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February 01, 2010

Working Smart

A Direct PR Message for Direct Sellers

by Kenneth Kracmer

Another thing they all have in common is a need for consistent communications and proactive public relations.

Publicity is a crucial link to audience buy-in, validation and credibility with direct selling companies. However, many direct selling companies do not have a formal proactive public relations (PR) program, which, ideally, would be a component of an integrated marketing communications (IMC) program as a part of their sales and marketing efforts. Time and case studies have shown that it is an aspect of business they can’t afford not to have.

While the economy is struggling, direct selling executives are eager to discover ways to attract more independent sellers and customers. Unfortunately, it is easy to work hard and get little in return. Hasn’t the concept and time-honored tradition always been to work smarter, not harder? Strategic, integrated communications programs and campaigns can help direct selling companies do just that.

What companies use public relations?

Increasingly, PR is becoming a driving force of business, especially for direct selling companies seeking third-party validation. Some of the most renowned and influential direct selling companies have discovered how to evolve away from providing reactive, one-way communication through field sales and marketing to a proactive, fully integrated, two-way conversation between the company and its many internal and external target audiences.

Which one are you? And which would you like to become?

Consider two companies: one that focuses only on the field to get the word out and another that leverages outside resources and channels to communicate to target audiences.

Company A sees a negative story on national TV about “multilevel marketing.” For fear of losing sales, every field agent acts on their own will to rectify the problem. They call downlines in a frenzy, which makes at least half of their sales channel suspicious and creates a distraction from business-building activities. Sales slow. Opinions vary. Reputation fades. And incomes are at risk.

Company B invested in PR resources (internal and agency support) to create a proactive communications program as well as a crisis communications strategy. When the story comes out, the marketing director engages PR support to create messages for all sales associates to share with their downlines and customers as needed. It’s handled quickly and effectively with a unified message from corporate and statements geared to mitigate and sway negativity that might result from a national story. Focus remains on the positive. Sales maintain. Opinions maintain. Reputation maintains. And incomes are not adversely impacted.

Again, which one are you? And which would you like to become? Most likely, Company B thought that at one time, too.

What is needed for a strategic, balanced program?

When it comes to driving positive publicity as a direct seller, there are several challenges for garnering credible, third-party sources. This situation comes from years of negative perception, widespread misinformation and some occasional bad apples that have plagued the industry for many years.

Leveraging an ongoing PR campaign will help overcome these challenges. It will help educate, influence and build a company’s brand, reputation and industry thought leadership in a way that will elevate the company to new levels of credibility and growth.

Direct selling companies that understand this paradigm are shifting their focus from a defensive position to an offensive strategy that reaches prospective independent sales representatives and consumer prospects directly and indirectly through measureable communications.

The direct sales channel is driven by an informed, motivated independent salesforce that needs unity and stability—one that a PR program can provide through clear messaging and a strategic approach.

Public relations efforts should focus on generating awareness and positioning credibility for the company, which will fuel the sales channel. Every company has a story to tell, and it is the job of the PR team to tell it to target audiences and influencers in the most effective ways possible.

Working Smart

There are many methods to tell that story, all of which should be leveraged in a successful campaign or ongoing program:

Strategic Messaging

Having a concise, consistent voice in print, broadcast or online that resonates with all target audiences will set the tone for communications pieces. If everyone is saying the same thing, everyone can get the same results.

Media Pitching

Identify creative, newsworthy stories to pitch to the media. A PR department should handle all media writing and outreach to ensure messaging is on point and spokespeople are well-prepared for interviews.

News Releases

Draft and distribute news releases and determine the scope of outreach to targeted media on a case-by-case basis. This should be a key part of strategy for any PR department’s direct communication with key journalists and analysts.

Media Kit

Create a media kit that includes media-ready documents, such as corporate background, service overview and executive bios that will serve as a resource for the media. Moreover, consider creating an online media kit for convenient access through the company Web site.

Sales Channel Media Opportunities

Cultivate a necessary resource for reporters, many of whom ask for “real people” to interview for their stories. Noting this, it is important to identify and leverage several business opportunity success stories to stay top-of-mind for recession news that will continue through the year.

Media Road Show

Meet new target media and existing contacts on a frequent basis. Similar to any associate, this strengthens relationships and creates more opportunities for outreach. Additionally, a “road show” creates face-to-face meetings (also known as “deskside briefings”) and familiarity for executives to share more detailed information about announcements, initiatives or growth plateaus in a personal setting. These meetings usually last longer than a traditional phone interview and sometimes take place over coffee or lunch with local reporters in key markets.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Generate a buzz among your target audiences, otherwise known as “viral marketing.” This takes place when one person attaches feelings with company experiences to other people. Consumer- or lead-generated outreaches are systemic of viral marketing and capitalize on the buzz stimulated by subjective feelings with a company’s brand.

Event Exposure Management

Oversee a public event within a targeted community for its pre- and post-impact, specifically how it relates to the company brand and buy-in of surrounding target audiences.

Speaking Engagements

Research industry trade shows, conferences, forums and key business professional associations for possible speaking opportunities.

Awards and Recognition Management

Submit for business and industry awards that are relevant to the business. This also provides third-party credibility, which is essential to gaining more customers and additional members to your sales channel.

White Papers and Bylines

Draft articles for placement in national and trade publications relevant to target audiences. Offering executive thought leadership can garner additional media coverage essential to publicizing your brand.

Editorial Calendar Opportunities

Develop and maintain an annual editorial calendar outlining monthly opportunities with key media outlets and on key topics. Actively monitor and pitch relevant stories on an ongoing basis.

Crisis Communications

Plan and prepare for an emergency, so that when it happens, your organization and sales channel will be prepared. A PR agency/department should serve as an extension of your staff on a 24/7 basis to minimize the impact of unexpected negative events with regard to media coverage and backlash from target audiences.

Grass-Roots Communications

Empower and mobilize brand advocates within a targeted community in support of key messages, brand positioning and bridge building among key influencers and target audiences.
How do you create a balanced communications campaign?

An effective PR campaign should incorporate a number of ongoing, fundamental media relations tactics designed for frequent communications among diverse target audiences. While the focus should be proactive, it is vital to have a balanced communications plan in place that also addresses crisis communications. The old saying that sometimes the best offense is a solid defense still holds true.

When a PR resource is vetted and chosen (usually an internal point of contact supported by an outside agency), create strategic and clear objectives that will both position your company as an industry leader and contribute to the sales and marketing efforts, thus driving the bottom lines of the organization and your independent sales channel.

A campaign that will effectively reach your target audiences and key influencers must do three vital things for the benefit of your organization:

 

  1. Initially, your agency partner and marketing team should work together to build credibility. If there is one thing all direct selling companies struggle to garner in new markets, it is getting new customers to think properly about your sales channel. Whether this is done through consistent messaging or growing relationships, credibility will, ultimately, be the product of a dedicated team and clear focus.
  2. Secondly, go back to the story each direct selling company has to tell—communication. Look for ways to tell that story to as many people as possible. If your company’s CFO is stellar, find a financial writer. Does your company’s technology director do things different and generate great results? Technology media would enjoy hearing about it. If your executives, marketing team and agency partner look hard enough, there would be multiple stories to tell.
  3. Lastly, connect with your audiences through a balanced proactive and reactive media relations program that offers timely stories and expertise from your company’s spokespeople to best highlight your organization in features, trend stories, business articles and other media opportunities. This only works if these audiences are actively engaged and informed.

Lastly, connect with your audiences through a balanced proactive and reactive media relations program that offers timely stories and expertise from your company’s spokespeople to best highlight your organization in features, trend stories, business articles and other media opportunities. This only works if these audiences are actively engaged and informed.

What are your next steps?

It’s important to assess your PR strategy on an ongoing basis, and if you don’t have a PR strategy, now is the time to act.

Decide what is most important in a campaign for your company. Some choose awards, others choose speaking engagements, and still others choose to focus on garnering media coverage. HCK2 Partners recommends an approach that incorporates a strategic mix of all these elements.

The time and resources invested in PR should be measurable when compared to the results. While it involves a strategic, concerted effort, accomplishing PR campaign goals can push a company’s brand and reputation to the next level.

Now, do you know what you want to become and where you want to take the organization? Your audiences are waiting.


Kenneth Kracmer is Managing Partner and Public Relations Director of Dallas-based HCK2 Partners, one of the fastest-growing integrated marketing communications agencies. HCK2 has an extensive portfolio of work with direct selling companies, has been ranked among the top 10 communications firms by the Dallas Business Journal for the past decade and earned the distinction of being the third-largest in North Texas in 2009. For more information, visit www.hck2.com.