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Reputation Management:
The role of Public Relations for aviation businesses.

Public Relations—or PR as it is generally called—has a mixed reputation. It is admired as the mysterious science of creating good publicity. But it is also distrusted as a generator of false impressions aimed at deceiving the public. In reality- it is neither.

PR- simply stated- is the art of managing a company’s reputation with confidence- honesty and intentionality. It is a crucial element in an integrated marketing effort and can yield big returns for companies that make an investment in it.

PR is far more than getting a press release published. It involves the entire spectrum of connecting with your audience everywhere you find them. PR thus includes trade show participation- newsletters- white papers or technical articles- social media- charity sponsorships- annual reports and speaking engagements by company experts.

Perhaps a better term for PR is reputation management—planning and monitoring your organization’s reputation with intentionality- and leaving nothing to chance in the process. You can’t afford to be shy here. You have a story to tell- a reputation to manage- and thus some important PR work to do.

On the other hand- a healthy dose of paranoia can be helpful. You should probably assume that some misinformation about your company is out there in the marketplace- and it will eventually need to be addressed with positive- corrective messages. The best defense is a good offense.

THE BENEFITS OF PR
Think of PR and advertising as the right and left wing of an aircraft: Both are pretty darn important. Advertising allows you to completely control your message. You pay for space in a magazine like the one you’re reading now- on a website or on a banner at NBAA. You are completely in control of what goes in that media space to create recognition for your brand- to deliver a few key messages- to promote a list of capabilities or to showcase your aircraft inventory.

PR- on the other hand- is about giving varying degrees of control over to others- and allowing a positive- viral effect to take place. Whether it is a reporter that picks up on your press release- or a blogger commenting on your recent announcement- PR means enabling others to discuss your story- and thus expand your audience. You should be prepared for something to get lost in the translation- yet look forward to the benefits that come from a third party pushing your message forward.

Audiences sometimes give more credibility to editorial content or even social media than certain forms of advertising- so PR should reinforce advertising with consistent messages and stories that support the brand. Thus- precision and control are delivered by advertising. Credibility and viral distribution through PR. Two wings…both crucial.

Often- the greatest value of getting a story published is not just the number of people who read it- but the many ways you can leverage the story after it runs. It can go in your online newsroom or be distributed by email to your contact database. A published story can be re-printed for inclusion in proposals you give to prospects as further evidence of your company’s expertise. And because most news stories have an online existence on the publisher’s website- links from those stories back to your site create two benefits: 1) more website traffic- and 2) in-linking to your site—something that search engines like Google reward when ranking your website for relevancy.

IT’S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS…SORT OF
Does it pay to know people in the media? Sure. But remember: writers and editors are in the business of finding interesting- high quality content for their audiences- not merely returning favors for their friends. Just because something is a big deal for you and your organization- it simply may not be interesting to the audience of a given publication. It’s similar to being invited over on a Saturday night to watch someone else’s vacation videos: meaningful for them…not so compelling to you. Put yourself in the editor’s shoes- and ask yourself- “Is this story interesting to the majority of my readers?”

If your story passes the ‘make-me-care’ test- then chances are it will get some visibility. Even if it doesn’t get published- put it on your own website. The keyword density of the release along with the updating of your site are both things that Google rewards.

Don’t forget local media: Promoting your company within your city or region can help improve relationships with other business leaders- vendors- and local government officials— maybe even the ones who need to approve your new building permit. One of the serendipitous results of good PR is the ability to recruit better talent for your organization. When your company is visible in the news- you are likely to attract more and better applicants. Ambitious- talented people want to work for a leader- and increased visibility is one of the hallmarks of an industry innovator.

Another benefit of PR is that your current employees will feel better about working for your company—especially if you make the effort to promote their accomplishments- promotions and projects as part of your PR plan. That can come in the form of company newsletters- the news section of your website or in press releases to the media.

A CHANGING LANDSCAPE
If PR is viewed as reputation management- you should be fully aware of the power of social media and opinion sites. It pays to do a periodic audit of what others are saying about your company. You’ll find opportunities to thank the people who review you well- and address the concerns of some who have posted critical information. You will also want to be aware of what your employees are saying on social media sites. Many well-intentioned employees have created social media postings for their companies- but in so doing- disseminate inaccurate- unauthorized information.

There is now an increasing role for video in PR. People read less and watch more- so your news dissemination efforts might need to make the jump to video. Did you open a new facility or refurbish a new aircraft? Don’t just write about it. Show it with video. Did your company make an important announcement? Your CEO can deliver the message by video. You can post it to your website’s newsroom and repost on YouTube or Facebook if appropriate.

Blogging has moved from being an interesting fad to becoming a crucial communications tool. For many companies- it is the primary vehicle for its leadership team to speak to the marketplace. Any company seeking to position itself as a thought leader will do well to launch and maintain an interesting- relevant blog. Blogging will also increase keyword usage related to your company’s area of specialization; and the frequent updates inherent in a blog will help to improve search engine optimization (SEO).

Another aspect of PR that is becoming increasingly important is having a published sustainability policy. Many companies are looking for business partners with clearly defined commitments to environmental responsibility. Having such a statement on your website goes a long way toward establishing your credentials in this area.

CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA TRAINING
One aspect of PR that gets overlooked is crisis communications. How many times have you seen company leaders on television- bungling their way through tough questions from the media after a disaster or even a minor problem?

That doesn’t have to happen. It’s all about preparation. That’s why we help clients develop key statements long before a crisis occurs. These general statements— all of them truthful and accurate— can be easily supplemented to address the particulars of a crisis—a big improvement over drawing up foundational statements from scratch in the midst of a stressful situation.

Media training is another important aspect of PR. The aviation trade media is clearly supportive and positive toward companies in the industry. The mainstream media- however- is another story…usually a distorted one: The general public is woefully ignorant about general aviation- and the mainstream news media feeds off that ignorance. That can be remedied if your organization’s leaders are well-versed in the value proposition of private aviation- and receive sufficient media training.

Imagine for a moment how different things would have been in November 2008 when the CEOs of the big three U.S. automakers were asked why they flew their private jets to the congressional hearings. If just one of them had said- “You’re darn right I took the jet. I flew it to maximize our shareholder’s value and preserve our employees’ jobs by saving time- getting work done en route- and moving on to my next crucial appointment—something that a broken commercial air travel system makes impossible given my salary and schedule-” that would have changed the dynamics of the conversation- and perhaps saved hundreds of millions of dollars in distressed aircraft market values in the months following.

Perhaps the automotive executives should have heeded one of the great axioms of PR: “If you don’t like what people are saying- change the conversation.” And when it comes to leading that new conversation- it is generally best to have just one authorized company representative speak to the media. For larger companies- that may be a corporate communications director. But for most companies- it will be the president or CEO- preferably after some expert media training.

PR IS A MARATHON- NOT A SPRINT
I recently discouraged a client from paying us to do a press release for his company. He actually had a pretty interesting story coming up- but months earlier he had hesitated to invest in a comprehensive PR and communications program. Without this larger commitment to consistent contact with the media- a single press release wasn’t likely to produce the results he envisioned. That’s because it takes repeated contact for reporters- editors and bloggers to recognize your organization as one worth watching. You may have to send a dozen releases over a year’s timeframe before you begin to get any traction.

Having a strategic communications plan is crucial to PR success- starting with a calendar of events and a schedule for articles- newsletters and press releases- built as far in advance as possible. You’ll also be better prepared for the sudden- unanticipated media opportunities.

Perhaps the most professional way to handle your company’s PR is developing an online pressroom on your website. It can serve as the repository of all your current press releases- an archive of older ones- media contact information- a company backgrounder and management bios. You can also include video or audio clips of your executives’ speaking engagements. The idea is to consolidate all the information a reporter or editor would be looking for in writing a story about your company.

Once you’ve established yourself as a credible- interesting source of information- you will begin to find the media calling you for interviews and comments on stories they are writing. As with all things in life- the people who pay their dues to be seen by the media and the marketplace are the ones who will reap the long-term benefits of PR.

David Heitman is the president of The Creative Alliance- an award-winning branding and public relations firm specializing in general aviation marketing. He can be contacted at david@thecreativealliance.com

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