PR Vs New Media

Many larger corporations, which have bottomless marketing budgets, incorporate massive public and media relations campaigns around new product launches, trends in the industry, and key story ideas. They “work the media,” feeding them a plate full of facts, figures, soundbites, and information in hopes of garnering the holy grail of the public relations world: the above-the-fold, front page story about their company.

Some companies use inside PR teams with directors, managers, coordinators, and interns. Others engage outside PR firms in order to craft the perfect press release, the pitch letter that an editor will drool over, or to wine and dine a group of reporters at the hippest restaurant and bar in SoHo or Chelsea. Working the media takes time and effort. It involves building tailored media lists, distributing press materials, and yes, meeting with the media and even taking them to lunch (a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it). It’s about nurturing one-on-one relationships that can sometimes take years – and money – to bear fruit.

I know, I know. You have no budget, time, or manpower for a massive PR campaign. I wouldn’t approach this topic if I didn’t have a solution here. The good news is that in today’s New Media world, the art of traditional public and media relations is changing. And it’s changing fast and for the better for small, but successful VARs like you. So I’m offering up a few tips on how to get your PR effort going without taking the traditional route.

Social media is quickly becoming a core element of communications and PR plans, which is great for you – simply because these new media tools are easy to use, don’t demand a lot of manpower, and are economical. How great is that? Blogging, social networks, and podcasts reach more customers and influencers of your product than traditional media might and require almost no out-of-pocket investment. Plus, once you take a little time to get familiar with these channels, it’s so easy to utilize them to your advantage!

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “When it comes to generating goodwill between a company, its customers, and prospects – the very essence of public relations – it’s a buyer’s market for small businesses.” For instance, one small business cut loose their PR firm which had been receiving a $6,500 monthly retainer, and replaced them with a $700-a-month line item in their budget for website maintenance. Using their up-to-date database, they began sending weekly email blasts to VIP customers and friends – again, at no cost. The results? The small company’s best PR efforts came from communicating directly with their existing customers and friends, who then forwarded those email blasts on to their friends. Special email newsletters included targeted information geared toward hitting those touchpoints that the company knew would grab the attention of its customers. They gave their customers what they wanted through links to the website and easy access to valuable information.

News “flashes” are also easy to incorporate into your PR program and search engines love them. When written thoughtfully, using keywords and phrases, and in paragraph format – one paragraph for content and one paragraph about your business – search engines will pick up on these flashes and reward you with a higher ranking in searches for your business or product. Create a “news” section on your website where these flashes can call home. Search engine crawlers visit sites that are constantly changed and that are dynamic. When crawlers see that you update your “news” section frequently, and you have carefully crafted your news to include your keywords, you quickly find that these pages will receive high rankings.

Of course, landing a feature story about your latest product in a Top 20 national newspaper (e.g., USA Today, Wall Street Journal, New York Times) or being included in a segment on Oprah or The Today Show is worth way more than its weight in gold, but so is going directly to the world – literally – and to the newswire yourself. The Web is allowing smart VARs like you to engage with the public without the mainstream press or the PR flak who court it. With new media resources, like YouTube and Flickr, you can now deliver unedited messages in your own voice and image instead of leaving it to the press to report the story they way they think it should be told. Or you can create short videos or podcasts for your own site for customers and potential leads to download and watch. Here, you can craft your own message and become “the expert” in your field. The same holds true for blogging. Start offering some of your insightful wisdom on new trends. Customers – and search engines – and sometimes even the traditional media will come to view you as the resource in your industry. The trick is to learn to use these tools without sounding too commercial in your pitches or offerings, and then enjoy the benefits of well-crafted viral marketing take hold.

A dedicated marketing professional, Michelle Kabele has been helping technology companies develop award-winning channel partner programs and marketing strategies for over 10 years. Michelle has worked extensively with small businesses throughout North America.

Michelle has an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Ill.)

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