CHICAGO — On a normal, day-to-day basis, laundry/linen services are focused on processing soiled goods and providing clean, quality textiles to their customers.
Public relations (PR) isn’t likely top of mind.
However, Jerry Martin, vice president of sales and marketing for Prudential Overall Supply in Irvine, Calif., believes it’s important for businesses to have some type of PR outreach plan to highlight the positive things that it is doing for employees, customers and the local community.
“There should be some kind of a structure in place in order to address whatever your outreach might be, like any business, not specifically just to our industry,” he says.
Katie Garcia, account manager for Sturges Word Communications in Kansas City, Mo., a marketing communications company that works with laundry/linen services, agrees that every business or organization should have media relationships.
“Laundry/linen organizations should have media relationships for two main reasons,” she says. “One, you never know when your company could be in crisis, and you want to have already established media relationships to communicate effectively with reporters. Two, media placements are some of the best third-party credibility markers your brand can garner.”
“There may be a case for companies to outsource media relations,” says Martin. “There are very qualified PR firms out there that can help you in the event of bigger media events that occur, or to employ a contractor because not all of us are in the media business, especially some of the regional or smaller players within the industry.”
The PR firm help Martin mentions can be especially vital when a negative event or crisis occurs at a laundry/linen service.
“When something negative happens, silence speaks volumes—and not in a good way,” says Dianne McKay, president of Mustang Marketing in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “Staying silent can make your company look guilty, uninformed and/or insensitive. On the other hand, transparency can do wonders for mitigating potential reputation damage. But, while you should address the media as soon as possible, doing so without a plan can make the situation worse.”
Before approaching the media, McKay stresses that a laundry/linen service needs to develop a strategy (selecting a spokesperson, identifying unified messages and developing talking points).
“I think you certainly want to be sure that you are engaged, that the media has a point of contact within the company that is established—that you have established guidelines of how and who communicates with the media,” Martin says.
McKay adds that it is best to have a crisis management strategy in place before anything negative happens, so the company is able to respond quickly.
“If possible, it is a good idea to issue your own press release on the subject before the news reaches the media another way,” she shares. “This will help you start off with better control over the angle of the story.”
“We always say it’s not if a crisis will happen to your brand, it’s when,” Garcia says. “Our No. 1 tip when a crisis happens is to act with speed by responding factually to a basic set of questions that will satisfy the media and minimize the potential damage to your reputation and credibility until more definitive information is available.”
During a crisis or negative event, McKay agrees that it’s important to be proactive. The company needs to develop a plan for how it will address the damage caused by the incident and prevent future incidents from occurring, and then share that plan with the media.
“When something negative occurs, how your company responds goes a long way toward shaping the lasting impression the situation leaves,” says McKay. “When working with the media, it is important to be accountable and take responsibility for your company’s role in the situation. Never blame others, make excuses or attempt to cover something up. Chances are, the truth will come out eventually, and your company will look that much worse for being dishonest.”
Sometimes, McKay notes, a laundry/linen service will need to speak with the media before a plan is finalized. In that event, she says to share as much as possible, even if it’s just “we’re evaluating the situation to identify exactly what went wrong, and we will be revising our procedures to prevent future problems,” without making promises that can’t be followed through on.
“Finally, remember to be human,” McKay suggests. “Put yourself in the shoes of those affected by the situation. Offer a genuine apology, and let them know how you plan to address the problem. Your communications should show those affected that your company is made up of real people who have their best interests at heart.”
For a laundry/linen service looking into improving its PR (or to initiate a public relations program), McKay has two suggestions.
First, she emphasizes the importance of strategy.
“Before beginning a public relations campaign, it is important to identify clear goals you hope to accomplish, the audiences you need to reach and the messages you want to communicate,” she says. “From there, you will be able to better prioritize which public relations efforts will deliver the best results.”
McKay’s second suggestion? Be patient.
“When you first begin implementing public relations efforts, it can take several months to really see the return on your investment,” she points out. “Keep in mind that building relationships with the media and other influencers takes time. As you identify which outlets are the best match for your company (no media outlet wants to cover a story that doesn’t align with its audiences’ interests), and begin to establish rapport with the individuals that represent those outlets, you can expect to see your coverage increase.
“You may even find that what was once a one-way street, with you always initiating opportunities for coverage of your company, turns into a two-way street, where media outlets begin reaching out to you for content.”
Miss Part 1 on the value of PR, planning strategies? Click here to read it.