written by Karen Franse
When people think “public relations,” what typically springs to mind is a sea of press releases and zealous flaks calling less-than-interested reporters with promises of a Pulitzer-prize-winning story if only they would talk to the company the PR pros represent.
But there’s more to public relations than the written word, or even those words that appear on television or radio. Sometimes public relations means exactly what those two words say: public relations – how your business relates to the public it serves.
This is all a part of your brand strategy, and while I admit there are times when harsh rules and regulations are of course warranted, take the case of Laura Landro, assistant managing editor and columnist for The Wall Street Journal. If you read her story, you’ll see that a major retail chain – Kmart in this case – took a simple mistake and turned it upside down and inside out, an overreaction at best and a PR nightmare at worst.
A worse – if that’s possible – thing happened to Nicole Leszczynski, a pregnant mom and her husband, in a Safeway grocery store in Hawaii. They were actually arrested and their daughter taken into “protective custody” all over two sandwiches. Now, before you write to me and explain the laws of the land, let me be clear in saying that I’m not excusing shoplifting – it costs the retail industry untold sums of money every year and true shoplifters should be arrested. But I am asking, where along the way did businesses lose common sense? Where along the way did we lose the idea that the way we treat “the public” matters?
We’ve all had similar experiences, albeit maybe not to the extent that we were arrested – I had one with OfficeMax where they gypped my child out of $1 and change from his birthday money over a defective PC game he returned, calling it a “restocking fee” when they couldn’t restock the non-working merchandise in the first place. Was it worth it to lose a customer and have me tell people about my negative experience – all for $1?
What this teaches us is that the way our businesses behave, the way our employees react and treat clients and business partners, is of the utmost importance, particularly when they are representing our brands. There is a time for strict adherence to rules and regulations. And there is a time for common sense and a return to the “customer is king” attitude businesses of all kinds used to have. In all three cases, Kmart, Safeway and OfficeMax have lost a client. While that probably won’t break their bank accounts, it most definitely will impact how we – and our friends and family – talk about our experiences in these stores, which begs the question of whether or not word-of-mouth matters.
In this day and age, when people tweet their every move, I say it does. What do you think?
Karen Franse is an account manager at Communication Strategy Group and has over two decades of experience in media strategy and outreach, copywriting, creative services and editorial project management.