During tough economic times, smart companies harness the power of public relations to promote and grow their businesses. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics (www.PRSA.org).

Here are three public relations strategies you can use for creating solid relationships with your customers and prospects:

1. Position Yourself as a Thought Leader: Provide original content such as white papers, case studies and special reports. These materials educate customers and prospects about issues related to your industry and act as a subtle sell of your products or services.

Allow customers and prospects to download from your website PDFs of your original content in exchange for contact information. Automate the process so that after an individual has provided name, address, telephone number, email address and any other details you deem necessary, the PDF is sent to the person’s email box. The process can be further automated so that you receive the contact information for follow-up.

2. Share Your Expertise as a Speaker: Standing behind a podium in front of a room packed with attendees, implies that you are more than just a speaker. You are perceived as an expert and a leader. If your message is creative and innovative and if you present well, you’ll connect mentally with audience members. In turn, they will want to connect with you. Encourage this connection with your audience — many of whom may be prospective customers — by providing a take-away before, during and after your presentation.

Before your presentation, distribute a talking-points outline that includes a brief bio, your email address and website URL. Attach to the outline additional pages such as checklists or tip sheets that you will reference during your presentation and that the audience will want to take home. As you conclude your presentation, announce a door-prize raffle for an item of high perceived value related to your talk. Pass around a basket, ask audience members to drop in business cards and draw the card of the lucky winner. Use the business cards for for mail or email follow-up.

If public speaking scares you, find a local chapter of Toastmasters International (www.Toastmasters.org) to help you become a comfortable, confident speaker.

3. Maintain a Professional Social Media Presence: Set up business pages for your company on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media platforms. Invite customers and colleagues to connect with you, because this sets up two-way communication capability.

Establish a social media content calendar so you share news and information on a regular basis. For example:

  • On Mondays, post Something Meaningful: information such as a favorite quotation, a link to an article you found helpful, tips from a business book you’ve read, etc.
  • On Tuesdays, post Something Momentous: news about a success experienced by your company or a customer with whom you’ve worked
  • On Wednesdays, post Something Marketable: information about your company that you wish to promote
  • On Thursdays, post Something Masterful: tips and recommendations from your industry that will aid customers and prospects
  • On Fridays, post Something Magnanimous: information or news about a colleague or another company that deserves your thanks.

Keep your professional postings positive. Avoid whining and complaining. Griping on business social media is unprofessional and reflects poorly on you and your business.

These three strategies will help you harness the power of public relations. You’ll create solid relationships with your customers and prospects and successfully promote and grow your business even in tough economic times.

Blogger Bio: Pauline Bartel, M.A., is President and Chief Creative Officer of Bartel Communications, Inc., an award-winning corporate communications firm, specializing in marketing, public relations and business anniversary consulting services. The firm created “The Bartel Years™” and “The Bartel Years 200™,” rosters of business anniversary symbols to inspire two centuries of business anniversary “sell”-abrations. Download free copies of “The Bartel Years™” and the special report “The Top 10 Business Anniversary Ideas for SELL-abrating Your Business Anniversary” at this link: http://www.paulinebartel.com/services/corporate-services/business-anniversary-consulting