Even if you’ve already got a marketing strategy and an advertising budget, you still need a public relations plan to help your business grow. This Quick-Read includes basic and creative tips for designing your PR campaign.
Public relations (PR) involves activities that promote a positive image, foster goodwill or increase sales. You might engage in PR through:
- Media relations and publicity — using the media to sell your product or service through news articles, interviews and product reviews.
- Special events — attending or hosting fairs, trade shows, conferences, parties tied to a business theme or relevant holiday, dedications and celebrity appearances.
- Public interest and image building — as a fast-growing company, allying yourself with local charities, sponsoring youth sports or taking other steps to communicate your commitment to community and social responsibility.
In this Quick-Read you will find:
- How PR can help grow your business.
- Basic PR tools.
- Online PR options.
You may want to examine the Quick-Reads titled “After the Story Runs: How to Get the Most From Your Ink” and “Dealing with the Media” for more ideas.
Why you need to launch a public relations campaign
- Increase your sales. By targeting a pool of potential buyers, you build visibility and grow your client base. PR helps differentiate you from your competitors. The public’s awareness of your company is reinforced each time people read or hear its name and associate it with something positive.
- Build your credibility. By positioning yourself as an expert in your field, you can attract media attention and serve as a quoted source in published articles. As you give interviews and are quoted directly, professional associations may ask you to give speeches or participate in panel discussions, further reinforcing your credibility. If you want media people seeking experts to be able to find you, apply for a listing in the Consultants and Consulting Organizations Directory (Gale Research, annual), available at many libraries.
- Forge better customer relationships. By aligning your PR campaign with your goal of attracting repeat business, you build consumer confidence and trust. Example: By profiling some of your best customers on your Web site, you send a message that you value your clients and share a stake in their success.
- Penetrate new markets. PR can help you alert potential customers when you enter a new market or launch a new product or service.
Eight key tools to help you launch and run a successful PR campaign
- Press releases. A clear, one-page press release that captures the most newsworthy information about your firm can persuade key media contacts to write a story and mention your business favorably. See the Quick-Read “Writing and Distributing a Press Release” for tips on effective use of press releases.
- Media kits. They can include a press release, background information, and your business card packed into an attractive folder. The folder might also include photographs, product information sheets, published articles, customer references or testimonials, financial data, your biography and a list of questions you’re prepared to answer on radio or TV. One memorable media kit was for ThrillRide, an Imax movie about theaters that create the illusion of a roller-coaster ride. The tag line was “You might lose your lunch,” and all the media materials came in a plastic lunch box.
- Tip sheets and newsletters. A tip sheet is a page of snappy advice or information for your customers. Newsletters feature short articles and practical information. Send tip sheets or newsletters to customers, prospects, vendors, investors and journalists. Update the readers on your company’s growth while providing useful facts or interesting trend research.
- Awards. Many trade journals, government agencies and professional associations sponsor annual “best of” entrepreneur awards. Contact award sponsors listed in the Awards, Honors & Prizes directory (Gale Research, annual), available at many libraries, and request applications. Winners get good publicity.
- Special Events.Create a publicity niche around an upcoming event. In conjunction with Professional Secretaries Week, a typing service sent out a press release headlined, “Don’t Send Flowers, Send Help!” The release stated, “Secretaries suffer higher stress than 90% of all workers. Sometimes eliminating part of the workload can reduce stress by 50%.” The clever idea worked — the service’s phones rang off the hook for several weeks.You can also gain visibility from fundraisers, contests, book signings, parties for clients and public celebrations of company milestones, such as your firm’s anniversary. Seven good special-events practices include:
- Start planning the event at least a year in advance.
- Set a budget up front.
- Compile an invitation list. Contact government officials or celebrities early to confirm their attendance.
- Choose a venue early.
- Prepare materials, such as invitations, slides, displays, press kits and name tags, well in advance.
- Consider advertising if your budget permits.
- Prepare and mail press releases, press kits and invitations.
- Trade shows and conferences. Scout your industry for seminars, conventions and other events that expose you to media types, potential customers or others whom you want to reach. Even if you don’t set up a booth, you can strategically prowl the aisles to introduce yourself to key contacts or participate in breakout sessions that relate to your business.
- Speeches. You’ll reach new customers and gain recognition as an industry leader and media contact. Contact your local chamber of commerce, small business association or fraternal clubs. Offer to give a speech on a topic that interests their members. See the Quick-Read “Communication Tips: Public Speaking” for more helpful hints.
- Online outreach. Media-savvy entrepreneurs use chat rooms, Web sites, and other Internet-based tools to launch PR campaigns. Rather than send out dozens of press kits or fuss with hundreds of hard copies of press releases, you can reach journalists or customers with a few clicks on your keyboard.
- Begin by cultivating online relationships with key reporters. Don’t send your messages to general e-mail boxes that go to an entire newsroom. Check for reporters’ and columnists’ e-mail addresses at the end of their published stories. Another option is to call the newsroom and ask for the individual’s e-mail address.
- Suggest story ideas. Send e-mails that discuss the next generation of products, share evidence of worrisome economic signs or propose human-interest stories relating to your industry. The more substantive your ideas, the better. You may even want to include names and phone numbers of experts they can call to research your story idea. You’ll become a valuable resource.
- Give scoops. As you get to know certain journalists, you learn what kind of stories they covet. A technology reporter may enjoy hearing about new Web software. A TV host who prefers to feature segments on socially conscious companies may like a heads-up of new entrants into this market.
- On your company’s Web site, provide links to recent press releases or your client newsletter.
REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]
The Edward Lowe Foundation realized in 1999 that PR was a real problem. “We were putting out good stuff, but nobody knew we were here,” notes Eric Vines, associate publisher at the foundation. To begin the process of getting the word out, the foundation engaged a PR specialist, Jon Talbot, who began to look for opportunities to get the foundation’s work in the public arena. Talbot started with a series of press releases announcing the foundation’s activities in helping entrepreneurs. Then he began building resources for the media on the foundation Web site, including a media tip sheet and a list of experts that reporters could call on for quotes or expert opinions. The foundation began sending out story ideas to various news wires, which were picked up by other news organizations like Bottom Line Business.
“Our next step is to start sending our executive director out on speaking tours, getting the word out about what we do and who we are,” says Vines. “Our mission is to help business owners run their businesses more effectively, but we can’t do that unless they know us and trust us. Getting the word out is one way of building that relationship, building that trust.”
Even if you can’t afford to hire your own PR specialist, you can organize a successful media campaign on your own. Self-described tightwads Jim and Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced “decision”) had been living on a $30,000 salary with six children, yet were able to afford an eleven-room farmhouse and savings for college tuition. They decided to share their financial expertise in a newsletter: The Tightwad Gazette.
Following a friend’s suggestion, they put together a list from Gale’s Directory of Media and sent out a release with newsletter copies. The result: two articles about the newsletter in Maine newspapers. One of the writers later sold the story to Parade magazine, which generated 25,000 responses. Within one week of the story, the couple appeared on Donahue, CBS This Morning, Today and The Home Show.
The media exposure has led to great success for the Dacyczyns. The Tightwad Gazette peaked with 104,000 subscribers. They’ve written three books that sold a total of 500,000 copies — and they’ve made millions of dollars.
DO IT [top]
- Identify priority goals to help you select the most appropriate PR tool. Be specific. Instead of aiming for increased sales, say exactly how you’ll increase sales — by attracting more visitors to your Web site, for example, or by cultivating a new market or dispelling myths about your product.
- Target your main audience. To court a younger or more tech-savvy demographic, rely more on the Internet than on standard press releases. Example: In 1999, an Internet campaign transformed a small, independent movie called “The Blair Witch Project” into a blockbuster. “When you buy television advertising, you’re getting the D student. The A and B students are on the Internet,” said one of the show’s producers.
- Consider forming strategic alliances with other products, services, or companies. Example: During Anne Rice’s book tour to promote her novel Vampire Armand, she combined bookstore appearances with a blood drive. Stores were paired with hospitals, and people who had given blood were escorted to the head of the book-signing line to meet the author.
- Take advantage of a national trend. New figures, surveys, polls and statistics come out daily. Stay alert for connections you can make between your business and stories in the news. What is the latest fad? Which commodity is in short supply? A bookstore owner, for example, could quote statistics on illiteracy, and then notify the media that she plans to launch a “Learn to Read” campaign by offering a free story hour once a month.
- Develop a media-information Web page. Post your news releases. Say what you want your targeted clientele to know about your business. Provide a list of contacts for reporters to call or e-mail for more details.
- Integrate your PR results into your other sales and marketing efforts. This will help offset the cost of producing PR materials. Try the following:
- Get reprints of articles and news blurbs and use them as supplemental literature for direct mail packages and as handouts at trade shows. Use positive quotes in your advertising to enhance credibility.
- Provide your sales force with copies of feature articles they can pass along to customers on sales calls.
- Record your speeches and give pertinent audiotapes to clients, journalists and potential customers.
- Take names from contest entries and add them to your mailing list of potential customers.
- Follow up and be persistent. You must set aside some time on a daily, weekly or monthly basis for putting your program into action. Start with one press release this month and another in a few months. Make follow-up calls about a week after the release has been sent and say: “I’m checking to see if there’s anything else you need.” Respond promptly to all media inquiries. Keep thinking of clever angles for more releases. (For more ideas on how to manage your publicity drive, read After the Story Runs: How to Get the Most From Your Ink.)
A few more key points:
- Identify exactly what you want to achieve through PR. Then you can maintain consistency and ensure all your spokespeople/employees stay “on message” when interacting with journalists, customers, and the general public.
- Answer these two questions to help sharpen the focus of your PR campaign:
- If your audience (such as a reporter, potential client or conferees listening to your speech) takes away just one point from your PR message, what would it be?
- What do you want your audience to conclude from this point about your company?
- Follow this three-step process to help refine the purpose of your PR campaign:
- List all the themes or messages you want to plant in your audience’s mind. Brainstorm with your management team. Ask them, “What do we want to tell people about our company? What makes us different/special? Why should others care?” Include benefits of your products or services, unique aspects of your business, impressive or startling statistics about the company, how your business applies breakthrough technology, and so on.
- Review your list. Select the three most compelling themes or messages that you want to communicate through your PR campaign.
- Compose a sentence that summarizes the key points that will drive your PR efforts. Example: “Smith & Co. expects to grow at an annual rate of 35% by serving a largely untapped market that buys $70 million of clothes a year.” This is your “PR statement.”
- Educate your entire team about your PR statement. Make sure they reinforce this message whenever they embark on PR-related activities, from writing press releases to designing your firm’s Web site.
- Revisit your PR statement every quarter. Companies often need to change how they position themselves to attract the kind of positive press that helps accelerate growth.
Wooing & Winning Business: The Foolproof Formula for Making Persuasive Business Presentations by Spring Asher and Wicke Chanbers (Wiley, 1997).
Guide to Financial Public Relations: How to Stand Out in the Midst of Competitive Clutter by Larry Chambers (St. Lucie, 1999). The examples are from financial service companies, but the advice is good for all.
101 Ways to Promote Yourself: Tricks of the Trade for Taking Charge of Your Own Success by Raleigh Pinskey (Avon, 1999).
Everyone Remembers the Elephant in the Pink Tutu: How to Promote and Publicize Your Business with Impact and Style by Mary Maloney Cronin and Suzanne Caplan (Career, 1998).
Burrelle’s Press Clipping Service
Luce Press Clippings
eWatch Internet Monitoring
“Maximizing Media Relations: A Web Site Checklist,” by Michael L. Kent and Maureen Taylor. Public Relations Quarterly 48:1 (Spring 2003), 14-18.
Publicity Articles. Pertinent Information.