If it works as planned, a low-key PR program, an occasional news report to local media about your store and personal events, can be a worthwhile investment to attract prospects. It will supplement your random “image and announcement” ads. It will broaden your limited number of word-of-mouth referrals and increase the potential market for both in-home and in-store customers. It will work for both big and small retailers.
The news items and longer, more informative feature stories are written
by you or your freelance writer/agency and mailed, regular or e-mail,
to your local newspaper, radio station and other area media. I don’t
include the powerful and global PR hype programs used by government
agencies, politicians, conglomerate businesses and celebrities to
inform and influence public opinion. Many of us become bewildered
by the scope of these information spectaculars. We wonder whether
we are reading or hearing the true news or a slanted interpretation
of the truth.
A publicity notice, or press release, is just a “big brother”
to the word-of-mouth reports and small ads on which so many small
businesses rely. It becomes a natural part of your necessary customer
It all seems so easy and inexpensive—and it can be. But as with
any worthwhile project, press releases need some tender loving care
in planning and checking. Even then, an occasional mistake can seem
to pop up out of nowhere. In recent articles, I wrote about the values
of sending a series of PR releases to your local media, noted their
many benefits and showed actual samples to guide your way. What I
did not mention were the unexpected, usually minor problems that may
ERRORS MAY SURPRISE YOU
A press release is not the same as an advertisement in which you control
the message along with its size, page placement and photographs in
the publication of your choice. Of course, with ads, too, you can
easily overlook a wrong spelling, a misplaced name or other typos
even after you have approved the final proof for one last time. How
often have you been upset by a misspelled name, by a wrong identification
for someone in a picture, by an incorrect time, date or price in an
You won’t have that final check with a regular press release.
All you will control is the preparation of the original message. Once
you have mailed your typed news or feature article to your media list,
you must rely on the good judgment of editors and publishers. They
will tailor your release to fit space. They have editorial privilege
to edit, rewrite and clarify your copy as only they will determine.
STUFF DOES HAPPEN
Any print or broadcast media must operate on strict deadlines. In
a hurried and harried atmosphere, mistakes in news items and advertisements
just seem to pop up out of nowhere. You know what it’s like in
the city editor’s office. You’ve seen the famous press room
movies many times with the constant chatter, the excited reporters,
the frantic and audacious editor urging “scoops” and overlooking
scruples to meet print times and beat out the competitive newspaper.
Those historical scenes are mostly just a comical memory in today’s
new-age electronic offices. Editors and staff now sit quietly at their
computers, editing and revising, reading e-mail, checking voice mail
and real letters. The telephone seldom rings; callers don’t like
to be put on hold to listen to a recorded message. But, even in such
sober surroundings, the unexpected will arise with irritating computer
glitches, printing gremlins and proofing oversights.
I probably exaggerate the minor mistakes involved. You will most often
be pleased to find that your carefully prepared news item, even when
chopped to fit, will be correct as planed. Still, once in awhile,
a very minor oversight can suddenly create a major crisis, at least
in your own little world.
MISSPELLINGS BECAME A MAJOR CRISIS
Here is a true story example of one such event in my career. It happened
many years ago and the names have been omitted because the incident
involved a good friend (who would just say that I always did “spread
a lot of B.S. anyway.” True. That was part of my job.)
After many meetings, I had finally convinced my other marketing associates
at my beloved window coverings company that we should increase both
our PR activities and the small budget increase that would be involved.
One fine day, I was relaxing in my office reading a new PR release
of ours, which had been picked up by the leading trade publication
in our industry. I noticed that the copy had been revised to fit the
space. But, I was pleased that the basic content of the release remained.
I could now remind my associates that the story would be noticed and
read by many of our good retail dealers, also other prospects for
our products. Under minimum budget, too.
My faith in the value of PR had been vindicated. I glowed with good
vibes. So, I decided to call the editor, whom I knew, to thank her
for using our release. Suddenly, my pleasant euphoria was shattered.
UNEXPECTED CRITIQUE OF REPORT
Into my office stormed the company “chief” in person. He
stood in front of me, face flushed, chewing the side of his cheek.
(I had learned that little mannerism might mean trouble.) I waited
quietly, but not long. He waved the trade publication in my direction.
“Did you read this aborted version of your publicity report .
. . these few paragraphs of misspellings and mistakes . . . this editor’s
interpretation of an important news story for us?” he asked.
Several more descriptive expletives about the release followed. He
was also upset about several unnecessary, tongue-in-cheek comments
the editor had expressed in the report.
He continued, “Why in the world can’t that lousy trade mag
ever spell our company name correctly? We’ve been a leading business
in this industry for over 50 years and a good advertiser of theirs
for most of those years. We’ve helped them stay in business,
for Pete’s sake. You would think they could learn to spell our
“Then, they have the gall to use sarcastic words to describe
our products. Are they crazy? We don’t have to take this lack
of appreciation. I want you to find out why they are so arrogant.
Let’s review our entire PR program and our trade ads too. Who
needs this abuse?” (These remembered remarks might not be exactly
accurate. After all, it was many years ago and word-of-mouth reports,
like gossip, seem to develop and change as time elapses.)
Regardless of my attempts to explain that his and the company name
were easy to misspell and that the descriptive words were only to
condense the report and, further, that the printed version was still
basically correct and important for us (another wrong thing to say),
he turned abruptly and left my office without any further comment.
I sat in shock for a while. I had seldom heard such strong statements
before. Things looked bad for our marketing programs. But, thankfully,
the chief was an intelligent and reasonable man, and he always returned
quickly to his more understanding nature.
Finally, as I had planned before, I called the editor and thanked
her for running the release. She was pleased to hear from me and immediately
apologized for the misspelled names, which she had just noticed, too.
(She claimed a new proofreader in the chain of command had goofed
the proper spelling before printing.)
I also told her about our hurt opinions of her other critical comments.
Naturally, that upset her, too. She thought we had misjudged her efforts
to be “editorial.” She was very sorry and agreed that we
were certainly an important account. That’s why she had worked
to include our release in her column just before printing. And, of
course, in her opinion, this hurried effort to please us prompted
the misprints. She wondered how she could rectify the situation.
We finally decided that she would have her publisher call the chief
to apologize and explain. She did and called back to say that her
boss had agreed and would apologize to him personally, also to invite
him for dinner the next time he was in New York.
The episode ended happily, which may not always be the case when press
releases are edited by hurried, but well-meaning editors. Our company
PR program and ad budget remained intact. The chief continued to be,
as always, a strong supporter of our company PR and advertising programs.
He realized that minor mistakes do occur now and then.
In retrospect, such incidents seem minor now, even though they were
most serious at the time. Top management support of our company’s
long-range customer information programs changed after the company
was purchased by a conglomerate. Its new and different policies called
for more added profits and dividends. Our former communications programs,
geared to future sales growth, were drastically revised. (Similar
takeovers of small, public companies and retailers have become a common,
but not always welcome, occurrence in today’s global economy.)
Now, my long-time favorite company is just another department in a
large international conglomerate of former smaller competitive, brand
name companies from varied consumer industries. (Maybe it’s all
for the best, at least in my case. I was able to find other communications
marketing work, which I’ve enjoyed just as much.)
PR PROVIDES NEEDED INFORMATION
I could continue for many paragraphs to relate true stories about
innocent and mostly harmless mistakes that can occur in any advertising
and publicity programs. It’s easy and natural to become agitated
when errors do occur. But it is important to keep your goal on the
long-range value of your consumer communication efforts.
Actually, an information program is ever more relevant in our electronically
charged and fast-changing market atmosphere. Methods in communicating
with people have changed, but the basic desires for value, security
and beauty remain pretty much the same.
Big, multi-company firms with their former independent and competitive
brand name companies have concentrated on low-price merchandising
in order to remain competitive. But in the pricing battle against
other conglomerates, they’ve often neglected the long-range sales
and marketing programs that built the prosperous brand name companies
in the first place.
Those well-known brands weren’t created by discounting prices
only. Establishing effective product recognition and acceptance for
them required huge expenditures in money, creative effort and persistence
over many years. The small founder companies were willing to set up
the consistent and costly programs of persuasive advertising and aggressive
sales promotion needed.
PRICING HAS PRIORITY
In numerous product areas, especially packaged products, sales goals
are now based on low price. Other marketing efforts needed to inform
consumers about product benefits and their values in decorating homes
and windows are downplayed by both retailer and manufacturing conglomerates.
They have also eliminated most consumer advertising and publicity
efforts—and the expenditures needed—to nourish and maintain
the values of the various brand names they own.
Obviously, this approach has worked successfully for many large retailers.
But, as has occurred in former decades, price-only merchandising creates
long-range problems, too. As in nature, only the strongest seem to
survive. The recognition of established brand names fades as competitors
build new names. Concentration on price breeds ever-larger mergers
with resulting retailing and social changes.
In our specialized area of window coverings, it seems to me that the
conglomerates have not accepted fully their responsibility to keep
the public informed about the many end-use benefits of their brand
name window coverings products. In their own advertising and publicity
programs, they have let slide efforts to sell the main reason why
customers buy our window coverings—the finished look at the windows.
PERSONAL TOUCH MISSING
Big box merchants, with their dynamic discount operations, have had
to eliminate most of the personal touches and information services
formerly provided by window coverings professionals and experienced
small retailers. Consumers are finding, however, that a high level
of personal and know-how service can be as important as good prices
and good value when purchasing specialized products.
In reality, today’s consumers must find out for themselves about
product benefits, other than price values. Most large discounters
seem very willing to turn this difficult and costly information process
over to small retailers, designers/decorators, several leading window
covering firms and trade publications like D&WC and Interiors
& Sources (IS). Occasionally, some TV personalities show and feature
window treatments on house and garden channel networks as do small
retailers and on Web sites.
Enough of this marketing lesson for now, except for some final observations
on the subject of show-and-tell for customers and prospects:
1. Press releases to local media can help small retailers inform prospects
about their unique, helpful and necessary services.
2. In turn, media need these same releases to tell their readers about
what’s happening of interest in their local areas. Communication
is a two-way street. It benefits both retailers and the media.
3. Retailers, and manufacturers too, can use publicity reports to
note key benefits for window coverings customers, (i.e., how to have
beautiful windows in their homes and workplaces; fashion, combining
design and beauty, is as basic as function and price for any home
decorating products, not just window coverings.)
Here’s an example, especially familiar to me, of these points:
As a pioneer in window decorating, C.W. Kirsh taught and practiced,
“We sell window beauty, not just curtain rods.” This simple
and basic marketing philosophy helped guide the growth of his company,
and that of an entire industry for almost a century. Today, the need
to sell the benefits of beautiful windows is as great as ever.
In future articles, I will explain more about how the planning and
follow-up of publicity releases can help promote the ideals of window
beauty to build awareness and sales.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies
& Window Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience
in the planning and administration of various consumer, trade and
retail advertising programs.
Window Treatment Advertising is a regular feature in Draperies &
Window Coverings examining many ways in which retailers can make the
best use of their time, efforts and resources to create effective
marketing and promotional campaigns. Past articles dating back to
1996 can be found on D&WC’s online archive categorized by
author and subject: www.dwc