PR - Dispelling the Myths
What is PR?
PR is typically a subset of marketing. PR should be part of your marketing strategy, just as advertising, direct sales, and sales support would be. By definition, PR is simply what it states—public relations. It is the mechanism by which the general population learns about your organization or the products/services you provide.
Although advertising can certainly identify your company or product, advertising is specifically purchased space, or time in the case of TV and radio, over which the purchaser has complete control. Purchasing an ad means that the advertiser is guaranteed a spot and what appears will be to their specification. As an advertiser, you are limited in space/time only by your budget.
In PR, you may orchestrate the message that is released to the media, but that’s about as much control as you get. The presentation and space/time allocation is strictly up to the medium presenting it. Strict PR generally does not require payment, however, most publishers and broadcasters will generally spot an ad in PR’s clothing and may offer to let you purchase ad space. If the sell is too hard in a press release, it is much more difficult to get it distributed.
Is PR always free?
Although some aspects of PR can be free, an entire PR plan can be even more expensive than advertising. What most people think of as PR comes in the form of a press release, which will be covered in greater detail in a later issue. If you can develop good releases internally, they may only cost you in terms of time and follow-up—sometimes the cost of a fax, depending upon the medium. However, if you are doing more than a very local campaign, even press releases can require substantial investment.
Other forms of PR, such as special events (customer appreciation luncheons, conferences, etc.), sponsorships, and community projects can put a dent in your budget. That’s not to say there is not significant value in doing these things, but you do have to prepare for the investment.
The best PR is when you get paid, such as writing widely published articles (or a broadcast show) and speaking engagements. Even if you don’t get paid, doing these types of activities can set you up as an expert in your field—so it’s good to stick with topics in which you truly hold expertise!
What is the benefit of PR?
Most PR is delivered in an editorial fashion, where a third-party is presenting information about your organization in what appears to the reader to be an unbiased manner. Statistically, good PR is seven times more effective than advertising, but your overall marketing strategy really must include both.
When a business owner is elected president of the local Kiwanis Club and it is posted in the local newspaper, you can be almost certain that the notice is due to a press release being issued. The business owner wouldn’t necessarily want to buy an ad to state this information—that would seem a bit pompous—but a press release is just the right ticket. The press release doesn’t contain the president’s byline, or even the byline of a newspaper reporter, but because it is in that publication, it appears newsworthy, important, and impartial.
Since a third party is offering praise (or at least a bit of information), it is much more believable to the average reader. This is not trickery, since conscientious publishers and broadcasters require that PR spots be factual and of interest to their audience. And, of course, inaccurate or unsubstantiated information should never be part of your PR strategy.
PR can be especially effective when the news is bad. With some companies, you only hear from their PR person when a disaster has struck. Properly reporting disturbing events, such as the loss of a major contract or the separation of key leaders, can sometimes save your organization from ruin.
Isn’t getting the media to give coverage to PR pieces all luck?
I’ve always felt that luck was really being able and willing to take advantage of the opportunities you are presented. Those who don’t recognize the opportunity, or who aren’t equipped or willing to take on the risk to make the most of the opportunity usually tag it luck.
With proper research and a worthy topic, you can always make PR work for you. If your company was able to raise more money for Relay for Life than any other in your region, you will most likely get some coverage. Of course, you probably wouldn’t expect to get that coverage from Sports Illustrated.
Besides having newsworthy information, you need to make sure you’re approaching the right source of coverage. The more local your source, the more likely you are to get coverage. Or, if you are in a particular industry and you just closed the biggest sale in your history (that happens to be adding 20 new jobs in the area), you can probably get coverage from several sources.
A successful PR strategy requires purpose, planning, and endless promotion.
Become a Promoter
Some people are born promoters. I’m sure you know some-they’re the ones who have a card file or database in their mind of all of the products or services they’ve used and every experience they’ve had. When they hear a key word or phrase pop up in conversation, they’re off to the races to tell you about what happened to them.
This is how a PR person has to be about the organization or product they’re promoting. They are always poised with the 45-second elevator pitch and the ability to mold it to any circumstance or audience. You can try to point the conversation in a different direction, but they’ll always manage to relate the conversation back to their target.
Becoming a promoter requires only a few rules: know your pitch, be adaptable, and be enthusiastic.
To know your pitch, you must be an expert in the subject. If you are promoting golf balls, you need to know exactly how they’re constructed, the most positive aspects of golf balls, and the most negative aspects of golf balls. Know it all-be an expert, because then you can respond to virtually any circumstance.
The more diverse communication you participate in, the more adaptable you’ll become. Practice to make permanent. If you speak to or e-mail enough people about your subject, you’ll have the opportunity to portray it in every possible light. This experience lets you know how to lead into your topic the next time a similar circumstance arises. You may also become educated about new potential for your organization or product, which can help you become even more enthusiastic about your topic.
Enthusiasm requires a degree of boldness and confidence-and a tremendous amount of energy! It cannot be manufactured, so make sure that you can really believe in what you’re promoting. Your audience will always be able to detect insincerity; so don’t even go there with something to which you can’t be committed 100%.
Promote with a Plan
Once you’ve become an enthusiastic, adaptable expert, you’re ready to create a plan to tell the world what you know. Much like advertising, you need to start the planning process by understanding the message, the market, and the medium.
The message can be about any worthy topic associated with your subject. Although you can create events just for the purposes of attracting publicity, it’s better to simply be reporting on your organization’s endeavors that are a matter of standard business or humanitarian efforts. In other words, do good things and report on them-don’t do good things just to report on them.
Your message may change, depending upon the cycle of your business, or special projects that may be on the horizon. Some examples of different messages are: a significant sale for a retail establishment (1% off for every year you’ve been married); the building of a new facility; or a fundraising event for a local charity.
The message that you prepare should be clear, concise, thorough, and well written. If you jot something down at the last minute and send it out, you will probably regret it. Let every available eye review any materials you release, just to make sure they are correct. If your message contains bad news, be sensitive to the way different audiences might respond to your message. Always remember to add brief biographical data about your organization, along with contact information, just in case the reporter or reader has questions.
Your target market can frequently be dependent upon the message. If your organization just set up a scholarship fund for aspiring writers, you may wish to target parents and educators, but the general public might have interest in this, too. If you are sponsoring a NASCAR racer-that’s a whole different crowd. The best messages are those that apply to the general population.
Knowing your target is critical to understanding the potential mediums for release. I’ll cover finding the right mediums and how to send your information in detail next month, but note that you will have a greater chance of receiving attention for your message if you distribute it to a large number of publishers and broadcasters. If they deem the piece newsworthy, they will likely include it in their reporting. Unless your cause has a geographically diverse reach, you will find the best response from local publishers. However, part of being enthusiastic is thinking BIG. Don’t be afraid to submit to larger publishers and broadcasters-just don’t be heartbroken if they don’t post your piece, and don’t make them your only recipients.
Be sure to develop a PR calendar that contains different events or projects that will occur throughout the year within your organization. In your PR calendar, plan submissions according to the publishing schedule of your selected mediums. Some mediums limit the number of press releases that they will publish or air, so it’s good to be first on the list. Conversely, you don’t want to submit things so far in advance that they are forgotten by the time they are current. With a calendar, you can also keep track of which organizations actually aired or published your piece, and any known results. If you read the advertising series and created an Excel-based tracking sheet, you can add columns for your PR activities, too.
Finding the right mediums and Creating a press release
Just as a refresher, I previously mentioned that PR distribution can be based upon two major market identifiers: geographical, which I’ll refer to as the shotgun method, and targeted interest group, the sharpshooter method. You may choose one or both, but much of that decision should be based upon your promotional message.
You can decide if your topic is appealing to the mass market, in which case the shotgun approach might work, or if you are trying to target a specific subset or demographic within the general population, which calls for the sharpshooter approach. If you are not sure about the mass appeal part, think of ten people you believe are representative of your geographical areas. Ask yourself or them if they would be intrested.
If your message could be of interest to the general public, you will want to spread it through every medium you can locate. You should be able to construct one generic press release to provide all area mediums. Much like the shotgun works, your goal is to pull the trigger and splatter your message to a wide and vast array of publishing and broadcasting forums. Also like the shotgun, don’t expect every hit to be a kill. You’re going for quantity not quality, banking on something sticking.
Finding mediums for distribution is simply a matter of knowing what is distributed or broadcast within that geographical area. You probably know of several big ones...be sure to include them. A little bit of Internet research can yield strong results. If you really are thinking big, which I recommend, you can go to www.bacons.com to purchase directories of all types of mediums for a fee.
If, on the other hand, you have a very specific message that would only appeal to a certain portion of the public, the trick is finding those media outlets that cater to your target. Think like the reader/listener to locate what may be unconventional forums for your news. If you are targeting college-age male athletes in the Southeast, you must think like that target. Easier said than done for some of us!
Survey some of your target audience to find other ideas about what the read, listen to, and watch.
The previously mentioned directory can be of help. There is also a free, decent listing at www.prplace.com/pr_pub.htm.
If you follow the original tips—make it newsworthy, be concise, and well-written—you’re on the road to getting it into the hands or ears of your audience. Keep in mind that what is newsworthy is in the eyes of the reader. You might have a lot of competition for their attention, so make it really newsworthy.
Once you have created a list of publications, you’ll need to surf or call to find out a specific source to direct your information. Many publishers and broadcast companies have specific rules about how they accept press releases. Do your homework first in order to increase your changes of publication. If your local newspaper will only accept faxes, then fax, don’t e-mail or drop off your release. If they require e-mail, then send it electronically and in their requested format. Follow their rules because it’s their game.
If you have ample budget, there are a plethora of distributions services that will send your press release to every major and minor outlet for your press release. Do an Internet search for “press release distribution services” to find one fits your purposes. Don’t forget to submit to Internet-based sources, too. Your search results list will have ample resources for print and electronic submissions.
Formatting Your Press Release
Organizations that received press releases frequently expect to see them in a fairly standard format. Here are some tips provided at www.questcareer.com:
- Submit your press release on your letterhead to convey a professional image.
- Title your press release with the words “News Release” or “Press Release.”
- Include the words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” to let the editor know the information in your release is available for immediate publication (unless you are promoting a time-sensitive event, then indicate the desired release date).
- Develop a compelling title for your press release that grabs the reader’s attention.
- Double space the text of the press release if mailing or faxing it, single space if submitting it electronically.
- Limit your press release to 1-2 double-spaced pages. Use quotes from company staff, partners, or customers in your press release to increase it’s readability and credibility.
- Indicate that there is a second page to the press release by typing "more" at the bottom of the page.
- Start the second page of your press release with a header containing the title of your press release and the words “Page 2.”
- Include complete contact information (contact name, company name, company address, contact e-mail, contact telephone, contact fax, and company URL) at the bottom of your press release so that the media can reach you if they need additional information.
- Conclude your press release with ###, the convention used to let the reader know they have reached the end of your press release.
- Identify the appropriate editors to submit your press release to by name, if at all possible.
Whichever mediums you choose, be sure to get copies once it’s been printed. In the broadcast world, it can be a little bit trickier to find out if you will be aired unless you are contacted for information prior to the scheduled broadcast. If you can’t spare the time for follow up, and are submitting to major sources, companies like BurrellesLuce Clipping Service can track where you become published.