Chances are you expected me to start this piece by telling you how to get into the press.
But Public Relations is so much more than Press Relations (editorial coverage), which is how many people think of it. Public relations run through everything you do, helping you communicate with and influence different audiences. This includes colleagues and staff, business associates, investors, suppliers, prospects and customers. How your brand engages with people and behaves, especially in difficult times, makes a lasting impression and has a bearing on business fortunes.
For good public relations, it is essential that everyone in your business knows and understands the brand values (what your organisation is about and believes). Be clear and transparent about your product or service and ensure that your business lives and breathes the values. If one of your values is ‘service excellence’, you cannot expect to maintain a positive public profile (ie reputation) if you don’t honour your promise.
As well as being a key way of communicating your brand values, PR activity should also be an integral part of your marketing plan. Start with a clear strategy based on the goals in your business plan. Consider which elements of PR – internal communications, media relations, web/online promotion, community relations, media promotions, events, film, sponsorship and endorsement – will help to achieve the goals and then build a communications plan. You will get better long-term results if you plan, rather than just issue press releases.
Once you have determined your PR strategy, which should incorporate aims and measurable objectives, develop distinctive corporate messages; no more than three or your story becomes complex. Messages should align perfectly with your brand values and be credible to your audiences. Everything you then do should be in line with those messages. This will ensure you are consistent and true to your brand.
You will also need to create authentic, meaningful messages for individual PR campaigns, for example, when launching a new product – these will become your news hooks. Within each campaign message will be both the problem and the solution being offered by your business. Your product/service messages will run alongside the over-arching corporate messages.
Getting your Message Across
Campaign messages may need to be tailored for different audiences and a message matrix is a great planning tool. This is a simple grid showing your brand values, target audiences, relevant messages for each audience and supporting evidence for each message. Once you have clearly defined audiences, you can research how to reach them (eg what traditional and social media do they consume, what events do they attend?) and the best tactics.
The next stage is brainstorming lots of ideas, which will then be evaluated and the best ones taken forward for research and development into a full campaign. Be ambitious with your creative plan – good ideas do not necessarily have to involve big budgets, especially if you include social media activity, blogging and speaker platforms. Public speaking isn’t everyone’s bag, but with preparation and practice, it can be an effective way to reach new customers.
If your customers use social media, target the relevant ones and communicate with them regularly. They are an excellent way of reaching a large number of people free in an interactive way and you can gain instant response to your campaign. You can even use social media to develop new services and products as one car manufacturer has just done. Do some background research on communicating with online communities to ensure you are following the appropriate etiquette?
Know your Journalists
Media relations will almost certainly be part of your PR campaigns, so it’s essential to develop a media list of target publications including freelancers and influential bloggers well ahead of a launch. Research and record details of your key media contacts and log them in order of priority, so that you can decide, for example, which is offered information first or on an exclusive basis. Keep your media database up-to-date on an ongoing basis – in the midst of a launch is not a good time to be correcting the data.
Get to know your target journalists. Find out what they are planning, what they want to know about and how they like to receive the information. Your chances of coverage will be increased by providing quality content in a useful format. Invite those that are interested in visits to events you are holding or tours if you’re launching a major new facility, offer interviews and photo-opportunities, as well as press releases and opinion pieces. Chat with journalists about mutual interests – if you promise something, deliver! Or let the journalist know you can no longer provide information well before the deadline.
You will need to plan carefully when news is given to the media, based on their publication lead times, so that coverage appears at the optimum time (eg when your new product or service is available to the public) and coordinates with other PR activity.
Finally, track the results of any PR campaign and take on board any lessons learned for your next one.
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