Color Bars

Six Steps to Building Brands with Great PR Stories, Memorable Content

Can you be the award-winning designer and contractor for building a new brand image for your organization or client?

Architects and engineers start with a vision of what the completed new building or device will become. What are the essential elements to build on?  How to add nuances and features that give it style or utility? Novelists weave in key themes and ongoing evidence to advance toward a conclusion. Artists envision the final painting or tapestry.  They add strands, swaths or dots of color and create their masterpiece over time.

The same approach works in building brand image and reputation with public relations. Use smart positioning, bright writing, colorful stories and facts to create your own masterpiece.

Start with determining how your organization wants to be known in two and three years. What do you stand for? What are your core values? Can you deliver on the promise over time? And do it with personality, facts and ongoing proof of principle so your reputation and brand image grow accordingly?

The method: own content and become a great teller of the brand story at every level.  With all the communications tools available, every PR professional has the opportunity to reach targets regularly through many channels and with a purpose. The following six basic steps can help you develop your own approach:

1. Research – Delve into company and industry research, market dynamics and other measurable factors. To mine gems for the creative side, conduct an internal audit of key people. Ask each what the organization stands for and to describe its key values. Does it have a culture, with case histories and anecdotes that can bring them to life? Are there great people stories? Technology breakthroughs?

2. Creative – Review the research and audits, brainstorm and think about true differentiation, not just throwing a bunch of jargon into the mix (e.g., “we are a national leader in software solutions”), especially in industries with me-too products and services. Develop key, compelling themes that can be woven into every story you sell.

3. Strategic Planning – This is essential if you are working with two and three-year horizons. You can map your route to global dominance with project management software. With all the new channels and tools available today, the game is more like three-dimensional chess (or a big PR Rubik’s Cube).

Start by identifying each of the different segments you are trying to reach (target industries, media, investors, customers and future customers). How do reach these vertical markets? The essential channels can include media relations, website, social media, trade shows, investment conferences, webinars and video.

Then, determine how you are going to build your plan over time with daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual activities.

4. Implementation – Find ways of integrating the elements and leveraging one channel against the others for maximum impact. As an example, a hotel in downtown San Diego needed a rebranding after a bankruptcy, deteriorating service and soured relationships with the community. The new owner, Kimpton Hotels, was committed to long-term success and changing perceptions as soon as possible for the newly named Hotel Palomar. This led to repositioning the renamed property as a hot boutique property in the heart of the emerging cultural district in downtown San Diego, with an ultra-community friendly staff and spirit.

The steps to creating the tapestry: develop positive ties with the civic, political, business and arts communities (opera, youth symphony, museums, local artists), celebrate the arts with regular events (commission original art for the hotel, have street-side opera performances and create arts-oriented packages for guests), and donate to local causes (nights at the hotel, dinners in the restaurants, and spa treatments).

The hotel team delivered on the promise. The media began referring to the hotel as a boutique gem in the heart of the emerging cultural district.  Stories about their local commitments and activities multiplied. Positive reviews on the travel websites soared and occupancy grew.

For complex technologies and new products, you can also strive to connect with the target audiences with emotion and power, not just data.

In preparing to introduce a new portable oxygen concentrator that would replace oxygen bottles for people with pulmonary disorders, agency research found what the new device could mean to many older users: the freedom to enjoy a more normal active lifestyle without being tied to an oxygen bottle.

Rather than use industry jargon in positioning the device. People stories would demonstrate the new freedom and benefits better than any data sheet. The media covered patients taking tours and vacations they never before would have enjoyed before, such as an adventure to see spring colors in the Colorado Rockies with a device the size of a child’s backpack. Print and broadcast stories added color, with additional video testimonials on YouTube and on blogs and other online forums. Bottom line: the device went from zero sales to market leader in 18 months.

Lacking technology or other technical advantages? Proprietary processes and other magic ingredients can help break through

In the cluttered mortgage banking space, a growing regional lender was competing against giant banks. To differentiate, the company wanted to emphasize its customer-friendly personality. The result: creating the Home Guru, dedicated to the finest in customer and community service. The Home Guru would blog helpful weekly tips (home repair, selecting a school district, staging a home for sale, and best websites for homebuyers, among others). Daily Tweets and Facebook postings would provide helpful links (the company’s blog site, government resources and loan calculators). Local stories on community relations activities and local personalities built outside validation and awareness. Regional and national stories covered company growth. Awards programs highlighted many attributes: best places to work, fastest growing, CEOs and CFOs who make a difference, rising stars under ages 30 and 40).

Every square in the PR Rubik’s Cube and 3-D chessboard filled with color about the friendly customer service culture of the company and its commitment to strong community relations. The result: building a brand image for one of the fastest-growing mortgage companies in the country.

5. Analyze – How is the plan working? What needs to change? How to keep improving? Get critical and analytical.

6. Repeat – Back to the research, then march through the other steps to find new stories to keep reinforcing the core values and quality of the brand and watch your image momentum soar!

(Note: a condensed version of this appeared earlier in PRSA Tactics)

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