The world of public relations has constantly been evolving, but now more than ever, we have seen a large shift in public relations practices thanks to the dramatic increase in online technology.
In this exclusive interview with Vladia Jurcova-Spencer, co-founder and publicist for Stylee PR & Marketing, Vladia illustrates the shift in public relations practices and shares her proven tips for integrating word-of-mouth promotion into your public relations practices.
Sumer: As a public relations professional who has been involved with the industry for more than twelve years now, you’ve witnessed the transformation of how companies and publicists approach public relations. With the rise of new online platforms, specifically social media, how does word-of-mouth marketing factor into PR campaigns?
Vladia: We have seen the industry change significantly in the last few years. Although what many call PR 2.0 really just launched with the introduction of the Web 2.0 applications, major changes started happening almost ten years ago.
When it comes to word of mouth, there are certain rules that apply. Either we are talking about traditional PR or PR 2.0, which today heavily involves social media. Word-of-mouth marketing campaigns are based on the principle that people love to talk and it doesn’t matter if they are having a face-to-face conversation or if this conversation is happening on social networks. Companies still need to develop unique stories about their products and services in the hope that these will inspire people to talk. Having an interesting new product or thinking outside the box are two good reasons why people will talk. One thing to keep in mind is that happy customers occasionally talk, but unhappy customers will certainly share their unpleasant experience.
Giving customers tools to make their conversations easier is where social media and its accessibility come in play. Sharing links, photos, videos, and up-to-date information on blogs is the fastest way to spread news and create word of mouth. We see many companies today that engage customers through free offers on their websites. Large corporations especially have incredibly interactive websites that pull you in. Good examples are Ethan Allen and Ikea, which allow you to create your own designs.
When creating a word-of-mouth campaign for our clients, we focus on targeting talkers. It’s not hard to find them; we all know that one person who is up-to-date on every new product or happening. These people are our talkers and will help us spread the word. Inviting them to special events and launch parties and sending them free samples are great ways of engaging them.
Although companies were always encouraged to join the conversation, it has never been easier than today. Social media is a new tool that allows us not only to listen to conversations happening online, but also take part in them. Our clients use Twitter Search or Google Reader to keep track of these conversations and take part in them when it is appropriate. It’s important to avoid spamming.
The last and most important part of a successful word-of-mouth campaign is tracking the results and understanding and measuring what people are saying.
Sumer: How do you get people to talk about clients and promote them via word of mouth? Please give specific examples.
Vladia: We use different tools to promote our clients. To give some examples, when we first launched FireFly vodka we focused on getting the product in front of people. Free samples worked magic for us with this client. Also, developing a product or offering services that are trendy and in demand is essential in getting people to talk. In my career I have seen too many companies that created a product first and then tried to find out if there was demand for it.
We of course also work with clients that cannot hand out free samples; in that case we create special events that are unique to the market. In 2005, Stylee PR & Marketing created the Palette and Palate Stroll for our client the Charleston Fine Art Dealers Association. We produced it as an exclusive event that paired the finest local restaurants with some of the best local galleries. We also picked July as our preferred date as it is a fairly slow month for Charleston (most popular events take place in the spring). It was a gamble that paid off, and so far we have sold out every year.
The fine art and fine cuisine event has brought hundreds of visitors to Charleston when hotel occupancy is low, so the whole community is benefiting from the event. Pairing art with fine food on such a scale had not been done before in our city. Today, we see many similar events in Charleston, but we were the first ones to introduce it to the city. You know that you have a great thing when people start copying your ideas. This year, we actually set a trend on Twitter with most tweets and retweets about the Palette and Palate Stroll.
Sumer: What are some amazing results you have seen for your clients as a result of word-of-mouth promotion?
Vladia: In 2005, a former client created very exclusive Chocolate Tours of Charleston that immediately received attention from local and national media. We created special hotel packages for chocolate lovers and people flocked to Charleston to do the tours. The word spread quickly and the tours sold out. We could have sold four times as many tours if we had the capacity. I still get emails from people coming to Charleston interested in the tours.
Some months ago, our client rehava real estate store, which offers half of its commission back at closing to buyers (why pay more!), made news all over the country when RE/MAX decided to oppose its logo trademark registration, claiming that rehava’s logo is too similar to their own. After a couple of articles in the local newspapers and online, all hell broke lose for RE/MAX as the public came to defend rehava. Over fifteen thousand people cast their vote on Charleston.net (later reported as an all time record for the Post and Courier) in support of rehava.com. People sent emails to the CEO of RE/MAX and we recorded thousands of comments online within two days of Stylee PR breaking the news. RE/MAX decided to withdraw its opposition and rehava got its trademark. Using word of mouth in combination with the traditional and social media, we managed to spread the word about the potential lawsuit to hundreds of thousands of people.
Sumer: What direction do you see the public relations industry heading toward in the next two to three years? Specifically, what trends do you see evolving and how do you think those trends will shift public relations?
Vladia: Traditionally, most people got their news by reading newspapers and watching TV. According to the latest statistics released in a Pew Research survey concerning public accuracy of news, 71% of the public gets most of their news from TV, more than 40% get most of their news from the Internet, and only 33% cite newspapers. These numbers, along with the speed at which newspapers and magazines are going out of business, give major indications of in which direction our industry is heading.
Many prominent newspaper editors left their positions to join the blogosphere. Top blogs get more visitors on their sites than well-established newspapers do today. Consumer behavior is fundamentally changing, and public relations professionals will have to learn these new behaviors and follow the consumers. The most important thing for any company is engaging in a conversation, whether it is with existing or potential consumers.
Since there is less money to spend on advertising due to the economic collapse, more and more companies are looking for new online technologies. Social networks open a door to a meaningful exchange and communications with consumers. The public relation industry has to embrace this change and new online technologies. The demand is already there. I get phone calls from individuals or companies looking for help with the new media or social media. If I had tried to propose a marketing campaign that involved social networks to my clients two years ago, no one would have even understood the concept and the power of what I was talking about.
Visit the Stylee PR & Marketing website at https://www.styleepr.com/. You can contact Vladia and the team at 843.345.3275 or via email .
Vladia Jurcova-Spencer is a publicist, photographer, and a world traveler. Vladia graduated with a Mass Communication degree from the University of Charleston at Charleston, WV. Originally from Slovakia, she coordinated international relations activities for the Ministry of Land Economy of Slovakia prior to relocating to the United States, marketing major government projects to financial institutions across the globe. In 2004, she co-founded Stylee PR & Marketing; she is devoted to creating unique and effective PR and marketing campaigns that keep her clients one step ahead of the competition. Vladia is the president of the Zonta Club of Charleston, and also serves as a PR and Marketing Chair of the Charleston Arts Coalition.
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