Public relations (PR) is a powerful (and economical) tool for building a positive reputation for your business (and yourself). Most often, people think of “PR” as unpaid opportunities to tell your story through channels such as traditional media, social media, live presentations and interviews in other formats such as podcasts, but on the flipside, PR skills are also necessary should a crisis situation arise when you need to communicate vital information (pandemic updates, anyone?) or if your company’s or your own reputation is at risk.
Without a plan, PR is an uphill battle
This post focuses on the fundamentals of PR because in my experience, so few small businesses have a separate and ongoing strategy in this area. The thought by business owners about PR is often, “When we ‘need’ PR then we’ll start trying to get our message out through the media.” This is an approach that usually breeds frustration because without having a targeted audience, measurable goals and objectives and a well-thought out plan for achieving them valuable PR opportunities are difficult to obtain.
PR only works if you work it
While PR “coverage” is technically free, you still have to “earn” media by investing time in establishing your credibility, doing your research about the audience of the media outlet you are targeting and providing value to reporters and other media stakeholders. Bottom line—you are not going to be successful “getting press” if you are not committed to being a reliable, credible and available resource. Journalists and purveyors of other PR-worthy platforms move quickly, you need to be able to give them what they need when they need it.
PR is a two-way street and a long-term proposition
Another common error I run into when working with clients who want to start a PR program is that they want the instant gratification of immediate coverage. Trying to get “vanity” coverage of yourself or your company in high-profile media outlets is unlikely to be a fruitful endeavor unless you have a truly compelling story.
Too many business owners operate with an ad hoc approach to PR, simply seizing on “opportunities” they think they see. Your PR efforts will be most effective and have the most impact if you are strategic, consistent and work to build credibility and relationships over time.
Think about PR opportunities using a three-tier strategy
For small businesses and entrepreneurs, I suggest thinking about PR opportunities in three different tiers:
1) Operational announcements for things such as employee promotions, investor updates and community activities. These are opportunities you might write a press release for and send to local or industry media as well as posting them on your company blog or news page and also social media for SEO purposes.
2) Newsworthy organizational announcements which might be a major development in your product or service or a high-profile award that someone in your organization has won. Again you would send a release to a select list of media that would be genuinely interested in this kind of company news and it would also be something to post as a release on your blog and social media.
3) The last segment is generally the most sought-after kind of exposure and takes the most effort. These are interviews or published articles in high profile media channels. These opportunities generally require a well-crafted proactive PR pitch based on careful research and a strategic approach to garnering media interest.
Proactive pitches are more difficult than self-publishing on existing platforms, but they can yield the high reward, high value exposure that can really put an entrepreneur or a company on the map. Obviously the more well-know the media outlet or channel, the more people are trying to pitch their stories and companies.
There are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Invest time in research to make sure the person you are pitching to would have a genuine interest in your story. Twitter is a fantastic place to find journalists and other high-profile interviewers/media personalities and get a taste of what kind of topics and people they are interested in.
- Consider your story in terms of the value it would bring to the audience of the media outlet you are pitching. Again, PR is not about you or your company in the eyes of the media, treat the media with respect not like a free advertising channel for your business.
- Keep your pitch very brief, a paragraph at most and make it clear why the story you are pitching is important to the audience you are trying to reach. Email is still the best format for a pitch. Don’t worry if you don’t hear back for a while—you may not hear back at all or you may get a surprise months later. You can follow up a couple of times, but after that, let it rest and pursue another avenue.
How to be an everyday PR hero
While many companies are looking for external gratification when they first start looking at PR opportunities, it is worth remembering that valuable thought leadership exposure can be achieved by simply connecting with media outlets and platforms that are aligned with an area that you have deep expertise in.
Publishing articles regularly on topics for which you want you or your company to be seen as experts in is a good strategy to start with—LinkedIn is a great platform for this, but so are industry blogs and professional associations you might be affiliated with. Don’t discount being a guest on someone else’s webinar, either, this boosts your reach and your credibility.
Another key element of a good and affordable PR strategy is to make connections with journalists who cover your industry or area of expertise. You can find many journalists on Twitter, check out their profiles and tweets to see what they are interested in and covering so that you can reach out to them when they could use your expertise. You can also be proactive and be your own best PR pal by establishing a newsroom and media resource on your website where you can post announcements, articles and press releases then share to social media.
Publicity—the final piece of your PR plan
Once you are successful getting media coverage, be sure to share the good news by sharing links to articles or broadcast clips featuring your company on your website, in your email newsletter and on social media. Sharing these links will not only let the world know about the good things you and your company are doing, but they will also help to increase your online authority and visibility.