A good image is a valuable asset. Public relations (PR) helps you create good publicity, building your reputation with customers and others whose opinion matters to you.
You need to recognise or create your own PR opportunities, and know how best to communicate with the media that can reach your target audience.
Think about the audiences you are trying to reach
- You may need to reach several target groups, all with slightly different messages. Your planning process should prioritise these target groups and agree key messages for them.
- Most PR aims to build your reputation with customers.
- You may want to influence key 'opinion-formers' to think well of your company and mention or use your products.
- You may want to lobby and influence trade bodies, local government, community groups, suppliers or other people who matter to your business.
- You may want to reach your own employees (eg as part of planning an office move or new products).
Your immediate objective is positive publicity
- PR can be used to increase awareness of your business and products. Even a single mention in a national paper can generate a large number of enquiries.
- You can publicise events, such as product launches, through the media. Trade publications often have sections for this kind of news.
- PR can reinforce advertising campaigns and other promotional activities. Favourable comments by journalists about your product are more credible than the claims you make in your advertisements.
Your longer-term goal may be to build your image and credibility
- Without PR, it can take years to build up a reputation.
- A good image can help you attract customers, charge higher prices, do better deals with suppliers, and recruit and retain employees.
Plan well in advance
- PR usually brings long-term benefits, rather than immediate sales.
- You cannot control the timing of media coverage. You may have to send press releases over a period of months to a publication before it pays any attention to you.
- Although a single mention may have an impact, good PR will create a cumulative effect, as your publicity builds up.
- Some publications have long lead times. Many monthly magazines operate on four-month lead times, while guides (eg for hotels) are published annually and may need to be contacted up to six months in advance.
Look for publications that reach your target audience
- Ask your customers what they read, hear and watch. Think about the geographical location of the people you are trying to reach
- Research publications and broadcasts to find out what kinds of stories they cover. Request an advance features schedule.
- It is always easier to get exposure in local newspapers and specialist magazines than in the national press. But do not be afraid to approach the nationals, if your story is strong enough.
Identify other options
- Local TV and radio broadcasts can bring your message to life, through words or images. For example, a news item or interview.
- Public relations can sometimes involve a lot more than putting out press releases and talking to journalists. You may need to reach small, select groups of individuals directly, with complex or specialised messages.
- The best form of PR is a satisfied customer who recommends your business to other people.
Budget realistically for the time and costs involved
- The largest cost of PR is usually management time, rather than cash.
- Using a PR agency can increase the effectiveness and reach of your PR and reduce the demands on your time, but will increase the cash costs.
Most businesses generate natural opportunities for PR activity
- a new product launch;
- opening new premises;
- appointments of new staff;
- large or quirky contracts or customers;
- milestone events (eg your 1,000th customer).
You can create publicity opportunities
- submit articles for publication in your local press or trade magazines, or on relevant websites which are looking for content;
- commission a survey (serious or frivolous) that can be written up as a news release;
- promote yourself as an expert and offer yourself for public speaking or comment on topical issues;
- develop a social media presence, participate in online forums and write or comment on blogs;
- suggest a local newspaper competition with your products as prizes.
You can become involved with events and stories which are already in the public eye
- Send 'letters to the editor' about local or industry issues.
- Sponsor, or donate products to, charity events.
- Support careers evenings at local schools or colleges.
- Sponsor a local sports team or exhibition.
You can become involved in organisations which are likely to attract publicity
- Team up with suppliers or customers to work on attracting joint publicity.
- Become a figurehead in a trade association or local organisation, so that its publicity brings you publicity.
3. Creating interest
Journalists will only cover your story if they think it is interesting or newsworthy
News is typically:
- controversial, new or surprising;
- amusing or funny;
- directly important to the readership (or audience);
- confidential or secret;
- linked with famous people or places.
Maximise the publicity value of your PR opportunities
- Think of an angle to make it more interesting. For example, inviting a celebrity to the opening of your new premises.
- Write your press release to highlight the interesting aspects of the story.
- Tailor the same story to suit different media. For example, a local paper might be interested in a local business success while a specialist journal might focus on technical details of a new product.
Be prepared to compromise on what the release says
- Your first priority is to provide a story which will be published. A press release which reads like an advertisement for your business is unlikely to be interesting.
- If your main objective is to increase awareness, the details of what is published may not be so important.
- Think about the image you are promoting. Beware of providing stories which can lead to bad publicity.
Disgruntled employees, complaints from customers, crises and accidents all make strong news stories. Be prepared for bad publicity.
Put your side of the story
- If a journalist contacts you, check what the deadline is, carefully construct a written statement, and respond in time.
- An article saying that you refused to comment always looks bad.
- Avoid 'off the record' comments. In a serious situation, there is no such thing.
Do not let journalists speak directly to your employees
- Let all employees know who to refer journalists' enquiries to.
- The most effective way of dealing with bad publicity is to show that you have done everything you reasonably could to correct any problems.
4. Handling the media
Unlike advertising, where you buy space to publish what you choose, with PR you have to sell yourself to the media to get good publicity.
Give the editors what they need
- Send them interesting stories they will want to publish.
- Make sure your press releases reach publications before their deadlines. Some publications have very short lead times. You may need to act immediately to utilise a PR opportunity.
- Submit your press release well in advance, unless it is a 'hot' news item. Better still, invite a trade journalist to an event in the first place.
Give the journalists what they want
- Use a standard format and the right style when writing a press release, whether you are using post or email.
- Find out how they prefer to receive news and press releases (eg by email, phone or post). Get the email addresses of important media contacts.
- Journalists and editors are often happy to discuss ideas over the telephone. It can save time, and ensures you hit their deadlines.
Build relationships with individual journalists
- Find out the names of the journalists and make personal contact.
- Invite them to your events, or to lunch to meet interesting people.
- Do them favours. Tip them off on breaking industry news; become a useful source of comment on prevailing issues.
Do not be put off
- Send press releases whenever you have a worthwhile story, even if your last release received no coverage. There are many reasons why a story may be rejected or held over, which may have nothing to do with your release.
- Put journalists on your mailing list for background information they may find interesting (eg your company newsletter).
5. Writing a press release
Aim your press release at the right individual
- If necessary, contact the publication or programme you are aiming for and find out the name of the journalist who is most likely to cover the story.
Adopt a simple press release format to make it easier for the journalist
- Title the subject of your email or letter 'Press release'.
- If you are sending a written press release, use double spaced lines, with wide margins, to make the text easier to edit.
Focus on a strong opening
- Write an attention-grabbing headline, without being obscure or over-clever.
- The headline should indicate what the press release is about. But if it is boring, the editor may not bother reading further.
- The opening paragraph must summarise the story and highlight the key points of interest to the people the editor is aiming at.
- Add extra paragraphs giving more detail, in order of importance.
Write in the style of the publication or programme
- Use short sentences and short paragraphs (no more than 60 words per paragraph).
- Use similar language (eg avoiding inappropriate jargon).
- Include quotations to spice up the piece. Comment should always come from a named individual, not your business.
- Aim to write a release that could be printed with no editing, and could be cut at the end of any paragraph and printed with no further editing.
- Keep the text short and to the point, typically no more than 300 words. Put any detailed or background information in a separate 'note to editors'.
Provide contact details
- Below the text, put the writer's name, address, email address, office and home telephone number, and the date.
- Make sure the person named is available. Editors will lose interest if they cannot get hold of anyone.
Keep your credibility
- Read the release through to check spellings and all checkable facts before sending it.
Heading for the waste bin
Editors say the ten most common mistakes in connection with press releases are:
- long, boring text with nothing to say;
- dull photos of products (with no people) or of rows of middle-aged men;
- no quotes;
- failure to think up any angles;
- good story, buried in paragraph four;
- failure to tailor the press release to the media it is being sent to;
- sending a press release about a business outside the circulation or broadcast area;
- missing the deadline;
- sending the press release to the wrong person or just to 'The Editor';
- spelling the journalist's name incorrectly.
An interesting and relevant picture will always increase your chances of coverage
- The picture will attract the journalist's attention, even if it is not used.
- If the picture is published, it will help to draw readers' attention as well.
- How can you make the photo interesting? Think about the background, people, poses, products, props and lighting.
- If your story catches an editor's attention in advance, they may send their own photographer.
Provide pictures that are easy to publish
- Check what format the image should be sent in. Digital photographs can be attached easily to an emailed press release.
- Do not use a paperclip (which could damage the photograph).
- Include an explanatory caption which includes your company's name and the names of anyone in the photo.
If possible, have the picture taken by a press photographer
- A press photographer will have an eye for the shots the media want.
- Ask your local newspaper to recommend a good freelance photographer.
- If the publication knows the photographer, journalists are more likely to look at your press release.
7. PR agencies
Consider using an agency if your annual PR budget is greater than £15,000
- For smaller projects, you can employ freelance PR agents. Day rates can range from £300 to £1,000.
- Choose an agency with relevant experience and contacts
Provide a clear briefing on what you are trying to achieve
- Explain what makes your company and your products different.
Plan how the agency will work with your other promotional activities and agencies
- Be wary of agencies that see PR as the solution to every marketing services need.