Here’s something to think about if you hire somebody to look after your start-up’s PR: is it just plain boring?
In many cases, PR agencies will write any old story to tick boxes for their clients and generate arbitrary press coverage. And while general publicity doesn’t do any harm, it often doesn’t have a measurable impact on a start-up’s business performance.
PR activity that’s exciting, opinionated and valuable to other people will always yield future success and new business leads.
Before we discuss the type of PR activity start-ups should undertake, it’s worth going over a few classic PR activities start-ups should avoid:
Start-ups need their PR to have personality and value to put their name on the map and win new business. Here are three examples of PR activity that deliver fantastic results:
Lucas Coe is founder of PR99, a PR service for start-ups and small businesses.
Case studies are stories describing how a customer’s business has benefitted from using a product (or service). They can be in written, podcast (audio file) or video format.
Aside from actually talking to potential customers, case studies are a great way of showing off what you do well and getting your business noticed. They can be used on your website, newsletter or brochures, but I want to focus on using written case studies for public or press relations (PR) because getting coverage in places like websites, magazines and newspapers is a fantastic way to generate leads and build brand awareness.
Marketing case studies are often too ‘hard sell’ for putting in the media. Editors like a subtle approach with only one or two direct references to the product and the story tightly focused on the customer’s experience.
A good case study needs three basic elements: a business challenge faced; the solution found; and, most important, the benefits gained.
But you must also engage your readers and tell a story with a strong angle. Find something topical, like Polished Bliss who has flourished in the recession, or Stinkyink.com who overcame online fraud problems. Maybe combine a business interest with a human element, such as fulfilling a lifetime dream, or how a company overcame a major obstacle as The Cake Store did when it beat off competition from local supermarkets.
Having decided on your ideal customer and storyline, ask if the company is happy to co-operate – explain the mutual benefits, such as free publicity.
You can always hire a freelance copywriter, a PR specialist or journalist who knows your field. They may cost a few hundred pounds, but it’ll be money well spent. To find one, ask for recommendations at networking events or on social media sites – you’ll be inundated. Always ask for samples of a writer’s work, to check their style. Ensure that one rewrite is included in the fee. Not even an expert will get it right first time.
Once you’ve chosen a writer, give them a clear brief. Tell them the length/word count (typically 500-750 words); the product(s) you want promoted; and the benefits you want highlighted. Fix a deadline for the first draft and then introduce the writer to your customer personally. After that you can leave it to them to arrange the interview.
Of course, if you want to write it yourself, if you have the ability, it’s a great way to get to know your customers. Once written, get someone you trust to check it over, because we become blind to our own mistakes. Try not to be upset by any criticism; ask if the piece ‘reads well’ and makes your point.
Your target is the publication most relevant to your real audience: your customers and prospects.
Write a summary of your key points and email it to the editor. Only approach one publication at a time, to avoid being accepted in two places. You can try the story in more than one place, but only if you target titles in different sectors using different angles. Editors want “exclusive” stories.
Once accepted, you may be asked to shorten the piece to suit the space available.
Don’t forget to put your case study on your own website and refer to it in your customer communications. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, post a link.
Now go out and find a satisfied customer – one who’s happy to talk about the benefits your product has given. Let me know how you get on.
Jane Lee from Dexterity is an independent PR consultant specialising in IT companies and small businesses.
PR is essentially about developing your business by raising its media profile. For a small business, effective PR can be the difference between success and failure. At HearingDirect.com we recognise the value PR brings to our business. Here are our top tips for generating PR coverage:
Who is your product/service aimed at? Successful PR works because you reach the right audience with a clear message that is relevant to them.
Knowing and understanding the media outlets your target audience consumes will help you target your audience. This will enable you to get an idea for the types of stories you need to pitch to maximise coverage.
Your story must tell your audience something they haven’t heard before and fit the profile of your target publication. For example, a local newspaper is more likely to cover a human-interest story, while a trade publication is more likely to focus on industry issues. In both cases, however, editors want a relevant, interesting “hook” to the story. Make sure you have created a good plan with a clear message.
Many journalists/editors are too busy to read all of the emails they receive, so always identify the right person you need to speak to and call them before sending your story. Always call them at the beginning of the day. When speaking to them, and in the follow up email, your message should be clear and concise – you should be able to sum it up in a few sentences. If it sounds too complicated, it’s likely to put people off. Anticipate and clearly label all materials editors need, explaining why your story is worth covering. Mark the email you send with the words “Press Release”.
A good photograph can be the difference between a story being published or not, because editors like to illustrate stories with images that draw in readers. However, nothing is more amateur than using passport or home photos for publicity shots. Spend a couple of hundred pounds getting some professional single and group shots of your staff. Buy the copyright to the images and make sure they’re supplied on disk. This means you can offer journalists high-quality photos via email at no cost.
You need to build good relationships with journalists because this is the basis of your interaction with the media. These take time to develop and should be viewed as a long-term investment.
Everything you say to a journalist is ‘on the record’ and can be referenced unless you are specifically promised otherwise in advance. Journalists don’t have to show you their story before it goes to print. Always ask a journalist what their deadline is and send them everything they need within that timescale and be aware your story may not appear in the next issue – or even at all.
Digital hearing aid sellers HearingDirect.com was recently voted the UK’s 59th most promising start-up for 2010.
A few months ago, I got an Innovation Support Grant (ISG) from the Food and Drink iNet. The purpose of the grant was to help me improve my marketing and PR. Here are some things we did with the ISG grant:
This is a small mention but I hope we can build from here.
The best thing about this grant was its emphasis on working with experts so we learned the tools required so we could sustain the work they had funded. And yes, I learned lots about copywriting for the website and packaging. I also learned that if you want to be in magazines, this is a labour of love and perseverance: you need to contact each magazine, phone the right person, agree to send them samples, then the samples get lost, you follow up, and start again.
Imagine what I felt when I opened the magazine in the shop... and yes, there it was, the article “Olé for Mole” feature and a photo of our Mole (pronounced Moleh, a wonderfully rich Mexican cooking sauce). I got on the train and I wanted to show everyone the feature, but I resisted the temptation.
Now we are going to appear in some glossy magazines, the question is: How can we turn these articles into real, tangible outcomes, e.g. sales?
Well, as it happened, I was visiting our newest stockist, Partridges of Sloane Square in London. He said he would stock salsas, but not the Mole sauce because people wouldn’t know what to do with it. I showed him the Olive magazine and he suggested I laminate it and place the article by the chiller. Perfect. However, I won’t be able to do this everywhere, so the question comes again, how do we use these articles and turn them into sales?
Do you have any suggestions for Marcela? Add them to the comments section below.
You can find out more about Marcela on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Getting free publicity can be simple. In fact, the reason many businesses get it wrong is they try to overcomplicate things. Ever heard of KISS? It stands for ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’. No offence! It’s a phrase that could almost have been invented for PR (press or public relations). When trying to get free publicity, here are my five tips which I hope will prove useful:
1 Tailor your story to the audience
Journalists are focused on their audience. If the people for whom they are creating content want to know about a specific subject, that’s what they will write about. If you seek publicity for something else, they won’t be interested. You need to understand exactly what your target audience is interested in and make your story fit. Get that right and it becomes much easier to persuade journalists to write about you.
2 Be different
It’s the best way to capture a journalist’s attention. Your story must be packed with ‘standoutability’ (a made-up word that sums it up perfectly). Journalists get hundreds of press releases and story suggestions every day. If yours are the same as the rest, they’ll go the same way – in the bin.
3 Become an expert
If journalists recognise you as an expert in your field, they’ll turn to you first for comment, time and time again. And that means your customers will know you’re an expert, too. Incidentally, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you are a true expert; what matters more is who positions themselves that way first to journalists and their audience.
4 Make journalists’ jobs easier
Most press releases sent to journalists go straight in the bin (these days they simply hit the delete key, often without even opening an emailed release). Largely, it’s because the people who write them don’t understand what journalists are looking for. Once a journalist becomes interested in your business/story, make sure you give them what they ask for – information, quotes, photographs, etc – and do it quickly. You can lose media attention as quickly as you attracted it if you don’t make the journalist’s job as easy as you can.
5 Generate creative ideas for stories
If all you’ve got is a run-of-the-mill story, forget it – why would a journalist want to write about you? You’ve got to use your imagination. You must be creative and seek to generate stories that inspire and sustain interest. Find interesting angles where possible.
Journalists are desperate for great stories. This presents nothing but opportunity for you and your business. I look forward to reading about your business soon.
Well, guess what. I have finally heard from the bank, after 3+ weeks. Inefficiency? Procrastination? Well, whatever it may be, the bank said no. At this point I could U-turn and get a job, a salary and pack it all in. But I KNOW there is something out there that will work, a stone that has been left unturned.
This is a hard knock on my fundraising effort. We have gone so far. Larger contracts have been placed and I can’t develop new products without the funding I was counting on. What next?
I spoke to my neighbour, a successful, experienced builder who is going through a difficult time at the moment. He said exactly the same thing. He needed bank support to make a new project a reality. The equity was there to secure the loan but the bank said they didn’t want to make him homeless- can you believe it? I’ve no words to explain my frustration.
I have been speaking with a couple of investors but they want to take their time and my time is now. How do I say “now”, not later? How?
I think you’ll agree with me that opting to run your own business means NOT settling for the easy option. There’s a huge degree of resilience required, which one needs to develop along the way to cope with the difficulties. As the bank said no to lending to the business, we moved on to (another!) personal loan.
Now it’s all about moving forward... due to a grant we got from the East Midlands Food and Drink iNet, we were able to have a PR agency work with us for a few months. This means we were able to write our first newsletter and we also sent loads of samples to magazines and newspapers. I've had my first interview with a glossy magazine which will hopefully mean that there will be more awareness for the products nationally. We’ve had interest from other national magazines, and a large food magazine is talking about writing a feature on us which would be fantastic.
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
When starting a business it is difficult to put aside an amount for marketing and it’s hard to justify how much should be spent.
When I started my business Rentabuggy.co.uk in 2008 I spent a couple of thousand pounds on marketing within the first six months but was surprised to find that I didn’t get many results from it. Here are my top five tips for advertising on a low budget.
Laura Morris, Rentabuggy.co.uk
At one of my PR seminars a while ago, I asked how many people had used or were using a PR agency. Half the audience put their hand up.
When I asked them to keep their hand up if they were satisfied with the results, I wasn’t surprised when most people lowered them again.
Some PR agencies are their own worst enemies. They fail to set clear expectations for their clients, they don’t keep them fully up-to-date with developments or provide regular written reports on actions and outcomes.
There is a perception that buying PR is a risk, but it doesn’t have to be that way, if you pick the right agency. Here are five signs that you might be better advised to find a new PR agency.
1 It’s staffed by PR ‘luvvies’ rather than former journalists. I may be a PR person now, but I was a journalist for 13 years. I get really annoyed when I meet PRs who don’t understand what it’s really like to run a business or what stories appeal to journalists. Effective PRs are results driven, they’re focused people. They understand what your business needs to achieve and what role they need play to aid your success. That’s why I prefer PRs who are former journalists. They understand what journalists really want and cut through the waffle that PR luvvies frequently add in.
2 It charges lots of expensive add-ons. If you ask for something unusual that costs your agency money, then fair enough, but doing day-to-day PR for your business shouldn’t create exceptional costs, certainly not without prior agreement. Basics such as media monitoring should be included in a pre-agreed fixed fee, not charged for as expensive extras.
3 It doesn’t understand there must a direct link between your PR and revenue – or how to put it in place: The most effective PR is direct response PR. That’s where you have a system to turn media attention into leads and those leads into sales. Without a system like this, you’re wasting your time. Most PR agencies claim there’s no direct link between PR and revenue. They’re so wrong it hurts.
4 It claims it’s all about contacts and press releases. Total nonsense. You don’t necessarily need a book full of media contacts or expertly crafted press releases to get coverage. Often you just need a good story and some basic knowledge about how best to bring it to the attention of the right editor.
5 It’s stuck in the past. I interviewed a potential employee recently who said the PR agency at which he worked focused only on getting clients into the newspapers. Still a powerful way for many businesses to get good publicity, agreed, but if you’re going to do direct response PR, you must also secure online coverage. In the modern world, for many businesses, it’s crucial. Many PR agencies talk about online PR, but don’t really understand what it is or how to do it effectively.
Paul Green, Publicity Heaven
If your well-crafted and targeted press release hits the spot, soon you can expect journalists to contact you for more information or an interview. Usually, for newspapers and magazines, these take place over the phone in a few minutes.
Don’t panic – tough questioning by journalists is usually reserved for politicians. Instead, journalists will simply be seeking to add a little colour to the story by way of a few well-chosen quotes or sound bites.
Here are a few basic tips to ensure you come across well.
Be prepared. Re-read your press release (or story suggestion) and make sure you have swotted up on the subject. If you have a couple of updated or additional interesting facts to throw into the conversation – all well and good – but don’t go over the top, because the journalists will only be able to write about so much.
Anticipate likely additional questions and have your responses prepared in advance. Practice your responses with someone you trust.
When doing the actual interview, use notes as a prompt. Don’t read verbatim from a script because it could be interpreted as lacking confidence or knowledge (or worse still – having something to hide). Be warm, human and friendly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest enough to say so. If necessary, offer to find out the information and forward it on to the journalist as soon as you can.
Knowing what you are talking about will help you to sound more confident, which will make you come across as more credible. Avoid jargon at all times – it only confuses people. Use simple language to explain key points.
While I was a journalist, I saw many business owners make the same three basic PR mistakes time and time again. When it comes to trying to secure free publicity for your new business, the following mistakes should be avoided…
1 Trying to push dull, irrelevant or non-stories
Sorry, in truth, journalists don’t really care about you or your business. They only care about stories that are of interest to their audience. It can be very dull being a journalist, having to wade through the same old marketing guff being sent to you day in, day out. So when something special comes along, naturally, you jump on it. As a business owner, that’s your opportunity. If you are to engage journalists and their readers, you must have a compelling story to tell.
2 Giving up after one failed press release
If you send out 100 direct mail letters and then stop because “direct mail doesn’t work for you”, you could be missing out on a huge opportunity. It’s not necessarily that direct mail doesn’t work for you, you might not be sending your communications to the right people, you might not be writing about the right product or service or you might simply not be communicating your key messages effectively. Sometimes the timing isn’t right or your success is hampered by external factors.
The same can be said about PR. There is no way that each and every press release you ever send will lead to coverage, no matter how good your story, media release or how well you know the journalist. Effective PR requires a long-term commitment.
3 Having unrealistic expectations
PR is not really meant as a direct lead-generation tool (although it can work that way if you are fortunate). It can certainly be used to raise awareness and enhance the credibility of your business and support the rest of your marketing activity.
Your goal should be to encourage and make it really easy for interested readers, listeners or viewers to find you (or more usually, find out from your website how your products or services can benefit them). Don’t expect overnight success either, raising awareness, securing sales and ensuring customer loyalty usually takes a lot of time, effort and investment.