Let’s get right to the point: There are people who can make you rich or put you out of business. Public relations is about figuring out who those people are and working to develop relationships with them. Often, your efforts can keep them off your back — and maybe put them in your corner.
What? You thought PR was just about putting out press releases? You’re in good company. That’s what most Auctioneers think, and that’s part of the picture. But by broadening your view of the process, you open the door to new possibilities. So let’s talk about these groups that have so much power over your business and your sales.
Old line PR practitioners called them “publics,” but nowadays, most of us call them stakeholders. The label doesn’t matter much. The important thing is to know how to manage your relationships with them.
Failure to identify and address a key stakeholder group can ruin your whole day, or your auction. We saw this dramatically earlier this year with the planned auction of Rosa Parks’ papers.
When she died, it sparked a dispute over who owned her private papers. The parties couldn’t agree, so the court turned the papers over to an auction company, which declared its intentions to sell them for $8 million to $10 million.
But everybody overlooked a huge group of stakeholders: People who thought history scholars should have access to the papers without paying the $10 million the Auctioneer was seeking. The Washington Post even ran a major op-ed piece by two prominent civil rights leaders decrying the very idea of auctioning the papers without having allowed scholars to see them.
How’s that for a PR mess? Your challenges will hopefully be lower key. Stakeholders lurk in all kinds of places, often out of your sight. You’ll find them in zoning boards, city councils, neighborhood associations and garden clubs.
Your seller may be able to help you identify them, but sellers sometimes keep such information to themselves in hopes that any problems will go away. Sometimes you can locate them by searching for news stories about the property or the neighborhood. Often, it helps to spend some time in the community. If you don’t identify and deal with these stakeholders, they might remain in the background, quietly saying and doing things that can hurt you on auction day.
Some of the most common causes of stakeholder activity are the following:
– Concerns over land use (e.g. opposition to development)
– Desire to sabotage the auction in hopes of getting a lower price when it fails
– Skepticism resulting from perceptions that past Auctioneers have used deceptive tactics
Those are things that you can’t usually address with a press release. It’s here where you discover the reality that public relations is really about relationships.
Carl Carter, APR, President of NewMediaRules Communications, has studied the ways we communicate for 35 years and is a former newspaper reporter and editor. Since 1994, he has specialized in helping auction companies cost-effectively attract bidders and promote their services.
Carter is a regular contributor to Auctioneer magazine. Read 2011 issues to pick up more marketing and public relations tips.