Don’s Story – Does PR Matter?

A Scuba Dive Training and Gear Retailing client was speaking to me one day when the MD said “Maurice why does everyone locally think we are c**p [expletive denoting low quality] ?”

First Action was to check as to truth of assertion and details of why, if possible.

Surveys: formally of local dive clubs, visitors and, informally, of friends and contacts, revealed that the general opinion in the area was that the store was selling air refills where the air was of poor quality in terms of it’s purity.

So called “Bad Air” – pretty much the worst sin in Diving and very serious indeed for the shop’s reputation.

This was, in fact, patently untrue since the store was regularly tested by the HSE and other authorities, on a shorter than necessary interval, and was receiving certificates for the highest possible purity of Air.

It should be noted that, in a dive shop and training school, Air Refills are what drive trade to the store and school and are an excellent source of opportunity sales in the shop and also sales of up-skilling courses and diving holidays. On a weekend, an individual can refill up to 4 times and certainly once!

The school also offered boat dives, both all day hard boat and ½ day RIB dives, including free Air Refills with the dive and providing instructors or qualified buddies too along with potential gear sales. If clients didn’t want the air they’d use another centre for the dives too.

Investigation revealed that a competitive dive shop was telling its customers and contacts that my clients were selling Bad Air. Since the proprietor was a local man and respected diver compared with my client who was an even more respected diver, but perceived as being “Down from London” to make a profit, the rumour – a blatant lie- was spreading rapidly.

The Remedy had various phases.

Firstly the Air was tested again, by the most respected laboratory in the country, showing it to be of the highest possible quality. Copies of the test certificate were attached to the door and windows of the shop, with a Warning Notice about bad air quality, and pointing out that this was the certificate to look for to be certain of good Air quality. (We knew that the competitor used an adequate but, lower cost, less stringent, test house!)

Secondly Instructors from the School (one of the most highly certified in the Country by the way) were dispatched to do guest speaking training sessions on air quality and testing issues instructing the club divers about testing, how to test, dangers of impurities, sources of impurities etc etc. This is a topic on the branch training scheme but professional instructors are a bonus at branch/club level. The instructors were able to tell the members about the quality of the test house used and give examples (including copies of a ‘typical’ test certificate which just happened to be from my client’s shop) of good practice.

Thirdly, since this was in a coastal venue, the local weekly papers were happy to run a series of articles written by the proprietor about diving and diving safety issues with examples of good practice. There were a series of 10 articles, run during the summer peak dive season, and one was about air quality and a few others mentioned its importance. A spin off from this campaign was an increase of trade to both school and shop over and above those alienated locally both from locals and from holiday visitors to the area.

Fourthly, since the proprietor was a well known, and very highly qualified, instructor nationally and had a good personal network, in Diving, he was able to publish a factual expert article about air quality in the national magazine for Divers again boosting the school and providing authoritative information about quality backed up again by copies of the test certificates for the centre.

Fifthly we ran a viral campaign by having staff, friends and supporters spreading the story, about the disinformation from the competitor and the reality including the high quality re tests, as far and wide as we could. This involved ‘friendly’ guest visits to every dive club within 50 miles radius and conversations in the bar after the meetings. We did the same with our contacts in diving nationally and in other clubs especially those in London (the nearest major city).

Sixthly, we discovered, at emergency staff meetings (held to engage the whole organisation/team in the problem and solution), during this exercise that the staff didn’t really feel part of the centre. They saw themselves as just ‘wage slaves’ with no investment in the success of their employer (they missed the point entirely that if the centre folded they’d be out of a job!) and did not really see why they were involved. We pointed out the dangers to them and got their buy-in to the quality issues (they were actually affronted at the unfair ‘bad air’ accusation and took it personally!) with the result that they told every visitor to the shop about the tests and the superb quality of their air!

We also issued the whole staff with Logo-ed T-Shirts, Sweatshirts and Fleeces to wear at work, as a sort of uniform, which also made them feel more of a team and improved staff buy-in to the mission.

The Result?
Good local reputation for the shop and school
20% increase in trade
Happier, more motivated, more committed staff.
Oh, and also:
Happy client for Melville Marketing
Nice celebratory dinner for Maurice with Client!

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