So often, when CEOs and company presidents sit down with their marketing team, they quickly delve into the familiar marketing elements like advertising, sales promotions, and how to best maximize the company’s website. Of course. But what about publicity and public relations? These are the poor relations of the marketing family that get tossed off with an “Oh yeah, we’ll talk about that at the end if there’s time.”
No, no, and no! Studies consistently show that public relations is the most effective way to establish brand credibility, to surround a brand in a particular editorial context. Done correctly, it provides the best return for the marketing dollar spent. It is the best way to garner third-party endorsements and carries much more weight with your customer than a paid ad, snappy sales promotion, or some creation of new media. Plus, it’s virtually free!
So what is public relations (PR) or publicity anyway? And how does it work? You read an article about a competitor’s product in your regional newspaper and you wonder why the reporter didn’t write a story on your product. Well, either the reporter knew someone who knew someone who used the product, OR your competitor is more PR-savvy, sending out press releases about new, innovative products and programs or calling or emailing reporters and pitching great story ideas. If it was the latter, your competitor is using free publicity to get the word out and establish credibility for his brand – more credibility than any newspaper or TV ad could ever buy!
The Press Kit
The foundation of your publicity campaign should always be your press kit, which gives the basics about who you are, what you do and why you are unique. In the old days of PR, this press kit would be sent in mass quantity to hundreds of media outlets. Press releases would be copied and stuffed into a fancy folder with the company logo on it, for the reporter or editor to read at their leisure. Well, as you probably can imagine, no reporter in today’s media-frenzied world is going to have time to sit with a cup of coffee and read your press kit. If they do have that time, they’re surely reading something more in lines of a New York Times bestseller. That said, you should still have a press kit, just house it on your website. Journalists can easily seek out the facts and supporting material they might need for their story – at their convenience. Many times your press kit may just be a reworked version of your web copy, eliminating the marketing jargon and giving the information a more factual spin.
Once you’ve built your foundation, you’ll begin to develop a series of press releases – various articles that you can send to the media on a regular basis that are newsworthy and spark interest for the reporter. If sent out on a regular basis, these releases will keep your company or your product top of mind with the media. Soon they will begin to think, “Hmmm, could there be a story idea here?” Regular distribution also helps to build relationships with the media. The more you get to know the core group of reporters and editors who cover your territory or your industry, the more you’ll be in tune with their needs, and be able to filter newsworthy information to them, versus guessing what they might like to receive. The best publicity campaign is one built on facts, but also on who you know and anticipating their needs.
Publicity Stunts, Promotions and Other Free Opportunities
While the backbone of PR lies in the initial press release, there are many ways to create news from scratch. I’ve seen big racing yachts used to promote free glaucoma screenings to create awareness about new drugs and a pharmaceutical company. One company created a “Love Stinks” promotion for Valentine’s Day, where readers had to write why they actually hated Valentine’s Day, and the winner took home a grand prize – for one. Both received widespread “ink” in regional and national publications.
Also, make sure you’re listed in all the places you can be for free. It sounds simple but it’s one of the most common publicity tactics that is overlooked. And get all you can out of the places you are paying for. If you’re running a half-page ad in next month’s industry newsletter, ask which reporter can work with you to write a news story to go with it. And finally, know who the gatekeepers are within each media outlet or organization and what they can (and can’t) do for you.
Bottom line – ask yourself, “Do I have something interesting to say? What makes my business unusual?” If you have a good idea or newsworthy item, talk about it! Remember, if a picture says a thousand words, then an above-the-fold story in the New York Times says cha-ching!
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.)