the other it will be an improved return on marketing investments. 3. Reaching Your Audience Your choices include face-to-face meetings, briefings, news releases, news announcement luncheons, media interviews, facility tours, special promotional events, a brochure, and a variety of other communications tactics. And don't forget special events as a means for reaching those target audiences with your messages. They are usually newsworthy and include activities like road shows, awards ceremonies, trade shows, contests or open houses. 4. Media That Target Your Audience It sounds elementary, but selecting the right media to carry your messages demands that you be certain that each communications tool zeros in directly on the target audience. Editors of magazines are always looking for good editorial content, especially reflecting success with new technologies. The local business press wants to publish articles about local firms that are making investments in new technologies to advance their businesses. Conducting an open house to share the efficiency of your operation with local and trade media has appeal. 5. Achieving The Goal To track actual results, you need to speak on a regular basis with people among each of your key audiences, as well as monitor print and broadcast media for mentions of your messages or viewpoints. You also need to interact with key customers, prospects and industry or customer thought leaders. Each of these indicators will reflect local, individual perception of your organization which, in turn, will gradually begin to impact awareness of your business and ultimately consideration in an increased number of sales opportunities. When public relations successfully creates, changes or reinforces public opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, it accomplishes its mission – business growth. Public relations (PR) is about reputation--the result of what you do, what you say, and what others think about you. If perceptions are positive, business results follow.