According to Oscar Wilde, “there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Although the Victorian wit probably never worked in a bike shop, he could have been giving advice to the retail trade.
Talk to any LBS and they’ll tell you about the challenge of building a positive reputation in their area and holding on to it. Advertising can be expensive, and despite the promise of salespeople, it can be hard to reach exactly the sort of customers you want walking through your door.
A strong local PR plan takes work but can ensure that you are front of mind when your target punter is thinking about spending. And the essence of PR is that what other people say about you is much more impactful that what you say about yourself in adverts.
The key thing to remember is that once is rarely enough. The average human is said to need to hear news up to seven times before it penetrates, so your annual press release about a new store or the arrival of a new bike brand is not going to cut through.
The trick is to identify for a few months ahead a programme of events that you can talk about. It could be an event involving the local mayor, a Dr Bike session on the high street, sponsorship of the youth section of the local road club or supporting a nearby audax. The objective is to find something that will get people talking about you on a regular basis. Crucially, many people forget to have a clear message that they repeat over and over again. We laugh at politicians who stick to a recurring mantra, but it works!
A message is more than a slogan; it’s an idea that you want to be remembered for. It might be your support for local performance athletes or a passion for getting ordinary people onto two wheels. Everything you say or do publicly should reinforce a consistent idea in the public mind.
For example, if you stand for community participation, you are more likely to be contacting the local press about the hospital’s fundraising bike ride than offering nutritional advice to triathletes. A shop that majors on repairs might be offering Facebook tips on basic maintenance.
Local media are often understaffed and lack the resources to come out and listen to your views on the world. However, offer them some regular content that doesn’t sound too much like self promotion and you may have a friend for life. A chat to the editor of the local press might get you writing a monthly column about all things cycling or contributing reports from the club you support.
The beauty of social media is the opportunities it offers you to be talked about. Every town has multiple Facebook groups whose participants will love your photos of the start of the local charity event – Instagram is the perfect home for inspiring images from local rides. And if you can get your friends talking about you even better!
Encourage customers to share their images from recent rides or their cycling tips in the local area. Perhaps your Twitter feed can scoop up any local references to cycling or related issues. If there is a prolific Tweeter or Facebook poster locally perhaps they might be interested in advice about security or help preparing for their next sportive? Maybe the Facebook group would like frequent tips on local rides which happen to start and finish outside your front door?
It all starts with the message and a calendar! Once you have identified how you want to be known, think through activities you could do on a monthly basis and how much work could be involved. A PR plan needs to have a sensible and sustainable level of activity rather than being a flash in the pan. Getting people to think of your business first need not be challenging; it just takes a consistent approach to spreading the word.
Liam FitzPatrick advises on communications and PR around the world and, in his spare time, organises. www.londonwaleslondon.com