In crisis communications, I am frequently asked to create ways to strategically communicate in tough times when they have been exposed because a mistake of some sort. Interestingly, the strategies employed often fall under the acronym ARS—Awareness, Relationships, and Serendipity.
Let me explain.
Before you can move anybody toward a new behavior, they must be aware that the possibility even exists. Moreover, they must believe it is a real, credible opportunity or awareness will quickly be discredited and the gimmick will be exposed, like the back end of a carpenter’s pants. You need to offer up your product or services or apologies in a believable, trust garnering manner, which usually requires gut-level honesty. If it is too good to be true, it probably is—if it is feeling insincere or pushy, it probably is intended to be. Perceptions are reality.
Once you have made people aware in a convincing fashion, they will move on nicely to gather whatever good information you have about your products or services—what your are all about. Soon thereafter, they will start moving through the relationship building process. Relationship building is key to whatever you want people to do. Whether you are looking for customers, members or donors, relationships are what will motivate the best customers to continue to give you 80% of your business (remember the 80:20 rule). According to an article in PR Reporter , University of North Carolina professor Robert Lauterborn said at a recent conference, “To make money, what (organizations) really need to do is to segment their customers, figure out which are most profitable.” “The reality is”, he continues, “We ought to spend at least as much time trying to retain customers as getting new ones. Retained customers are anywhere from 8 to 18 times more profitable than a customer you’ve just acquired.” Relationship building in a tightly focussed way is what he is talking about. Do you know the types of members of your organization you have? Why they join? How much they give and why? How many segments of customers/members/donors do you have anyway? Which are the most important to your business? Do you have a relationship or is this a one-way activity?
Finally, we all need to look at a little serendipity. Oxymoron? Yes! Planning for serendipity doesn’t make it serendipity anymore. But, too many folks don’t look for serendipitious activity that can make a campaign successful. For example: I was in charge of public relations around a restaurant’s 50th anniversary in business. Now, this is a small restaurant in rural Maine and, though the 50th was important to the local community, it wasn’t going to garner national attention. How could I make people notice this event? Invitations, daily prizes, and major prize drawings the day of the event were helpful, but even the big prizes didn’t produce the sizzle I felt was necessary. I thought about a celebrity who could jazz up the event, but none appeared to be in town on the day—except for the Governor! Yes, I happened on the fact that the Governor’s motorcycle entourage was traveling back from Machias the morning of my event. That meant, serendipitously, that the Governor would pass right by the restaurant at noon. Not only did my contact with the Governor’s office confirm that he would be happy to stop by and say a few words about the owners and the importance of nourishing businesses in Maine, but, serendipitously again, the event received the attention of the First Lady, Mary Hermon, Chief Justice Dan Wathan, Attorney General Drew Ketterer and a host of other motorcycle dignitaries including that entertaining Maine humorist Gary Crocker. Talk about serendipity.
Look around you and ask, what else is going on that remotely relates to my event, goal, service or need. You can almost always find something that is just sitting there waiting for your creative connection. When is serendipity not serendipity any more? When it works for you!
Originally published in the Kennebec Business Monthly in April 2000 as part of a monthly guest series on public relations and marketing.