When First Bank wanted to expand its outreach activities, the Hamilton-based bank contracted Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA), a full-service public relations and marketing agency in Princeton to do the job.
“We worked to increase the visibility and raise awareness about First Bank,” said Jeff Barnhart, the chief executive officer for CMA. “We developed press releases and other outreach to let people know about First Bank’s services and community involvement, and the way this community bank helps to fill the void left by large banks.”
First Bank CEO Patrick Ryan said he is “very satisfied” with the results. The bank had not been active in RP, he said. Then it put CMA on a 12-month retainer two years ago and continues to work with the agency and even expanded into social media, Ryan said.
The results are striking, he added. “CMA has helped us to share the good news about the way that First Bank is friend and advisor to businesses and other customers. A lot more people have been directly contacting me with positive feedback, and even people than before are aware of our story,” Ryan said.
More than one way to reach your audience
Barnhart said press releases are one vehicle used to promote awareness. But his agency also offers case studies, “which serve as third-party validation,” and interviews with newspapers and other media. “Whenever you’re quoted, or are featured in an article, it validates you as a leader and subject matter expert,” Barnhart said.
When he started CMA about 30 years ago, message channels were basically limited to print, broadcast, outdoor and direct mail. “Now you have websites, social media and other interactive outlets,” he said. “There are many choices, but clients have to stay within their budget, so you need to focus on your return on investment. The good thing is, it’s easier to track ROI with digital, tracking for example, the response to an ad to your landing page, to a contact form and finally to a sale. Targeting your market is easier too, with search engine marketing.”
The expansion of digital has changed the landscape, he said. “I think the biggest change in the sales process is that it used to be you were looking for your customer,” Barnhart said. “But now SEO and other activities are aimed at making it easier for someone who’s looking for something to find you. It’s a 180-degree change.”
Referrals help, so it’s important to keep customers happy, said Debra Rizzi, president and partner of Rizco. “Word-of-mouth and referrals continuously rank as the highest source for business expansion.” Some business owners don’t think about tapping their network of clients for additional referrals, she said. “Additionally, your college or university alumni network is another incredible pipeline that is typically overlooked.”
If your PR agent gets a bite and calls, respond fast. “When I get a phone call from a reporter looking for a comment from my client, I need their response as soon as possible,” said Amy Delman, whose agency Amy Delman Public Relations LLC is in Livingston. “I tell clients: it’s not my deadline, it’s the reporter’s. If you’re not the first callback, they’ll move on to the next person on their list.”
Be flexible and keep learning. “Our worldwide population can’t be forced into the buckets of male-female,” noted Rizzi. “Sensitivity to LGBTQ and gender neutral communities can provide valuable marketing information for a brand to grow,” she said. Also, take the time to understand the next generation of customers. “Remember, Gen Z does not know a world without a digital device or Google, so you need to stay relevant or hire the right marketing agency to lead you in the proper direction,” she said.
An integrated approach
Some people use the terms “marketing” and “public relations” interchangeably, but there’s a significant difference between the two, Barnhart said. “Marketing is how you present yourself: product, price, promotion and place. It’s usually done with paid advertisements. Public relations is a tactic of marketing, where you try to get media mentions. Both can be effective, and both can be utilized in a variety of channels, including traditional, online and social media,” he said.
A solid program of integrated marketing that includes advertising, PR, direct mail, online communications, social media, billboards, radio and TV “working in sync together and driving traffic to your website is hugely important in bringing success to your organization,” according to Don Christensen, account director at Rizco, a branding agency in Spring Lake Heights. “The elements that are deployed in your marketing strategy are determined by your budget and understanding what will reach your target market. This is where qualified integrated marketing firms can help you design a customized plan that’s right for you and your business and will provide measurable results,” he said.
Measurement also counts. Marketing initiatives like online advertising, email, social media, websites and videos “are backed by measurability that allows marketers to be nimble, review the results, and move monies with ease when one vehicle is out-performing another,” said Rizco president and partner Debra Rizzi. “While traditional vehicles such as billboards, print advertising, and radio cannot be out ruled for their effectiveness, the creative team needs to support the expense with a traceable function such as a unique URL, custom phone number or code that can be provided to track the point-of-sale impact.”
Finding a good partner
Finding a PR agency that’s right for your business can take some work.
“Business owners need to do their research,” cautioned Rizzi. “Firms need to invest in understanding who their clients are, how they want to communicate, where they reside, and investing in a market plan that is based upon facts, instead of just testing the waters to see what ‘sticks.’ Also, understanding about who your competition is and knowing what your key differentiators are is very important from a sales perspective.”
She also advised businesses to do their due diligence. “A qualified agency team is diversified and can handle conceptualization, design, and digital-print production internally. Many clients have valuable budgetary resources that are lost to markup, because the agency is outsourcing the work and needs to make profit on the labor.”
But Christensen pointed out that businesses need not worry if they have limited budgets. “Beautifully designed and produced materials can get expensive, but there’s no law that says you need to create everything at once,” he said. “Many agencies will map out a campaign for you, and then create and implement it in phases, sometimes stretching the payments over a reasonable period of time. This way, the return on your investment can help you afford the next phase.”