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Networking key part of company image-building

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Big national companies spend huge amounts of money to promote their public images. But how important is public image to a smaller, local company? And how much should a company spend on creating and maintaining that image?

"Every company or individual is creating an image whether they want to or not," said Tom Young, owner of Young & Company advertising agency.

In trying to create an image, as a business owner, you should ask yourself how your company is currently perceived, particularly with the target market, he said. It is a good idea to get to know the ups and downs of the market you're in and to test ideas that create a positive influence on the people you want to reach.

Young said the business owner must identify objectives, then create a plan to accomplish those objectives. Along the way it is wise to measure the results and make adjustments.

Young said the type of client will usually dictate the type of advertising that will be most effective.

If you are targeting a specific interest group, the first step is to find out what the group thinks, Young said. You might then use direct mail aimed at a certain need for this group.

The relationship with your employees can have an effect on how you are perceived by the public. Involvement in the community can also enhance the business owner's image.

Although each company is different and may require a different approach, the procedure is similar in putting a business before the public eye.

Young said he feels it is wise to investigate options and seek professional help if the way to proceed isn't clear.

"We work with clients in a lot of ways," he said. A business does not necessarily have to turn over its advertising and public relations to an agency if the budget is too small. A company can hire an agency to help point it in the right direction, then follow through on its own.

One thing a company can do without help is, "Analyze what's different about you than the guy down the street,"said Bill Perkin, owner of Perkin-Watts Advertising & Marketing Services Inc.

Perkin added that it pays to know the target market and assess the best ways to reach it with the least amount of waste.

One easy and inexpensive solution Perkin recommends to his clients is to use a focus group. This is a cross-section of consumers, polled to find out how a company or product is perceived.

The question you must ask yourself from the information gathered is whether you change what you are doing or continue to promote your current image, Perkin added.

Since all businesses have competition, it is necessary to let the public know why they should choose you over your competitor. What can you do that is special or different?

One of the simple and inexpensive things a business owner can do for promotion is send out press releases. Articles written about a company can be more beneficial than a spot ad that may be overlooked, Perkin said.

If a company has some new technology to talk about or has expanded and created new jobs, these are things of interest that can be included in a press release, he added.

Networking is always an important factor in public image. Clubs and organizations keep the business owner in touch with people in his field and other companies that may also be potential customers, Perkin said.

If your company does not have a large advertising budget, but has something of interest to share, you might offer to demonstrate to a club, like one of the local Rotary clubs, he said.

If a company has received bad publicity, it is imperative to come back with positive information and not to dwell on the negative, he added.

Of the advertising media available, television probably reaches the most people, but it is also the most expensive, Perkin said. Some businesses do not need reach the mass audience, in which case television advertising can be a waste.

Perkin said he believes it is becoming more and more important for businesses to have Web sites. His company uses the Internet more all the time for research and to develop a presence for his clients.

This is another inexpensive way to get exposure, he said.

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