WIN-WIN!! Charitable Contributions as an Opportunity for Branding

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.

The requests for donations of time and/or money never stop.  (I know – because the need never stops!) 

Generally speaking, the causes asking for help are very worthwhile, and you’d really like to do your part . . . but didn’t that agency just make the same request last month? 

While this blog can’t suggest ways to cut down the number of times you are approached, we do hope to help you view these solicitations just a bit differently – as chances “to get” as well as “to give.”

Charitable contributions take many forms.  Sometimes, you are asked to sponsor an event.  Maybe someone wants you to take out an ad in a program book – often honoring an individual for community service.  Or, have you been given a chance to underwrite the cost of a little league team (who will wear the name of your business on the backs of two dozen kids several times a week for many months)?  Or, perhaps you’ve been asked to support a high school sport, a public broadcasting station, a local church, etc.

Typically, the cost to participate is low (relative to the cost of advertising in the media) . . . and you choose the amount.  Since many of us will “just say yes” very often due to good intentions/guilt/a sense of moral obligation, we encourage you to recognize the value of such local “advertising.”

Frankly, you are associating your business in a positive way with a good cause and promoting an image (and self-image) of community involvement, which can be very valuable (especially for a local retail operation).

However, you must be sure to take full advantage of the quid quo pro benefit you are provided.

  • Always include your logo.
  • Mention as much of your “boiler plate” description of yourself as possible.
  • If you are given ad space in a program, you certainly congratulate the honoree but be sure to also mention your products and services as well in a manner consistent with your branding (so the message gets repeated the same way every time).
  • If your sponsorship includes a t-shirt (or some other imprintable promotional item) or perhaps even a banner bearing your company’s name, spend time on the artwork to make your branding elements as visible and prominent as possible.
  • If the organization you sponsor does all of the preparation, be sure to provide the quality logo needed to produce the best results and request to see a proof of the complete artwork in advance of printing.
  • If accompanying radio or TV advertising for the event includes mention of you, be very specific about the way your name should be handled.
  • If you are in a growth pattern, use these charitable platforms to let people know you are hiring . . . and provide a link to your web site to learn more about the company, the openings and internships available, and perhaps even apply online.

While proper care will enable you to take good advantage of the benefits provided, your branding opportunity does not have to end with the event.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Use your social media platforms to post news about your involvement in the community-based activities.  For artwork, you can often post the logo of the agency sponsoring the event as well as your own . . . and perhaps a picture of the person being honored.  Typically, those images will generate views/readers.

Social media traffic is one factor that can assist getting your name to turn up in Internet searches . . . so your charitable efforts help you in this way, too.

(Note:  Efforts to get your name to appear in searches is referred to SEO – Search Engine Optimization; future articles are planned that address this subject.)


PRESS RELEASES

Very often, charitable acts can be used to prepare press releases that stand a very good chance of achieving publication.  For example, did your employees volunteer at a soup kitchen, watch over a Salvation Army collection kettle, or perhaps participate in a United Way Day of Caring.  If so, let the world know.  In fact, very often the organization you are helping will have created PR (AND social media postings) of their own so you benefit from their mention without requiring the preparation.  However, be sure to request the right to review prior to submission to make sure your branding elements are included and handled correctly.  (Most organizations are used to getting requests of this kind!)

WEB SITE CONTENT

News about your charitable involvements can be good web site content that allows you to reveal a different, less formal side of your culture – the kinds of information that can be very helpful in recruiting prospective employees looking to learn more about you and decide whether yours is the kind of company that s/he wants to join.

So . . . the moral of this story is to recognize the potential of charitable contributions to do good for others . . . and you, too!  A WIN-WIN!! situation.

While you may have to get a little more involved than just writing out a check, the time and effort you devote will not be significant, and the benefit to your branding efforts can be great.  You can become better known . . . and known as a good citizen to society, which will encourage people to think positive thoughts when they see your logo.

Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding

Press releases – specifically articles prepared for the media (print or online) to announce noteworthy news – represent a great opportunity to promote your brand . . . FREE OF CHARGE.  However, creating legitimate, credible press releases is more difficult than the average businessowner thinks.  For a submission to succeed, you need:

  • A topic of general interest to your audience (and not just yourself).
  • A writer who understands that most adjectives and adverbs have no place in a press release (and who can pretend to maintain the objectivity of a journalist).
  • An understanding of the ultimate audience being targeted and the media outlets best suited to reach them.
  • An appreciation for proper press release formatting (so you don’t automatically send a signal of amateurism and get rejected unread).
  • The ability to generate quotes and photos to make the piece more sales worthy.
  • A commitment to perform various post-submission steps that can be taken to get the best possible impact.
  • Proper integration of standard “boilerplate” language repeated in each and every release.

While our ultimate plan is to develop separate blog articles for each of these bullet points, I will provide a brief commentary about each for this overview.

TOPICS

Your press release stands the best chance of getting picked up when the editor believes your piece will be of interest to the largest possible number of people.  If you are a company like Apple, almost any subject will get and sustain the attention of editors and readers.  When you are ABC Hauling, you need to work harder.  Employee promotions and hiring can be newsworthy as well as accomplishments.  Awards or recognition by the company or individual staff are good subjects, too.  If your industry has a national day or week-long celebration, find a way to tie into that recognition.  Conversely, don’t assume that some small change to your product or facility has a wide enough appeal to be publicized.

VOICE

When you write a press release, you want to pretend to be a reporter writing a news story, including the way in which third-person pronouns are utilized.  Drop all adjectives and adverbs like excellent product, great staff, wonderful service, etc.  unless such words have been embedded in quoted material attributable to a specific speaker.  A newspaper will not print such language, which marks you as an amateur.  Remember, the media must serve your competition just as well as yourself.

AUDIENCE

For your story to have the best possible branding impact, pick topics and articles suitable to your demographics.  If you serve an older crowd, don’t tie your piece to topics aimed at teenagers and pick the places for your submission with an eye to audience. (You want information more likely to be picked up by AARP than Seventeen.)

OUTLETS

As suggested above, demographics are one consideration.  However, a number of others come into play.  For example, does the topic warrant national or regional reach . . . or is strictly local more appropriate?  Are you trying to connect with other businesses or the retail marketplace?  If the former, trade magazines might be your target.  Do you have personal contacts that could be useful in making sure your submission gets proper attention?  If so, reach out to them.

As a small business owner, you might not believe you have options other than your local newspaper or your most familiar trade magazine, but other alternatives for extending your reach exist.  Services like PRNewswire or BestWire can be used to get your message placed in many online outlets and get your story into the hands of a wide range of print contracts, too.

I remember many, many, many years ago when I was still at my greenest, our company achieved a special rating that was worthy of being publicized to our targeted audience.  I wrote a press release that got placed locally . . . but my boss received a message from a friend in another state who passed along the rating agency’s version of the press release that had been distributed nationally.  My boss asked me why her friend got the one from the rater but not ours delivered to her desk.

At that point, I had just learned about national distribution services that release information in a very broad manner for a price . . . but had not yet experimented with the process.  Still, I was able to tell my boss that – if she was willing to spend several hundred dollars – I thought I could deliver similar results, too.

Fortunately, the experiment was a success.  Her contact got our story delivered to her desk via the same “google Alert” criteria she already had in place that picked up the Internet placements that had been made.  She passed our version along to my boss, who was pleased.  (We’ll also eventually do a piece on the use of “Alerts” as electronic clipping services.)

While PR distribution specialists such as these can provide some very gratifying immediate results . . . and get your name and story to appear in Internet search results, the impact tends to be transitory.  Don’t expect more than one or two of those search “hits” to still turn up even a few weeks later.  For sales purposes, that may sometimes be enough.  For branding, a bit more “stickiness” would be desirable.  (In deciding whether the benefit is worth the expense, best to be aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of the process.)

FORMAT

To maximize your chances of success, observe a few very basic formatting requirements to make sure your story does not get flagged unread as being prepared by an amateur.  These conventions evolved to help busy editors who get inundated with requests.

QUOTES AND PHOTOS

A press release should always include some quoted material to make the story more immediate and give you an opportunity to include some of the more subjective material not permissible in the body of the article.  For instance, you can quote your CEO making a statement about superior service due to the excellence of the staff . . . while such a statement would otherwise be inappropriate.  That said, show restraint; you’ll stand a better chance of success.   (Future plans are also another good opportunity to introduce quotes.)

If photos of products, places, or quoted parties are available, include them or at least reference their availability. 

POST-SUBMISSION FOLLOWUP

While this subhead could certainly refer to checking back with an editor when a submission has not appeared after a suitably long period of time, our intention was to further discuss the branding potential of press releases due to conscientious follow-up activities.  

Five Ways to Get the Most Mileage from PR Activities

  • Post copies of press release on your web site.  (People will check them out.)
  • Mail or e-mail copies to your customers and business partners.  (Keeps your name in front of their faces in a desirable way and often includes content that serves the same purpose as a testimonial.)
  • Prepare reprints for use in sales presentations with prospects.
  • Prepare social media postings that link to published copies of the story (or at least to your own online repository).
  • Share your published release with your staff to reinforce your brand with them.

The branding that has been incorporated into your well-crafted press release can have much greater and longer impact by taking these few easy and inexpensive steps.

BOILERPLATE

As discussed in our Style Guide, “Boilerplate” language is a short paragraph included in press releases, sales literature, marketing ads, etc. to ensure a consistent, properly branded message gets incorporated whenever possible.  The language should always be included and in the exact same way, knowing repetition is one of the most basic keys to a well-branded product.  (That said, expect editors to frequently cut your “boilerplate,” though you want to keep including the passage both for those occasions when the message is not cut AND to continually help brand yourself in the eyes of the publication.)

More to Come . . .

In the upcoming weeks, we will be doing dedicated articles to each on these aspects of creating press releases and (as is our custom) we will be preparing a press release about our blog that we will submit to several media outlets in conjunction with National Small Business Week in May.  Since we are well aware of the long lead time involved in getting press releases read and published, we are targeting a draft in January for February submission with the hope of some placements for May. (Publication’s schedule vary from weekly to quarterly and several increments in between, so be sure to know the frequency of the ones you are targeting.)

FYI — More information is available about preparing press release from a variety of sources (just do an Internet search on the proper preparation/formatting) . . . so you might want to check out the thoughts of organizations like CBS:   https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-to-write-a-press-release-with-examples/.

I also recommend reading Knowing the Basics of Email Marketing and Online PR by The Business Inside for detailed information on distributing and promoting your press release.