While recreational boating may involve millions of boaters and billions of dollars, the fact is that boating’s marketing community is really rather small and tightly knit, with many practitioners handling everything from marketing to advertising and public relations.
In such a small and competitive space, where most everyone knows everyone else, the ability to convey a positive image of what your company does and what it has to offer the broader community can give your marketing efforts a leg up in the race to build or expand your market.
Based on 30-plus years in this industry, during which time BoatUS membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000 dues-paying members (who bought everything from us from marine gear to marine insurance) I am convinced that successful marketing goes hand in hand with a vigorous public relations effort.
Building a better mousetrap won’t necessarily make you rich. However, getting others to talk about and endorse your mousetrap in print, online and on radio, TV and mobile can give you a competitive edge and should be an essential element of your overall marketing strategy.
During our heyday there were years in which we issued well over 50 press releases that generated hundreds of millions of media impressions over the course of a year.
There’s no mystery about building a buzz for your company. Google “the secrets of successful public relations” and you’ll find page after page of theories and tips.
Having spent a career building BoatUS into a well-recognized brand name not only within the recreational boating community, but also on Capitol Hill, where we became a force to be reckoned with, I know that achieving success in public relations boils down to some relatively simple concepts.
It’s all about the mastering the “relations” in public relations.
It’s also all about building a relationship between you — the source — and the media through whom you want to reach the public.
With the advent of the Internet it’s also all about the “social” in social media.
It’s a two-way street in which you provide useful information to the media so they can do their job of informing the public. The good news: They need what you’ve got. The bad news: They’re choosy about what they use.
Within a small community such as the marine industry it’s relatively easy to develop a relationship with the marine media. Unlike non-endemic media outlets that are home to investigative journalists, the marine media does not generally have an adversarial relationship with the industry it covers. They’re not out to “get” you.
If you do it right you can build relationships that can last for years as you move from one job to another in this industry.
It’s a symbiotic relationship. What you put into this is what you will get out of it. What makes this symbiotic relationship important is that media coverage adds legitimacy and credibility to your message.
That said, competition for space is always at a premium as there’s always more information than news holes to fit it into. And don’t overestimate the attention span of anyone on the receiving end of press releases. You may get three seconds — if you’re lucky.
Your challenge is to approach public relations like a sharpshooter. Identify your target and deliver your message as creatively and concisely as you can.
To increase the odds of getting your story told, follow my top 10 list of things to do:
1. Review the media outlets and determine which is most likely to be interested in what you have to offer. Determine where your competitors are advertising. Understand a publication’s audience. If you build sailboats, don’t waste scarce resources on a powerboat magazine.
2. Once you’ve narrowed the list of media outlets, look for that writer, blogger or producer who covers your product or service.
3. Send him/her an e-mail or, better yet, pick up the phone. Identify yourself as an expert and briefly explain who you are and what you’re about.
4. Establish your identity and maintain visibility. Build relationships by getting involved in places where the boating media hangs out. Boating Writers International and the Marine Marketers of America hold meetings at the Fort Lauderdale and Miami boat shows. There’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting to further a relationship.
5. Can’t get to these meetings? Do so virtually by joining any of the half dozen LinkedIn sites frequented by boating opinion leaders. Develop name recognition by sharing your thoughts and questions.
6. Above all, have something worthwhile to say about your product or service. It’s not news to simply say you have a new and improved mousetrap. Instead think about context, tell a story and tie your product/service to a larger issue that affects a bigger audience. Hitch your story to one that’s already making headlines. For example, if your product improves gas mileage, tie it into ongoing efforts to achieve American energy independence. If you’re exporting more than ever before, show how what you’re doing positively impacts our trade imbalance.
7. Your credibility as a source and your reputation are fundamental to developing a long-term relationship. Make sure you get the facts straight and don’t stretch the truth or embellish.
8. Be a source, not a barking dog! Although your dog’s bark can be a good warning sign, after a while it just gets old.
9. When you’re interviewed, put some life into the conversation. A dull interview rarely makes it into print. Remember, TV wants pictures, radio wants sound and print wants “insight,” among other things.
10. When crafting a press release, the lead is the key. Your objective is to get the reader to continue reading. Self-serving promotion is a ticket to the junk file. Make it short and interesting. There’s an old saying in PR: “If you don’t have them at hello, they are going to say goodbye.”
Truth is, a top-notch public relations campaign can transform an ordinary business into an extraordinary enterprise that is sought after by those with deep pockets. In 2003, BoatU.S. (Boat America Corp.) sold its entire equipment division, including some 60 stores, as well as its mail order operation to West Marine. This transformation was completed in 2007 when Boat America Corp., doing business as BoatU.S., sold itself to a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
Who says good PR doesn’t pay off?
Michael Sciulla is president of Credibility & Company Communications, as well as vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the board of directors of Boating Writers International and Marine Marketers of America. During a 28-year career at BoatUS he built the association’s brand as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000.
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue.