Jeff: Welcome to Deal Talk brought to you by Morgan & Westfield, I'm Jeff Allen. If you're a business owner, entrepreneur, or investor this is the place for you. Our mission is to educate and inform you through real conversations with real small business experts including fellow small business owners like you to help you build a highly successful business you can one day sell at a price that truly reflects your commitment and accomplishments.
Remember that almost iconic phrase from the movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, "Build it and they will come"? As it turns out the only time that mantra has ever been true was in fact in that film. That's the only that ever happened. They built the ballpark and then all these people started coming from miles around. They lived in cities that were thousands of miles away just to come watch these old guys play ball. In all seriousness if you're a small business owner you can't expect to build a successful business without really a marketing plan that includes some PR, and hopefully the positive type. Here to talk with us about a subject that is often a bit gray to some people is Ms. Debra Vilchis, COO at Fishman Public Relations in Chicago. Debra, welcome to Deal Talk, it's good to have you.
Debra: Yes, it's great to be here. Thank you.
Jeff: We're pleased to have you. For those people who may be a little cloudy on the subject of public relations, what exactly is PR to a business and how important is it to a company's long term success? You've been doing this a while so you may have some thoughts on that.
Debra: I would probably say that PR is probably the most important thing for a business owner to do that they don't do. It should be at the top of their do list and most often unfortunately it's at their bottom. And it's mostly because business owners are busy, you know, they're worried about paying their bills, meeting their payroll, and operating their business on a day-to-day basis. But all of those things are actually tied to sales and there is a direct correlation between PR and sales. It positively impacts their sales, and there's been dozens and dozens within our agency alone of instances where we have seen positive media relations campaigns that lead to positive media coverage that then directly impact the sales of the business.
Jeff: I think that's really, really key here. And we're going to be talking about that really throughout this discussion here, Debra, and I appreciate you bringing that up right from the start. Our listeners are very focused on and concerned about the ways that they can elevate not only their brands, amplify their brands, but also elevate the value of their companies. How can a targeted approach to PR help them get noticed by the right people to contribute to really the bottom line and raise the value of their businesses? Has there been any studies or research that you could think of maybe that we could look at or refer to that might show that there's proof that PR really does work to kind of increase our company's value?
Debra: Yeah, absolutely. That is something I think that a lot of people underestimate. They don't make that important connection between how positive PR can increase the value of their business. They just think about the immediate sales. But when you think about it, how does a potential or future buyer for your business find you? What are they looking for? They're going to be tracking industry news or local news and looking for businesses with potential. Maybe they're going to be going to industry events or local events. Maybe they'll talk to industry analysts. But the bottom line, the people who might be interested in buying your business are going to be learning about you through your marketing and PR efforts. They're going to be going online and seeing what's out there. And so you really have to know what's out there about you, first of all. And secondly you have to be constantly putting positive content out there and you do that primarily through PR, press releases that you put out on your own, and then media relations efforts that are going to result in positive media coverage by third-party outlets. Those are the things, when you Google a business those are the things that you're going to find. If you don't find anything, that's going to impact the value of a company.
They don't make that important connection between how positive PR can increase the value of their business. They just think about the immediate sales
Jeff: That probably at the end of the day is going to be the thing that most people are interested in. But what are some of the other important benefits that you can think of, or maybe one or two at least certainly of a well-crafted PR campaign to a company.
Debra: Probably the two biggest ones would be credibility and awareness. When you place an ad in a newspaper, or a magazine, or on TV or radio, sure it builds awareness. People are going to hear about you. But in the end every consumer, every customer, they're going to know that that was paid for. With positive media coverage that appears in a newspaper, magazine, radio, or TV where you're just doing an interview and you're showing yourself as an expert, and you're really speaking up on an issue in the community, or even being covered for some kind of charitable outreach that you've done, that is seen as tremendous third-party credibility that you just can't buy with advertising.
Jeff: That's a really, really good point. I'm kind of wondering Debra, are there certain components to a PR campaign that are really essential to making that campaign successful from your perspective. What does every PR campaign that's really built on the foundation of generating as much positive buzz for a company possible? What do these campaigns all consist of -- generally speaking?
Debra: Generally we start off with wanting to know what your objective is in the end and what your message is that you want to be out there. So you kind of picture the headline that you want or picture the story that you want to hear the news anchor speaking about. And then you step back from there and figure out how you're going to achieve that. So yeah, you want to know what your message is. That's probably the first, most important foremost thing that you do. And then you work backwards from there with developing press materials, talk points. And I would say, in order to get the media's attention these days, the media is being bombarded. There are thousands of businesses out there just like yours that wants to get positive media coverage. And reporters are being emailed, called, even contacted over social media by PR firms and business owners all the time. So you really got to have some kind of message that stands out, something that's unique, different, interesting to people and to the viewers of that specific TV outlet, or to the readers, or to the followers of a certain blog. It's got to have some kind of value for that, whether it's educational or some kind of emotional connection for that. I would say all of those things are really important and then what you don't want to have is something that sounds overly promotional or self-serving. That's really the difference between an ad and a media story: with the media story or a media message you're trying to educate people and give them something of value. You're not just doing a sales play for your business.
It's got to have some kind of value for that, whether it's educational or some kind of emotional connection for that
Jeff: Okay. I'm a business owner and nobody knows my business better than I do, and I would like to think that with a little time I could sit down and come up with a really effective message. I probably have one or two right off the top of my head right now that I could go ahead and spit out to you. So why can't someone such as myself, a business owner who can take a couple of extra hours at night, maybe the last two hours that I have of disposable time. Why can't I go ahead and put together my own PR strategy, my own campaign, and put that into effect?
Debra: Well, you certainly could but there is an art to it, and I would say probably the number one reason is time. If you're going to do it yourself it's not going to cost you any money because the media coverage that you're getting is free. There's no transaction there. However, there's a certain significant investment in the time that it takes.
Jeff: I see.
Debra: Reaching out to the media, putting the message together, following up with them, making the arrangements and all of those types of things, that is what the media relations professionals are doing. We're sitting around here and we are pulling media lists. We have a database of thousands of media outlets all across the country and we know which reporters are covering what and we’re following it, and we're tracking the trends in the media. And then we're going out there at the right time to the right person with the right message. It's not as easy as it sounds. If you are a local business and you are wanting to go and get your business some coverage in the local media I would probably say really think about what you can offer. Let's just say you're a fitness business for example, you're not going to go out there and try to pitch a story about why people should come to your fitness club or use your fitness business. You're going to maybe want to offer some information about new trends or tips for exercising in your busy schedule, or something like that, something that's of value.
You're going to maybe want to offer some information about new trends or tips for exercising in your busy schedule, or something like that, something that's of value.
Jeff: You just hit on some things that are very, very important. You talked about the importance of crafting the right message first of all then delivering it to the right people. And then it's kind of a matter of timing too to connect with the right people afterwards, all the follow-up required, that's a lot of time. I simply don't have the time to do that. And so I can see the benefit of contacting a company to help me with this really significantly important function because I want to be a success and I want to make sure that the right message is delivered out to the people that I want to receive that message. It sounds to me like your company certainly and others like it could do that. What public relations really means to your business and how working with a PR pro can benefit your company. I'm Jeff Allen with PR professional Debra Vilchis and we'll continue our chat when Deal Talk returns after this.
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Jeff: Welcome back to Deal Talk. I'm Jeff Allen with my guest Debra Vilchis, COO of Fishman Public Relations in Chicago, a firm that specializes in PR for franchise businesses. We're talking about that. We're also talking about how it can benefit business in general. Debra thanks so much for staying through the break. We were talking a little bit about how a positive public relations campaign can help businesses really attract the right eyeballs, how it can help them grow. For those businesses that are just starting out and for those that are up for sale, how might a focused PR strategy benefit a company?
Debra: It has tremendous benefits on multiple levels. I can't tell you how many times our clients, and we've worked with companies that are very small startups all the way to medium sized to the really large players out there with thousands of units across the world. We kind of have experience with all three. But I can’t tell you with the startups how many times they have told us that when something comes out in the media about them, how it has kind of taken them from here to there in terms of awareness, sales, and how many phone calls they get, emails they get, and request. If you think about it, a company that you hear about on national TV that you never heard about goes from being a startup to a large company very fast. I know a lot of people have probably heard the old adage that advertising is what you pay for and PR is what you pray for. It is very much true because a positive mention in the media is really an endorsement, from a credible third party that says you're the real deal. You're not a pretender. All of those things really build you up in the minds of the end user and the end consumer, and can take you from one unit to, let's just say you're maybe a concept that's looking to franchise. You get a positive mention in the national media, or in a large regional, and now you've got players who are saying, "Wow, I never heard about that concept before. This sounds pretty cool. I'd like to open one myself. I'd like to look into this business further." And none of that was paid for. That was just through a positive, credible, third-party media coverage that was secured.
Jeff: I know what answer I'm going to get here Debra but I just got to throw this out there. We've heard kind of a variation maybe of this, but any press is positive press. You can feel free to debunk that if you'd like, but is that true or is that kind of a myth?
Debra: I'm going to say that there's some truth to it but everybody knows that there's such a thing as bad press as well. And it's all about how you handle it. These days with social media something bad could blow up really, really fast. If something happens with your business and you've got a negative response going with customers complaining about you on Facebook, on Twitter, on Yelp, and then the general traditional media picks up on that. That can turn south really fast. That's another aspect of PR where we are kind of calling it instead of crisis we're calling it reputation management.
That's another aspect of PR where we are kind of calling it instead of crisis we're calling it reputation management
Jeff: Okay, fair enough. I kind of got what I thought I was going to get out of that but I just wanted to be sure. I want to make sure I wasn't missing anything in my old age about that old saying that's been kicked around for so many years. In a world that is becoming more and more competitive Debra, just about every business owner that I know is looking for a way to generate leads. It just seems like the regular traditional resources don't work quite as well as they used to. And that is particularly true I think for franchisees. How can PR help me as a franchise owner attract more leads?
Debra: It definitely can attract more leads, again, just by making you the expert in your particular area in your community. When you're the one who's out there and you have a column in the local newspaper for example, a recurring column about fitness. Even if you're a local food franchise operator and you're giving menu ideas and you are talking about cooking tips or things like that, you're going to be the one I think that somebody is likely to turn to versus the guy who's just in his own four walls running his own business day-to-day, that they've never heard about. I think people really respond to knowing the person behind the business as opposed to just seeing a sign on a door outside on the street. They like to know who is the person running the business, do they really know what they're doing, do they really care about me. And I think when the consumer starts to see people through PR on TV and hear them on the radio, and see them on the newspapers, and even on social media for that matter, they build a real, personal connection, and they're more apt to patronize that business.
Jeff: So it's true, what we kind of understand, at least some of us have kind of a picture of it or some clarity on this that even as adults it's one thing we haven't outgrown is our interest in stories. We like stories don't we for the most part Debra, have you found?
Debra: We love stories. Yes. Thank goodness. The idea that people love stories is what keeps me in business. So yeah, that's very true.
I think people really respond to knowing the person behind the business as opposed to just seeing a sign on a door outside on the street.
Jeff: How important is social media now in PR campaigns? You touched on it briefly a second ago in using social media but placing it more of a negative vein, but that was for that particular example I think you were citing. But really, social media, it's all over. Everybody's carrying a smartphone, an iPhone these days with them. They've got their portable devices and they're taking these things around. Everybody's mobile. What seemed to me that social media might play a pretty important role these days, yes?
Debra: Oh, it's huge, it’s huge. If you think about it, and recently I have this experience for myself as a consumer. I was looking for a cleaning service to come in and clean my home on a regular basis. To choose the company, rather than just looking online at their website, or just doing my usual going and looking in the Yellow Pages or something that people used to do, I went on Facebook. I started searching around because I wanted to see what the customers of that company were saying and what kind of presence they had. That's kind of how the consumer is judging companies now, by how well they're connecting with the end consumer. Are they on social media? Are they answering questions from their customers? Are they running even fun campaigns or contests for people? Because if one company is doing that and another isn't, when I'm weighing out which company I'm going to use to clean my home, I think I'm going to go with company A who's doing a really good job in showing that they care about their customers and that they're connecting with them.
Jeff: A really important piece of advice there. We use social media though too much, maybe I'm leading here a little bit in dishing the answer off your. The reason I'm asking you the question, but is it possible that maybe we rely a little bit too much on using for example Facebook if we have a business page. I'm trying to sell people stuff. Do you think that that might be true?
Debra: Oh yes. It needs to be it's a careful line for business owners because you don't want to be ... Facebook wasn't designed originally to be a huge sales tool for businesses, it was designed for social interaction. I think a business owner has to be really careful not to abuse the connection that they've built with customers and then pushing sales messages onto them on a day-to-day basis. They should be using it to, again, respond to questions or concerns, offering them information of value. So if you, again I'll go back to being a fitness business maybe, you're going to be wanting to have tips of the day or posting other articles from other sources even and becoming a credible source of information, a valuable resource and a tool for somebody to go on and just find some good information about staying fit. Not saying, "We're offering 20% off to all new memberships right now." That's not what's going to drive people to your page or help you connect with them.
I think a business owner has to be really careful not to abuse the connection that they've built with customers and then pushing sales messages onto them on a day-to-day basis.
Jeff: Debra, as we start to wind things down on our program here a little bit I wanted to know if you could go ahead and take a couple of minutes just to leave us with maybe some key takeaways here. Even if a business owner is not in a position right now to kind of look into bringing a professional PR firm such as yours or another perhaps in their own local area aboard to help them with their PR efforts. What would you suggest they think about? Are there some things that they need to remember and maybe keep tucked away for later, some points of reference or really important facts to recall so that when the time comes they'll understand just how important PR is to their business. And they can go ahead and they can ask the right questions when they hire a PR firm, just a couple of real important take aways about how important PR really is to a business.
Debra: Absolutely. I kind of probably have a top five or top seven here. But the first thing really is you do need PR to get noticed. It's such an important thing to do. And if you say that you don't have time for it, you don't not have time for it, it's too important. It can really help raise your market value. We've seen it over and over again. You also need to watch your reputation. Know what's out there about you because you never want to be surprised to Google yourself and find 25 negative reviews or bad things coming up on the first page. So be really aware of what is being said about you out there. One that we didn't really talk about a lot but I think it's really important, three important words people can remember is: do good deeds. Be a business that gives back. It really pays back a lot. People appreciate businesses that are doing charitable work, doing fund raising for the schools, showing up at local events, things like that. Those are all a part of PR. It's not media coverage but it's definitely community relations. And for a local business owner that's gold. The other thing is just constantly put good stuff out there because, again, if there is going to be something negative you're going to want to build up a good buffer because the more positive things that you have out there, it's going to help bring down the negative. And I think the last thing is if you are going to do any kind of PR know what you want to accomplish and have key messages. Don't be all over the place. Know what it is that you want to see out there. And then everything that you do should be built around that message. So the training, whoever is going to talk to the media, whether it's yourself or your employees, just be strategic, train them so that every interview they do is a home run and it's going to come out in the end saying what you wanted to say and reach your business objective.
Jeff: Excellent words of advice. Debra, if anyone out there would like to be in touch with you and your organization to talk more deeply about this, and maybe there's somebody out there who needs your help right now. How can they reach you, who do they call?
Debra: They can go to our website which is fishmanpr.com. And they can also find me on LinkedIn. I am at firstname.lastname@example.org if they want to shoot me an email.
Jeff: Perfect. Debra, that is fantastic. I enjoyed this conversation. We have run out of time. We're going to have to leave it right there. And I want to thank you so much for being with us today on Deal Talk. I enjoyed it.
Debra: Okay. It was my pleasure. Thank you.
just be strategic, train them so that every interview they do is a home run and it's going to come out in the end saying what you wanted to say and reach your business objective.
Jeff: That's Debra Vilchis, COO of Fishman Public Relations in Chicago.
Deal Talk is presented by Morgan & Westfield, a nationwide leader in business sales and appraisals. If you'd like more information about buying or selling a business call Morgan & Westfield at 888-693-7834 or visit morganandwestfield.com. And make it a point to check in with us again soon for valuable information and insight from our growing list of small business experts on Deal Talk. Until we meet again, my name is Jeff Allen, I'll talk to you next time.