I am a huge fan of public relations ( PR ) and brand representation in our sector: small and mid-size defense companies. I think this part of the segment underutilizes these strategies. It makes sense why, but I think it’s a mistake.
I think the reason why firms in the defense segment don’t prioritize this is because the prevailing thought on PR is that it is used to generate new leads for our customers. We all know that we aren’t really going to get defense customers through press releases, web sites, and social media. That’s not how this industry works. So why spend the energy and money? So, we don’t.
That’s true! But there are two reasons why I’m such a big fan of a good PR strategy and neither have to do with your customers.
What Can PR Do For Your Defense Company?
First and foremost, a successful PR strategy can greatly impact your enterprise value over time. The more known you are in the industry and the more buzz you have revolving around your brand, the more likely someone will pay more for your company when it comes time to exit. It doesn’t have to be a full-scale sale. It could be a minority or majority investor coming in.
You can’t create buzz in a couple months. It takes time and a campaign strategy to do it. So, start now, even if an exit is years away. I’ve had people tell me that widespread awareness and buzz doesn’t impact value that much if you know the parties that are likely to invest, and they know you. Why? You’re just wasting money when you already are known in your niche.
Why do I disagree? Competition.
Even the threat of competition. If it’s obvious that you are known, even the ones that know you the best become aware that others outside their sphere know and respect your brand. That awareness alone can push the market value up. A company with a well-known and respected name will always be valued above a company that doesn’t have that buzz. It takes time, a strategy, and yes, some money, but it’s worth it.
The second reason is your prospective employee base. Many companies in our sector struggle with finding enough of the right talent to keep up with demand in this labor environment. Employees that seek you out are gold. And the ones that research you will prefer a company that has some brand buzz. Any leg up you can grab in the constant search for great people will help your bottom line. I wouldn’t be surprised if adding only one employee more quickly than you would be able to without the buzz, would pay your entire annual PR budget. And I think you can get more than one.
So, unlike our preconceived notions, it’s not about our customers and lead generation. It’s bigger than that.
So how do we put together a good PR and branding strategy?
Some of the things I personally do are:
- Be regular. Find messages to keep a regular rhythm of communication that can be shared on your website and social media channels. Force yourself to find opportunities to communicate your brand. Consider press releases that describe recent wins, strategic hires, or a strategic partnership that really highlights your brand. Most importantly, keep fresh things coming. Don’t look stale to someone researching you or keeping an eye on you. You might be surprised how many people are watching companies like yours. Make it interesting for them. Give them a reason to put an asterisk next to your name.
- Find things going on in the industry that fit with how you want the world to see your brand and engage on them. Share relevant posts on social media. Comment on others sometimes. If you want your target audience to associate you with X, associate yourself with X. Don’t make them work for it. Through time and repetition alone, many will start hard coding that link between you and X. Be cautious about promoting your competition too much. Though some is ok.
- Become a go-to expert and thought leader. Getting your name on the short list of sources a publication might go to for a quote or an interview is amazing. Nothing accelerates that brand association better than a media source implying YOU are an expert. Getting quotes in articles, people sharing your blog posts, and writing bylined articles are a great way to build buzz. This does take a little work and you may need some help. I have collaborated with a PR expert, Neal Stein, over the past 12 years who helps me with this type of activity. I’ve asked Neal to describe the bylined article concept and why it is win-win for a publication and for you. The following commentary is from Neal.
Though they take more work and patience, I really like bylined articles. Two things have happened to make them more attractive over the past decade or so. Media sources have increased exponentially. The established, long-standing forums have cut their writing staffs to the bare minimum. This creates an opportunity for you. They are still hungry for content but are struggling to create it themselves in the quantity they need to stay relevant. You, or one of your specialists in your company, can write a bylined article on a subject that you want to be associated with and have strong expertise in. These articles should focus more on the subject than on your company. Otherwise it will likely be rejected as pure propaganda and advertising. If you stay on point however, it will help establish you as a thought leader with respect to your chosen subject. This can enhance your brand equity far more than a paid advertisement would. It comes across as a 3rd party publication endorsing your expertise. This type of exposure over time can really boost your enterprise value when it comes time to exit. You can point to your pedigree as a known expert in your segment. Most small companies don’t have this kind of brand recognition. They are well-known within a handful of customer relationships. This steps that up a notch and gives you additional credibility. Since valuations and exits are graded on a curve, take advantage of the fact most companies don’t have that brand equity.
You do need to take the time to write a well-done piece that will get your points across while meeting the various media publication’s goals. You need to shop it around. It can take months to get a bite. So this isn’t instant gratification. It’s a process. But well worth it.
You might ask, “Why do it, if we can’t promote ourself in the article?” Fair question. The payback is that the author – you or someone else in your company – will be listed as the author, and the profile for the author will have a link back to your company. It’s subtle, but valuable. It also provides you with content to list in you In The News section on your website, and you can use it as content for all of your social media channels. Very worthwhile in a time when press coverage is getting harder and harder.
Where else should I deliver my branding message ?
There are many forums for delivering your brand message. There are two absolute “need to dos” The first is your website. Every company needs one. It should not only reflect your target audiences but have a purpose. In the case of small defense firms, I don’t believe the top audiences are your customers. They may check it out as research, but none of them are out searching the web for companies to hire. Instead I think your two most likely audiences are future investors and future employees (especially for labor-based companies). Websites are a big topic. Just try to keep them fresh with AT LEAST an occasional event-based post.
The easier place for dynamic content is LinkedIn. To provide some more information, I have provided some insights from Cierra Low, a Social Media Specialist from SocialSEO. According to Cierra, “LinkedIn allows users and businesses to maintain a social presence and enhance your professional reputation by posting and sharing content that is relevant to you and your company.”
LinkedIn is a platform that allows you to actively promoting your brand and stay consistent through your viewers eyes. And there’s a perk. It’s is easy.
Some the things you can do to publicize your company identity as well as any relationships to special domain expertise that will bolster your value in others eyes:
- Original content. Write a post on a subject you want people to associate you with. Establish yourself as a thought leader. These includes blog posts you can repost on LinkedIn, press releases, news events that don’t quite warrant a press release and many others.
- Share relevant industry content from 3rd party sources. Again, this reinforces in your audience that you are a leader in this subject. Repetition further solidifies that thought. Note: The 3rd party can be a competitor but be careful. You aren’t trying to build THEIR brand. But you also want to show that you are a team player within the industry.
- Engage on relevant posts with reactions and thoughtful comments.
- Hashtag usage/strategy. By including industry relevant hashtags, and hashtags that are relevant to you as an owner this will boost your posts visibility and the overall brand visibility. Using hashtags allows people who may not normally engage with your content, find your content due to following a specific hashtag and engage with it. By maintaining a consistent hashtag strategy, you will be able to retrieve a following that you may have not had before.
Social media is a double-edged sword. Be careful to keep emotion and personal things like political views out of your correspondence. Regardless how passionate you are, it can be detrimental to your company.
Some other things to consider:
- While it’s not focused on your customers, remember they will see it all too. So be sure whatever you put is both authorized and something you’d be proud of them seeing. It’s not unusual that defense sector customer details are highly governed by your contracts and prior approval. You don’t always need to be specific. Sometimes you can just as easily accomplish the above goals with more abstract thoughts.
- We didn’t talk much about the actual definition of defining your brand. That’s a whole separate topic. This piece is more about why you should do it. Here are some resources to consider when looking at your brand itself.
- When targeting future employees, makes sure the culture discriminators come across in all mediums including website and social media. Force some communication on these topics.
Bottom line – PR and brand buzz isn’t really about your defense customers and trying to get leads and work. It’s more about creating long term enterprise value. The more buzz, the more that fundamental value will be enhanced. And when it shows up across multiple channels – trade magazines, local and regional press, social media, etc. – it creates a ‘surround sound PR effect’, something that helps enormously when potential customers, partners, investors, and employees are doing their due diligence on your company. You look hot when you keep showing up everywhere. That is tremendously important to your brand.
Always happy to continue the dialogue. Contact us.