What is PR and why is it important?
The Institute of Public Relations defines PR as follows:
“It’s about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public.”
In other words, it’s all about what other people think about you and your business, NOT what you tell people to think. For example, if you say on your website, or in a paid-for advertisement, that your widget is the best of its kind in Kingston, or even in the entire UK, your potential customers might believe you, depending on their level of expertise and/or cynicism. Or they might not.
PR is all about reputation i.e. what other people think about you and your business
But if they read an article endorsing your widget in a widely respected international widget magazine, or on the website of a national newspaper, or in the local paper where your business is based, they will take note. And if that article includes positive comments from a well-respected widget expert and interviews with happy customers who can testify that yes, it does what it is supposed to do, it does it brilliantly and it’s great value for money, the chances are that these potential customers will start to feel good about your specific widget and will soon become actual customers.
The impact of positive PR
So positive press coverage, whether it’s in print or online, will bring many benefits to your business. It can help you to:
- Raise awareness of your company, products and services
- Attract new customers
- Entice investors
- Build goodwill with clients
- Encourage changes in behaviour, attitudes and perceptions
- Build trust in your brand
A positive endorsement from a third party generates much more credibility than advertising.
A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad
In today’s market, reputation – what other people think, say and feel about your business – can be your business’s biggest asset. It’s what makes you stand out from the crowd and gives your business a competitive edge. And that is why PR matters.
So where to start? As with most other aspects of running a successful business, the first thing to do is to make a plan.
5 steps to planning your PR and getting your business noticed in the media
Whatever the size of and type of organisation, communicating effectively is all about getting the right messages to the right audiences via the right channels at the right time. With this in mind, these five steps will help you to get started:
Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing
John D Rockefeller
1. Set a clear objective
Do you want to build awareness of your business or a new product? Stimulate demand for your product vs. a competitor? Or perhaps you work in the public sector, or for a not-for profit, and you want to change people’s behaviour – for example by encouraging them to use less plastic and recycle more. Having a clear objective is important because it will help you decide which audiences to target, what to say to them and which media channels to use. Also, crucially, once you have completed your PR activity, you’ll be able to measure your success against your original objective and use the learnings next time you do something similar.
2. Define your target audiences
Think about who exactly you want to talk to. Perhaps it’s the stores who will stock your widgets, or the handymen who are most likely to buy them online, or parents of children who will be interested in your after-school classes. Or do you want to encourage investors to back your latest ground-breaking software? Once you have established who your target audiences are, you will be able to work out where to find them and how to speak to them. Most companies have more than one audience: as boss of a business that manufactures widgets, you will want to convince handymen that your widgets are better than those of your competitor, but you will also want to convince DIY stores to stock your product, based on the high quality of your product and excellent customer service.
3. Create clear messages for each of your target audiences
You may want to tell handymen that your widget (unlike your competitor’s) has passed an ISO test to prove that it’s safe, reliable and of good quality. Or perhaps you are an architect and one of your buildings has been chosen to be featured on Grand Designs! That’s great for your professional reputation, so you’ll want industry bodies to know about it, as well as future clients. There are two reasons why it’s really important to get this element of your plan right: firstly because your set of messages will dictate which media channels are most appropriate for you to contact and secondly (crucially!) your messages are the foundation of your business story, the essential information you will need to include in your pitches to journalists.
4. Research the most appropriate media publications, websites and journalists to contact
Now you’ve got your audiences and messages sorted out, you can decide which media channels to contact. Which ones are most likely to be interested in your business story? Don’t forget to include websites as well as print publications: online news feeds and lifestyle websites are updated and refreshed regularly, so they will usually be prepared to cover more niche topics than print publications, where space is at a premium. There are, of course, lots of possibilities to choose from, but if you have clearly defined your groups of target audiences and attached specific sets of messages to each group, choosing the most appropriate publications and websites to contact should be a straightforward process. Research is key to getting this element of your plan right. If you want to get publicity for your company in your local area, you need to build relationships with the media. Get to know the reporters on your local paper, the editor at the local TV news desk and the DJs at your local radio station. If your business operates in a specialist sector, it is vital that you build good working relationships with the writers and editors on the trade magazine titles that serve your industry.
For wider national or international media coverage, take time to research online and, if possible, buy a selection of relevant newspapers and magazines to confirm which will be a good fit for the story you have to tell, and which named journalists are most likely to want to hear from you.
When you have completed this element of the planning process, you will have a great list of contacts tailored specifically to your business story. So, for example, you will be able to send your fabulous news about Grand Designs to the architecture correspondent on a national paper, the news editors of the local paper where the building and your business are located, and the features editor of Homebuilding and Renovating Magazine, where future homebuilders might go to find an architect to hire whose work they like. Pro tip: in addition to doing your own media research, you can sign up to a free alert service such as JournoRequests to receive a daily email listing journalists looking for specific stories who have tweeted using the hashtag #journorequests. This is worth doing – your business may just be the story a journalist is looking for!
5. Create your pitch
If you have followed steps 1 – 4 above you should now have all the information you need to give yourself the best chance of attracting media interest in your business story. But the pitch itself needs crafting carefully: journalists are time poor and their inboxes are always full.
If you want your pitch to stand out from the crowd, these tips will help:
- Write a personalised pitch, not a one-size-fits-all press release.
- Use email to make contact.
- Your story must be genuinely interesting and relevant or it will quickly be moved to the trash folder. Show the journalist you are contacting that you understand the type of story their readers will be interested in and explain why they should cover yours.
- Don’t waffle! Keep your pitch brief and to the point, no more than four or five paragraphs with all the essential information up front. Journalists have very short attention spans! They receive literally hundreds of emails every day, so yours needs to stand out.
- Make sure you include the 5 essential ‘Ws’: who, what, why, where and when.
- Avoid attachments. Your pitch should be in the body of your email and include links to any further information or resources you want to include, for example high resolution photos, more detailed product information and a short video (include one if you can; it will improve your chances of getting some coverage online).
- The subject line of your email is really important. If it doesn’t quickly engage the journalist, there is a good chance your pitch will be deleted without even being read. So, make sure it’s a knockout that will attract attention. For example:
Press Release from XXX Widget Makers will almost certainly be ignored, whereas …
More time for the BBQ – new widget will save DIY enthusiasts hours over the bank holiday weekend is more likely to get noticed
- Include a call to action. What do you want people to do when they have read your story? Visit your website or store? Sign up to your mailing list for a special offer? Once you have someone’s attention, how will you keep them engaged? This is crucial.
Further ideas to help you craft your pitch
- A personalised pitch
- Case studies, case studies, case studies!
- Human interest stories about real people and their experiences
- The story behind your business: how did you get started / what gave you the idea?
- Topical stories, for example: how you are responding to the challenges of Brexit?
- Interesting statistics and research
- Testimonials from customers and quotes from experts in your field
- Opinion pieces
Journalists do not like …
- An overt sales pitch
- A ‘non story’ about your new offices or latest hiring (unless you have hired someone really famous!)
- Bad grammar and spelling mistakes
- A blanket pitch that’s not personalised and not relevant or interesting to their readers
And finally, don’t forget…
- Follow up your pitch with a further brief email and/or a telephone call, but don’t bombard your contacts with calls, emails or, worst of all, tweets – the ultimate turn-off! If you speak to a journalist on the phone, be prepared to pitch again (they won’t necessarily remember your email), but keep it brief and succinct. If your press releases are not getting used, it may be because they are not relevant or newsworthy – ask a journalist what they’re looking for.
- Think about timings: for big news stories, journalists will want your information NOW! Weekly publications have longer lead times than the daily papers, and monthly magazines work three or four months in advance of their publication date. You will need to factor these timings into your plan.
- PR works well on its own but even better when it’s part of an integrated marketing communications campaign. If you do succeed in getting some press coverage for your story, some paid-for publicity such as online advertising, email marketing and/or a social media campaign (all targeting the same audiences with the same messages) will reinforce your story and help you to get noticed. The most effective combination of communication activities will depend on the nature of your business and your objectives.