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Q. Why is branding my product or service important?
A.   You only get one chance to make a first impression. Your brand and image are your company’s or product’s face and personality to the world. Your brand should take into consideration these factors: your target audience, the price of your product or service and how these compare with other companies in the same category.

Consumers and business to business customers know more about branding than you may realize. We’re surrounded by high end magazines, graphics from television shows and movies, and designer clothing and housewares. Customers have become more savvy about design and presentation than ever before.

Having a strong image that represents your company, one that says that you are a professional company, that understands branding and image, will help attract new prospects and retain customers.

Customers will not hesitate moving on to newer, more competitively priced companies that have an image and brand that may reflect their values and needs more accurately.

In other words, you could actually lose a client or a sale because your company’s branding and image is out of touch with your customers and target customers, because your brand is perceived as out of touch or “old fashioned”. These days with technological advances moving so quickly, websites need to be refreshed at least every three years.

Q. Why shouldn’t I just hire a designer myself?
A.  From our experience at se&a, this is the most common mistake that new businesses make. They hire a brother in law, or have someone who knows a little about design in house design the company’s graphics, presentations and anything else that the company will use to reach out to customers.

Having a less than stellar concept, poorly executed and managed and incrementally developed by an inexperienced designer may save you some money, but in the long run you will end up redoing your brand, or you may just not know how much business you are losing or media interest you are not attracting because your brand doesn’t look professional, polished or as though you have “arrived.”

Many clients don’t know the principles of graphic design or branding, so what they end up with working with a designer will very likely be off target for your business. By working with se&a your brand benefits because you get a senior team working on your brand and design, but we also know how to create the materials for your target audience.

Have you ever received a flyer that looked as though it was created by the CEO’s administrative assistant? How did you feel about that company after reviewing their flyer? Is that how you would like your company to be perceived?

Q.  I can’t afford to advertise, is public relations a good option for me?
A.  Public relations can be an excellent option for any business that desires more visibility, sales, media coverage and website traffic.

Paid advertising is much more expensive than working with a public relations firm and it turns out that consumers prefer it to advertising. For optimum results both advertising and public relations should be used strategically in order to obtain results, but if you don’t have a budget consider working with a firm like se&a to craft your messaging, your pitch to the media and to manage and execute public relations campaigns to garner local, regional and national media coverage.

There are important differences between advertising and public relations: Paid advertisements will print exactly as you created them, with your messaging and with the design and images laid out just as you envisioned them. Public relations may run an entire article verbatim from your CEO, but usually it’s more challenging to obtain media coverage in public relations that is exactly the same as the messaging you can convey in an ad. The other important difference is that the public relations coverage may cite resources or experts who may recommend your product or service and that is more effective than a paid advertisement.

Q.  How quickly will I see media coverage if I engage with your firm for public relations?
A.  One of the most common misperceptions about public relations is that once a firm is engaged, company owners think that they can just wait for the phone to ring with new sales calls and media inquiries from national media outlets.

Nearly every business would like to be in these three publications: The New York Times, Oprah’s M Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. What does it take to have a successful public relations program that obtains meaningful coverage from top blogs, newspapers, television, radio stations and magazines? The answer is it takes planning and development of a communications strategy first that will resonate with the media. The other component to a successful public relations campaign is the brand and company image.

If your company’s brand and image, website and communications strategy or product photography aren’t professional, then it’s highly unlikely you will succeed with obtaining media coverage.

In general, we recommend at least 1-3 months to create the messaging. If you also require a refresh or updated look to your brand, plan on 3-6 months (this can be created concurrent with the messaging strategy).

This is why we have said that the steps to success include strategy + communications + outreach = success!

Magazines print three months in advance, so to reach a national publication like O Magazine, would require a six month window (especially during the holidays). Other magazines require a three month lead time. Newspapers and blogs and online sections of magazines and newspapers may operate on a faster timeline, but a public relations program should be no shorter than a three month window.

Many clients think that all that is required for their business to have explosive growth is publicity. However, you have to look at the product, positioning, the messaging, the brand and also is your company “media ready”? Do you have a spokesperson who is ready to speak to the media, who will represent your company or service well on camera?

Over the years se&a has learned how to develop programs with clients to help them succeed. The first part of the process is to review their messaging and branding. The second phase is to craft the story and the pitch ideas that will resonate with the media.

Public relations can increase sales, raise visibility and draw new customers, but it does require planning and at least a commitment of three months for a successful campaign.

Our philosophy and goal with any public relations program is to ultimately position the company, professional, artist, author or service as experts in their fields and to reach a point where the media are contacting them for expert opinions about particular topics.

Q.  Wouldn’t I be the best person to do public relations for my company since I know my company best?
A.  It’s true that the company owner knows the company best, but often the client may be too intimately involved with the company to have objectivity about how to position the company in the marketplace.

se&a works collaboratively with CEOs and owners and their team to develop the most effective messaging strategy to succeed with consumers, trade organizations and the media.

Before engaging with a firm like se&a here are a few things that you can do internally to prepare and save money and time to take that next step and develop more professional messaging.

1) collect all collateral, business cards, flyers, sales sheets, power point presentations in one place and review these items for consistency. Do you have several different looks, color schemes, fonts, messaging and talking points?

2) Select the information that has worked well with clients and sales in the past. Try to isolate what worked and what didn’t and start creating a repository of this information where it can be accessed quickly (dropbox, FTP site, project management software, etc.)

3) review your competitors and find out what you like about what they are doing and what your company does differently. Try to capitalize on the unique value proposition for your company.

Once you’ve done the above three steps, which is a “mini brand audit”, you will be ready to start working with a firm to help you craft messaging that will increase your sales, visibility, credibility and media coverage in the marketplace.

se&a has a branding questionnaire that we provide prospective clients that are considering changing their visual image and/or their communications and messaging. We can either work with you to fill it out in person with a whiteboard, schedule a conference call, or send it to the company so that they can have internal meetings about possible input for a branding and messaging refresh for the company.

Once we obtain the feedback and information from our branding questionnaire, we also conduct research and provide options for going forward to the client.

Q.  What is Integrated marketing and why is it important?
A.  The analogy that we like best at se&a is fitness and health. If you go to the gym and you only use one machine, say the leg press, what about your arms? what about your abdominals? Just as with fitness and health, many tools need to be used and on a regular basis in order to obtain results and maintain them. Just like a dieter that yo yo’s up and down because they go on a program, then stop their program, marketing needs to be done on an ongoing basis.

This doesn’t mean that it has to be expensive, but ongoing scheduled marketing goals and objectives and activities will make your company more successful and will raise your visibility.

The tools in the marketing toolbox include: public relations, branding & design, media buying and placement, events, direct marketing, emails, online search engine optimization and online search marketing. These are just a few of the tools, but they should be utilized all year long. If you are only using two tools and only twice a year, then your results may not be what you envisioned.

Contact se&a to develop an integrated marketing program that fits your budget. We can augment your team with our design and public relations efforts or assist you where you may be missing particular expertise.

Q.  Why do we need a firm to help with our communications?
A.  The shortest answer is that it’s hard for company’s to have objectivity about how to position their company in the marketplace. Also companies usually don’t have time to really develop messaging correctly. Usually it’s handed to someone to do quickly because there is an upcoming event, sales meeting or advertisement deadline. A fully thought out communications strategy with talking points and content that speaks to your target audience will help you succeed.

And business owners are only human. Aren’t we all? We think everything our company does is interesting. An outside firm will provide the objectivity needed to craft communications that will deliver results.