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Expanding Your Organization Through PR, Advertising, and Branding
By Julie Compton

There's a saying among marketers that a buyer needs a hundred eyes, the seller only one. But as brands multiply and customers become more selective, the seller needs to get smarter.

I've helped a number of organizations gain brand recognition in a crowded marketplace. From that experience I can give the following advice.

Tall oaks from acorns grow: Launching a successful PR campaign

Popularity doesn't come easily, but if you want customers to invest in your product or service, you have to build a credible reputation with the public.

A small startup technology company isn't likely to be an overnight success by shoveling thousands of dollars into an advertising campaign, nor is a mid-level organization going to overthrow its competition by doing the same. Just as David beat Goliath with a small stone, successful underdogs overcome their adversaries the smart way: by launching a cost-effective public relations (PR) campaign.

Public relations delivers major advantages to growing organizations by building a positive reputation with the public. Unlike advertisements, which cost thousands, a news feature about your organization gives it free and instant credibility with readers. For instance, a small barbecue shack in rural Ohio becomes an overnight sensation when a national magazine hails it as "The Best Ribs in the Midwest," while investors suddenly pour millions into a recent invention featured in the New York Times as "The Most Innovative Technology since the CPU." Such is the subtle yet cathartic means through which legends are bought, not with dollars, but with words.

In many ways, public relations isn't much different from advertising. But because the public knows that an advertisement is a direct attempt to manipulate it into buying your product or service, it's not likely to respond unless your organization is already well known.

To be effective, a public relations campaign must be continuous and long term. You must know skilled PR professionals with contacts in the media who can pitch stories about your organization to reporters on a weekly to monthly basis. Otherwise, you can have a great deal of difficulty receiving coverage.

A good pitch to the media might be an innovative product your business has just unveiled, an event your organization is sponsoring, or ways your company is contributing to the community and helping to solve a known crisis like global warming. But whatever topic you decide to pitch, it has to be new and different - the perfect ingredients for creating buzz about your organization.

A successful public relations campaign is a great way to pit your business against more popular brands that have a lot to lose from newer, more innovative competitors. But if you happen to be one of the popular goliaths, a public relations campaign won't be enough to maintain your popularity among customers.

When tall oaks are grown: Maintaining popularity through advertising

While advertising is viewed by customers as a deliberate attempt to persuade them to spend their money, an ad campaign allows you to stay ahead of competitors by creating mainstream awareness about your organization.

Take Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Amazon, as examples. Despite growing circles of competitors, these companies have consistently remained some of the most popular brands in their industries by building sophisticated advertising campaigns that have convinced consumers their services and products are unrivaled. Often emulated but never equaled, they've become industry standards, seeping deeper and deeper into mainstream culture.

Keep in mind that advertising, while costly, has many advantages. Unlike a public relations campaign, which is generally aimed at a broader audience, an ad campaign gives you almost total control over the perceptions of your audience and allows you to direct your message specifically to that audience. Advertising is usually only successful once your popularity has been successfully built through a public relations campaign, as the goal of advertising isn't to become well known, but to stay well known.

There are several ways to create a cost-effective advertising campaign. Many magazines and newspapers will negotiate standard ad rates for first-time buyers since they're competing with other publications for your business and want to develop a long-term relationship with you. Also, you can save big on long-term contracts with particular publications because prices go down with frequency. In other words, a one-time ad that costs $3,000 may cost only $2,500 to publish each month in a certain publication of a period of several months. Frequency campaigns are recommended anyway because they are more effective at building public awareness than one-time ads. Also, since the goal of an ad campaign is simply to increase awareness about your organization, product, or service, don't be disappointed if the first ad campaign you run doesn't rake in sales. Ad campaigns take time to result in huge profit increases, but, as companies like McDonalds and Nike have seen, the investment is well worth the wait.

When tall oaks multiply: Expanding your organization through branding

By identifying and anticipating the needs and interests of your customers, you can create a brand experience that can be expressed in ways they'll understand and remember.

Express your brand throughout all aspects of your communications, be it public relations, advertising, or any other outlet. Doing so will provide customers with the feeling they are part of a singular, irreplaceable community.

Take Harley Davidson as an example: a business that has built its entire brand around the concept of non-conformity. The grit-and-leather persona conveyed through its logo on a helmet or jacket is priceless to many a biker. That's because Harley Davidson isn't just a motorcycle manufacturer - it's a unique culture embraced throughout all facets of the organization, which its customers internalize as a part of their own identities. If the company treated its clientele as anything less than fearless road warriors - be they Hell's Angels or Wall Street executives - it wouldn't be the most coveted motorcycle dealer on the world's highways.

An eye-catching logo, memorable tag line, interactive website, or fun store design are just some of the ways your brand can shape customer experience. The important thing to remember is that no matter how you choose to express your brand, it must be done in a way that is consistent throughout all channels of your communications campaign.

Julie Compton is a copywriter, technical writer, and former project manager. She is the author of http://www.freelancewriternyc.com.

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