By Chris Hewitt, Berkeley PR
Not all businesses have big budgets to promote their products and services. In fact, it is probably truer to say that most companies don’t. Often it’s down to money. Often it’s down to resource. And more often than not, it’s both.
Money and resource is most commonly being spent on events, telemarketing, direct marketing and maybe some advertising. Yet one of the most cost effective ways of getting noticed is overlooked. And when it’s not being overlooked, it’s not being done properly. We are talking PR.
Public Relations, or more precisely, media relations, is about influencing journalists to write about your business. A lot of companies will think nothing of spending several thousand pounds a month on marketing activity when there are a huge number of free PR opportunities right under their noses.
“We have sent out the occasional press release when we find the time, but to be honest we don’t get much out of it because events soon overtake us. As a small business, the daily demands of servicing customers have to take priority. We could outsource, but I would imagine that would be expensive,” said one managing director of an IT firm in Reading who employs 20 people.
And there lies the problem. PR is expensive when it’s not getting results. But when it does get results, the payback can be outstanding.
Of course, there is a lot you can do in-house. But a well briefed PR agency who you embrace as part of your own team is well worth the investment. It is vital not to expect results overnight or that one press release will do the trick. Once you have worked out which magazines and online media are read by your customers and prospects you have to settle into a regular pattern of communication. PR, like any form of marketing, must be consistent to have the desired effect.
Don’t fall into the trap that believing the press will print anything. Newspapers do not make their money by publishing good news so you should expect them to print it. Try to think like they do. Try to picture what it must be like to be a journalist and what makes a story interesting? What do you like to read? Here are some tips for getting right first time.
1. Be negative.
When we ask CEOs how they feel about their media relations, many complain that the press are ambivalent to their press releases. By far the biggest mistake that SMEs assume that a positively worded press release about their latest product launch or customer success is going to set the world on fire. Editors refer to this practice as ‘PR Puff’ and press releases submitted like this are most likely to find their way into the recycling bin.
The answer is to turn the story on its head. A quick glance at the daily or weekly press would show you that bad news is the trend. Editors have long realised that sales go up when they feature a controversial or negative headline on their cover. So remember this: every invention on the planet was created to solve a problem – it wouldn’t sell otherwise. The same principle applies to your product launch. Lead on a business issue or problem that people can relate to and your product suddenly becomes interesting. Write about the problem your product solves.
2. Human Interest. Focus on People.
We have all seen the stories about the super-bright child, the youngest grandmother, the unlikely entrepreneur and the hero dad. These are what the media call human interest stories. If you take a good look at your company, you will find a rich source of material. Another way is to think about how your product or service can help shape the lives of the people who buy from you. For example, if you have a product saves people money, then find a willing customer on whom you can base your story.
3. Keep it topical.
Is your story topical? Timing can be very important to a story. The company that launched a tool to help children with their homework would do well to issue the story near the end of the summer holidays. Christmas, Valentines Day, the World Cup are all good examples as are subjects like the environment and global warming. Think about what is topical in your industry sector? Remember to take into account publications deadlines – for example, articles about Valentines Day are written many months in advance, particularly in monthly magazines.
4. New and ground breaking.
Having said that good news doesn’t sell newspapers, it’s not all doom and gloom. By definition, news is something that didn’t exist before. So that can mean your product is appealing to the media because it is. Some stories are truly groundbreaking in their nature. Innovation is something that we are all interested in but many companies tend to bury the important part of their story at the bottom of their press release somewhere. Your first sentence is the most important of all – it should contain the news angle, the most compelling part of the story.
Clearly you are going stand a better chance of getting the media to cover the opening of your new office if a big personality is going to cut the ribbon. High profile politicians, not to mention countless charities and corporations have long used household names to help them reach a wider audience. But if your budget doesn’t extend to hiring the likes of David Hasselhoff, then think about associating your company with big brand customers or even comparing your company with a larger well known competitor. The media love against-all-odds stories.
6. Use research.
Surveys are big favourites of the media. Flick through the pages of national newspapers and you will see countless stories that draw on opinion polls to create the headline. You can create your own surveys without having to spend vast sums of money with market research organisations. You can use your website to run polls or you can use visitors to your shop, or callers to your call centre – your customers and prospects are a ready source of opinion that many editors are crying out for.
Any of these six tips are going to help you win valuable press coverage for your business. But the real trick is in combing two, three or more into the same story.
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