Tim Prizeman, director, PRmyBusiness offers his tips and advice for small business owners considering a DIY Public Relations campaign.
Articles in newspapers and magazines are hugely influential, this is why large organisations spend £100,000s on expensive PR teams, and politicians go to such effort to be interviewed (although they are often a case study of the wrong way to do it!).
But for small businesses, great publicity is even more valuable – being covered by the media sells your products, impresses contacts, boosts your website’s SEO (media websites are highly-rated by Google), attracts recruits, gives employees & investors a positive buzz and even helps flush out potential business partners and purchasers.
Small local newspapers and niche trade publications reach 10,000s of readers with each edition, not even counting the online viewers and the reach of their email summaries to subscribers. With larger-circulation national publications, the impact is even greater.
While by law you need an accountant to audit your books and a lawyer to stand-up in court, there are no restrictions on dealing with the media. Small firms can do as much or as little (if their budget is limited) of it themselves.
Plan now not later!
Getting press coverage is often more time-consuming than you think (particularly if doing it yourself). There’s good ideas to be brainstormed, media mailing lists to create and verify, press releases and articles to draft, case studies to create; photos to arrange, bold marketing speak that needs to be substantiated, and of course deciding what to do with it once you have it.
It is never too early to start planning, but frequently too late. Why not set aside a morning for you and your team this month to plan the year ahead?
It’s not about you, it’s about the outside world
Most businesses mistakenly believe that PR is all about themselves – new products, new offices, new websites, new people joining, new milestones being reached. These sorts of press releases are ten a penny and, unless you are very large or very innovative, you will never get you more than a “NIB” (news in brief – a small two centimetre summary) somewhat inconsequential.
In fact the best PR opportunities come from piggybacking on events happening in the outside world. Journalist will often be writing about these and looking for something interesting and different for their story.
When major events happen (such as the Olympics, elections, The Budget etc), journalists are desperate for stories that give a fresh angle. Major anniversaries are also popular, so developing a slant on these events can be used to your advantage. By planning for these opportunities well in advance and having a plan you will be able to get great coverage rather than miss the boat.
As a great example, one local florist I noticed achieved front page coverage in the local Watford paper by offering to deliver bouquets of stinging nettles and thistles on Valentine’s day to ex’s from their jilted partners.
Think “advice” not “puff”
Think about what advice you can give – publications want information that is useful (and even valuable) for their readers. Don’t write puffy sales pitches: instead provide useful information that proves you know what you are talking about.
Magazines and websites are very keen on such advisory articles, so think about what advice you can give to readers’. They also make great content for mailings and posting online.
Focus on the publications read by your targets
An important element is getting the right coverage in the right place. The first thing is to ask the important questions that every marketing plan should ask (SMEs often skip this step as they think it is intuitive - a big mistake). The key question is who are you trying to sell to... the more specific you are, the more focussed and successful you efforts will be (having “everyone” or similarly broad targets indicates an absence of strategy).
For instance a lawyer based in Peckham High Street, doing legal aid work for low income families is unlikely to get much business if featured in the society magazine The Tatler. Similarly a lawyer providing exactly the same services to wealthy families from an office in the City would benefit from this, but is unlikely to get much business from a big article in local publication The Peckham News.
The journalist is your “customer”, know what they want
If you are doing your own PR, you need to study the publications read by your targets to see what type of stories they like and what opportunities there are for being featured. Remember, most publications do not want to run long puffy profiles about suppliers – you need to come up with the sorts of ideas they will like (stories which are about, commenting on, or useful to their core readership).
Think social media
Social media (whether it be LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Google+) is hugely content-hungry. Traditional media press attention helps feed these voracious monsters, while also making sure that the people who already know you see the coverage.
Seek to build relationships with journalists
Back to thinking of the journalist as a customer or other key contact. Help them, listen to them, don’t waste their time. If you can become an established contact of the journalist, and a regular ‘source’ of comment and ideas, you will get a regular flow of really valuable press coverage.
Successful PR isn’t about schmoozing journalists at expensive restaurants to buy their favour… first and foremost they want good stories. If you can arrange a meeting for coffee or a drink, it can help enormously, but do expect to pay!
Make sure you are ready to re-use the coverage
It is tempting to think that a nice bit of press coverage will set your phone ringing and that’s all you need to do. Sometimes this happens, but the most value comes from squeezing every bit of opportunity out of the coverage and the people it drives to your website. Press coverage makes great (and cheap) hand-outs for sales meetings, exhibitions etc. If you have published articles, getting “run on prints” of these for re-use in your marketing on a regular basis is hugely cost-effective and has great impact.
Have a look at how recent start-up MarketInvoice uses its media coverage to give credibility and reassurance on its homepage. Another example is specialist training provider The Influence Business – its numerous articles are re-used in direct mail campaigns and follow-up by telesales to secure meetings. The articles, having useful information as well as the credibility of having appeared in recognised publications; get a much better response than cold emails, letters or brochures.
Don’t be indiscrete
The job of journalists is to publish interesting information. Many people forget this and say all sorts of things they don’t want to see in print! That’s not to say be bland – journalists want people who are passionate and speak their mind. But being a motor mouth will backfire - don’t just think coverage, think reputation, and if you only say things that you are happy to publicly associated with, you won’t go far wrong.
Do your homework and engage brain
There are huge amounts of books, courses and online guidance for all aspects of PR – whether it’s how to write a press release or what makes a great story. However, what matters more than this for a successful campaign is a large amount of common sense and enthusiasm. Journalists are professionals with a job to do, and if you respect this then you will be treated fairly too (with the exception of some of the tabloids – they are a very tricky bunch indeed!).