Public Relations 101
Generating Positive Buzz Is Simple – Just Be Creative and Stay Honest
Donald Trump has a pretty easy time getting his name out in the press. But it doesn’t take Donald Trump money to get your name known as the best tire shop in town.
Boosting your customer base may only require a minimal amount of time and resources on your part. There are several simple, low cost and highly effective actions tire dealers can take that can make the difference between being "that tire place down the road" and making your business into a household name.
Known as public relations, business owners’ efforts to imprint themselves as the obvious choice for consumers in a given community can range from run-of-the-mill advertising to special events that draw new clientele and reaffirm regulars’ faith in a shop’s excellence.
But public relations goes further than pure advertising because it entails a holistic approach to promotion, image and goodwill.
PR has a great deal to do with image. If the people around town think well of your store, they’ll be back again and again – even if the guy across the street has lower prices and an eye-catching neon sign. The key to creating a superior image is attitude – delivering needed services in a pleasant manner, and letting people know that you do.
Consumers feel greater confidence patronizing a business that clearly has the community’s best interests at heart. Don’t be bashful about letting the community know about your good deeds, and take every opportunity to illuminate your professionalism with activities that engage them.
Some Basic Ideas
Here are a few simple, low cost things you can do to make yourself everybody’s favorite tire dealer:
- Provide a display or exhibit about your shop at the local schools on Career Day. If the children become interested in what you’re doing, their parents probably will, too.
- Give tours of your facility to high school driver’s education or automotive classes, or work with the local schools to provide some hands-on training.
- Offer an apprenticeship or internship program to high school seniors interested in tire and vehicle service.
- Have open houses on your major anniversaries and give attendees small tokens of appreciation, like tire gauges.
- Give tire and vehicle safety speeches at the high school around prom time or to local public service clubs, such as Rotary, Kiwanis or MADD.
- Have a suggestion box in your store – and follow through on any viable ideas your customers offer. You could also leave a service satisfaction card on the seat of each car you service. The customer will be more likely to respond if you put a stamp on it for them.
- Sponsor an art contest for grade school children and offer awards. For example, each child could illustrate the vehicle of his or her choice, and you could display every entry in your store.
Keep in mind these are only suggestions. Feel free to use your creativity and your unique situation to come up with other cost-effective ideas that will propel your shop to greatness.
Publicity is Always Free
Traditionally, public relations involves the news media. By keeping in contact with local television and radio stations and daily, weekly and even school newspapers, you could get loads of free publicity when things of note take place at your business.
Unlike paid advertisements, the news that appears in the newspaper is selected based on its relevance and level of interest to the public. Daily newspapers tend to have stricter guidelines primarily because of the large area they service.
Local and college newspapers – even the local high school paper – tend to be more interested in localized news, such as happenings at your businesses. And they particularly like general stories about topics like vehicle and tire safety, buying tips, reminders about getting ready for winter or summer vacation travel, etc.
Television and radio stations, much like newspapers, serve wider areas, so getting your news on the air will be tougher, but not impossible. Make yourself known and available to these media outlets as an automotive/tire expert, and even suggest story ideas to them. You could even approach a local radio station about hosting a weekend or evening call-in show about cars, tires and service.
The Press Release
When you open a new location, your store moves two blocks over, or you get a new piece of state-of-the-art equipment, write up a press release and send it to the appropriate media outlets.
A press release is a brief, one- to two-page description of the development you want to highlight. Make sure you answer the key questions of who, what, when, where, why and how, and put your news release on company letterhead. Let the media know they can contact you if they need further information, and leave a phone number.
They may want to send a photographer out to take a picture of your facility or employees for the story, or you could send them a good quality (no Polaroid) photo on your own.
If a reporter or editor doesn’t respond to your news release right away, it may be because journalists often work on extremely tight deadlines. Ask your contact about his/her deadlines, so you can be sure to get your material in on time for it to be used.
Reporters, editors and news directors at larger media outlets like to highlight what’s going on in their communities, but this doesn’t mean you should send a press release every time you hire a new technician. But, local community newspapers – especially those you may advertise in – should always be sent releases.
Stay Out of Trouble
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Honest mistakes, misfortune or accidents occur, and can attract the attention of the media. It’s never a good idea to ask a reporter to not write a negative story about you or your business (that just raises suspicion), no matter what the situation. The best policy is: always strive to prevent situations that might bring negative news about.
In the event that things do spin out of your control, make sure to be open and honest with reporters. Any bad publicity can be tempered with your willingness to admit a mistake. Honesty is a hallmark of effective public relations. Ten years of good will can be wiped out in minutes unless such situations are handled honestly and explained fully.
Never treat the media as the enemy, because they really aren’t. Take the time to explain things carefully, and make sure they understand. They will appreciate your efforts to give them leads on interesting stories, whether about you or something else newsworthy in the community. A good reporter or editor can become a key business ally, so treat them
as such. Don’t play games with them, because if they find you out you’ll find it hard to get any future cooperation.
Hold Community Events
Hosting a tire and car care clinic for women, senior citizens or new drivers is another sure way to draw new customers and to make these special groups more comfortable in their relationships with you.
Setting up such seminars up pretty simple. Hold them after regular business hours. Make sure your store is clean and neat. Serve coffee, soft drinks and cookies. Make sure to promote the event. And deliver useful tire and vehicle care information. Don’t dumb it down, but make sure everyone can understand what you’re talking about. Avoid technical terms or "insider" phrases; they’re not easily understood by people outside your business, and can alienate customers.
It’s also a good idea to try to tie in with a local group. Hold a car care event for women in conjunction with a local women’s group. Same with seniors or high schoolers. The additional goodwill from the tie-in alone will be beneficial.
Get Your People Involved
The best public relations move any dealer can make is simply to sell a quality product. Even a top-notch publicity campaign will not fool customers into buying the same low-grade merchandise more than a few times. Make sure your products and services are top-shelf, and that there is enough variety to satisfy both price and performance levels.
But in a world where practically everybody is selling tires and competition for consumer dollars is keen, dealers need to maximize other positive aspects of their stores – helpful, caring employees, superior product and application knowledge, certified tire and service technicians, reasonable hours, etc. – to come out on top.
Good public relations is impossible unless your personnel – every employee – takes pride in what he or she does, and keeps focused on the customer. If they don’t support the message you’re trying to get out, the message will go nowhere.
Word of mouth advertising is simply another form of PR, and one bad experience for one customer can quickly translate into dozens of lost potential sales. Make sure the word on the street is always positive.