Public Relations (PR) and Communication have been academic disciplines and corporate functions for decades. Although major companies and organizations have a constant strategic focus on positioning their brand in the press to get their message out, small companies and entrepreneurs are more reluctant to use PR as a marketing tool, mainly because they fear contact with the gentlemen and women of the press.
But small companies should not fear the media, as PR is a great marketing tool when used in the proper manner.
PR is a great marketing tool when used in the proper manner
Today it is a big problem for a company if it is obscure or receives no recognition. You will often find a connection between image and exposure, and it is always best for a company to be visible and maintain open dialogue with society. This has a great effect on the company’s ability to attract and keep employees.
Public Relations can be one of the most cost effective ways to communicate your value to your target audience and market. We are all affected by the 24/7 news cycles. Facebook and Twitter break news and searching on Google is a simple way for potential clients to identify new service providers.
PR has a credibility that advertising does not. PR provides a positive perception that advertising campaigns can exploit. Generally PR has higher credibility than advertising/ marketing because independent media presents your news story as ordinary editorial material. The journalist delivers the message, not you and your company.
People tend to believe to a much higher degree what they read in newspapers and magazines, and what they see on TV and listen to on the radio over what they read and see in an advertisement. Basically an article or a news flash has much greater impact than an ad.
This is summed up by the old saying:
Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for
In this article I will introduce you to the basic PR and communication tools and provide inspiration for enhancing your own successful PR efforts to tell your company’s good stories.
Compared with advertising, PR is a relatively cheap tool to expose your company’s products and services to potential clients and customers. PR is a great tool to strengthen your corporate profile and to show that your company is a great place to work.
A good PR story about your company could be:
- news about new orders
- new products
- the relaunch of old products
- new employees
- financial results
- market trends
Be Aware of New Criteria
Before throwing your company in to the whirling world of the media you should carefully consider what you are going to tell the press. What is your news story? Who is your target audience? How do you connect with your audience? What channels and/or media do they read, watch or listen to?
When messages, target groups and channels have been determined, you can start to organize your press effort.
It is crucial that you try to think as a journalist. Journalists choose their stories based on a number of news criteria, which are important to know. If your story does not meet any of the journalistic news criteria mentioned below, it stands no chance of being mentioned.
The main news criteria are:
– an event that has just happened or an upcoming event. It could be the launch of a new product.
– something that affects society. The more people your news story affects, the more significant it is.
– the story must be relevant or close to the recipients. For example, it could be an initiative that affects people in the local area positively.
– content is about the unexpected or the unusual. Dog bites man is not news, but man bites dog is a classic example of a sensation.
– a conflict between people and interests is always a good story in the media. However if you are in a company you should be careful not to try to cultivate the conflict, especially if it does not benefit the business.
The Media Choice
You need a plan before you approach the press. You should carefully consider what media your customers and potential customers are currently influenced by.
Typically you distinguish between the following news media:
INTERNATIONAL NEWS – NEWSPAPERS, NEWS PORTALS, RADIO & TV
NATIONAL NEWS – NEWSPAPERS, NEWS PORTALS, RADIO & TV
REGIONAL NEWS – NEWSPAPERS, NEWS PORTALS, RADIO & TV
LOCAL NEWS – NEWSPAPERS, NEWS PORTALS, RADIO & TV
TRADE MEDIA – PRIMARILY MAGAZINES AND NEWS PORTALS
MAGAZINES – LIFESTYLE, FASHION ETC.
The bigger the media the more entrances you have to get your news story through. Check the media’s website for the specific editorial department’s contact information. In larger news organizations you will probably experience more bureaucracy and specific reporters will be difficult to track. But be patient and stay sharp on which editor or journalist you want to get in touch with. If you do not find the information on the website give the editorial department a call.
The Good News Story
A good way to communicate with the press is to send a press release to relevant journalists and editors. In a press release you state your basic points to get the journalists interested in presenting your story in their media.
Your news story would ideally:
- meet one or two of the previously listed news criteria as a basis for your story
- use documentation such as figures, statistics, case studies, examples, etc.
- include a survey and tell about the results (if none exists you can create and perform your own survey)
- promote company news and initiatives
- say something surprising
- be sensitive to the perspectives and trends in your market
Writing the Perfect Press Release
When you write a press release you will benefit from using the following structure. In principle your news story will be basically the same whatever media you are approaching, although you will see differences in how editors on trade journals and editors on national news desks respond to your story. The trade journal requires a story that targets readers in a specialized field, while the national media needs a story that has a general appeal to the average reader and viewer.
In a press release you need to write the most important information at the top of the text, that is you put the conclusion at the top. This is quite the opposite of the normal academic approach in a thesis where you build up to the final conclusion at the end of the paper.
Use the inverted news pyramid as your guideline.
Follow these seven steps towards the perfect press release:
- Consider: Why send the news out today?
- Create a headline that summarizes the text’s main message
- Begin with a summary to provide an overview
- Present the points that are the most important to your readers first
- Elaborate on your story in two to three short independent sections
- Include a Quote indicating the name and title of the person speaking
- Provide contact information and links to additional information at the end of the text
A press release is typically ¾ of a normal page.
After proof reading the text, you need to provide a good photo or illustration that will underline your main message. It could be a photo of the person who is quoted in the text.
Use a professional photographer for best results, as you are a professional company providing the media with relevant news. Your supporting photos and illustration materials should underline this professionalism. In many cases a good photo will help your news story in the media, as “every picture tells a story…”
Contact With the Media
Now you are ready to launch your press release. I advise you to send it to relevant editors. Typically you can find the e-mail addresses on the media’s website. Do not spam the press release to all journalists on one media. Choose one journalist or send it to the central news desk if you can not find the journalist who is covering your topic of interest.
Do not spam the press release to all journalists at a single media
After you have sent the press release it is ok later in the day or the next day to call the editor and check if he or she has noticed your news story and plans to pursue it. Do not expect that they will get back to you and thank you or acknowledge your contribution.
When you call, be precise, brief and clear. State your main message. You might also want to use the opportunity to provide additional information to add value to your story. Do not push the editor too hard if he or she turns your story down – that happens every day! Just ask why and learn from the experience.
Don’t You Ever…
When you are in contact with editors and journalists avoid the following – if you want to maintain a good relationship with the media:
- Don’t send the press release to an editorial that does not cover the subject matter your news story is about
- Don’t let the press release convey that it is part of a PR campaign
- Don’t promise exclusivity – e.g. for interviews, if you do not deliver
- Don’t exaggerate and write advertising language or write about a nerdy topic in a geeky language
- Don’t send the press release to a media for which it has no relevance
Re-Use the Press Release
When you have written and released your news story you should re-use and expose it in your own media channels:
- Add the press release to your website and upload it in your social media channels
- Supply links to media reports from your website
- Use the news story in your newsletters
- Adapt the text for use in your promotional materials
A PR effort can certainly get your company exposed in media where prospects and customers will notice it. But besides this visibility, other benefits include that you reinforce who you are and what you do, people notice you are active in the market, you enhance your company’s image and reputation, your employees gain pride and feel recognized and you might even impress clients, bankers and investors.
So, get in touch with the media and tell your company’s story. Good Luck!
Recommended Literature for the PR Practitioner:
Al Ries & Laura Ries (2002): The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR; Harper Business.
Sally Stewart (2004): A Guide to Meeting the Press – Media Training 101, Wiley.
Eric Yaverbaum (2001): Public Relation Kit for Dummies, IDG Books.