What is PR?
First and foremost Public Relations is not, as some would have you believe, an 'art' it's closer to a science and equally it shares some terminology, you have 'formulas' to create a successful campaign, 'subjects' who you target your activities towards, and most importantly you 'experiment' to get the right mix of 'elements' to make your company, brand, service or product a success.
Another thing that PR isn't is expensive, obviously if you choose to hire a team of creative writers, take out full page adverts in glossy magazines and have thousands of t-shirts, pens and cuddly toys made for you your bank statement statement might make a bit of a dent in the doormat for all the wrong reasons.
You probably already engage in quite a bit of PR without realising it. If you have a website with comments from your customers about your products or services this is PR. The same goes for your business stationery – letterheads and business cards for example – these two are a major part of any PR strategy. It's pulling everything together and adding something different that makes you stand out on the high street or that makes your website address stick in peoples minds that's the key.
What can PR do for a businesses?
PR works best when it's transparent to the 'customer' by this I mean that the subject of your PR campaign doesn't even know it's there. For example, if you've invested in some print advertising with a local newspaper then linking this to a specially created section of your website now only makes the people responding to the print advertisement feel special – with offers that are specific to them – but will normally increase the effectiveness of your advertising.
For Hosting Companies and ISP's it's very hard to earn the trust of consumers and it's even harder to get their respect. A few ways you can be remembered by your customers can help get your name mentioned for all the right reasons:
Send a Welcome Letter
Send your customers a quick 'hello' by post, signed in ink and not in a handwriting font and you'll be amazed at the number of 'thank-you' emails you'll get. This also helps weed out fraudulant orders before the chargeback stage and makes you seem a responsible company to deal with.
Get a Signed Agreement to Terms and Conditions
If you're sending a letter you might as well include a copy of your terms of business and ask the customer to send them back, offer a discount on the next months service or a credit for returning a signed copy of the T&C's if you can't include a freepost envelope, this will help you later if there are any disputes and again makes you a responsible business in the eyes of your customer.
Reward your Customers
Send your customers a thank you for sticking with you, this may be after a year of taking your hosting service or a quick sorry note when there have been email problems with a discount voucher, you'll be amazed at the positive response you'll receive.
SLA's or Service Level Agreements are familiar in the dedicated service and business telecoms/connectivity markets but not so much in the shared hosting sector of the market. By committing to responding to emails within 3, 6 or 12 hours and quoting maximum waiting times for support calls – or even making a firm commitment to answer every email promptly will show your customers you mean business and will help you see where you could do better. It also means you can make a point of releasing support statistics once a month along side server uptime information.
For better or worse…
PR isn't just for the good times, it's also especially important to consider effective communication when things go wrong. This is where the four W's come into play:
What – What is the problem?
Who – Who is dealing with the problem?
When – When is 'normal service' due to resume?
Why – Why did the problem happen?
A press release is one of the best methods of communicating this information, for companies with a large online presence, such as website hosting companies, the release should be visible on the company website 'front and center' to ensure that customers know there are problems. Many companies wrongly believe that publishing their failures will loose them money, in most cases what will happen is that you instill a sense of trust with your current customers and although you may loose a few new clients along the way you'll also minimize the amount of time taken to explain to new customers why the service wasn't up to scratch.
Once the problems have been resolved you can make anther announcement detailing what went wrong and listing the steps you have taken to ensure that the problem is fixed for good.
To make advertising and PR easier you need to collect as much information about your clients as possible, collecting their date of birth, gender (this can be gathered from a 'Title' field on an order form rather than the start 'Gender' field) and other details will make your PR decisions easier later on and will help you target groups of customers and increase response to targeted offers.
It's essential for you to know what's working in terms of advertising and PR, using different telephone numbers in print ads and email newsletters is one way to quantify response, also using different email addresses and website URL's allows easy tracking. For word-of-mouth marketing using promotional codes that can be quoted on an online order form, via email or over the telephone when ordering (to get a 5% discount for example) will mean you can see where your customers are coming from and will help you decide what advertising to keep and what to scrap.
Most important of all, keep your dealings with customers honest, make sure they know where they stand and what's being offered. Try not to over sell and steer clear of making promises you can't keep. A final warning, when it comes to commenting on your competition, don't, you never know who you're talking to and the last thing you want is a reputation for making negative swipes at your competitors.