Call me old fashioned, but I’m a firm believer in genuinely good service resulting in word of mouth as the first principle of PR, especially now that the internet has given word of mouth a megaphone. A common myth is that PR is all about spin, about getting as much positive coverage as possible and covering up anything negative about a business. That may be the way that some people do PR, but it’s probably not the most effective.
Here’s a good example: I’m currently planning a wedding. The process can be very stressful and good or bad experiences dealing with suppliers can make all the difference. The press and other promotional materials gave glowing recommendations for a caterer who, I was informed, had a range of options to suit any budget.
Being a vegetarian and trying to keep costs down, my fiancé and I were really only after something very simple, a few buffet options and a dessert. On requesting a menu, we were given an astronomical price per head for a 15-dish buffet. As lovely as all the options looked, it almost doubled our catering budget. As we’d read such positive promo about their bespoke service, we asked the MD himself if he would consider halving the buffet options and lowering the price.
The response we got was comically baffling: “you can’t do that, it’s my art,” he replied, “there won’t be enough colours in the mix if you do that and it’s all about presentation.” He went further to suggest that, rather than cutting the number of options in our menu, we cut the number of guests at our wedding to save costs. Our catering friend, who shall remain nameless, committed the first faux pas of customer service – telling his customers they were wrong.
The facts that this was bad service all round and that the wedding industry is a business all about tailoring somebody’s dream day aside, our experience with the caterer in no way matched up to the press activity about them or their external communications.
This particular caterer clearly served a certain market (one that prioritises a colourful buffet over having friends at a wedding) and that’s fine, but to promote oneself as a bespoke service that will cater for anyone and then obstinately refuse to listen to the customer creates bad word of mouth – and that’s very difficult to repair.
The moral of the story is that your press activity must match your actual service and that your service should be outstanding. A few bad reviews online can kill a company, especially in the weddings industry, where good service is so important.
Put your service where your PR says it is and you can’t go wrong, if word of mouth verifies your good PR, you’re on to a winner!