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.)

Building Targeted Media Lists

You have all these great story ideas about your company and its products, you’ve written your press releases with a sure hand and are ready to get the word out. But where do you start? Other than reading the bylines in your local newspaper, you know no journalists. Well, it’s time to start meeting some and begin building relationships with them, just as you would with a new customer or prospective lead.

Building media lists is very much like building your database of key customers or a list of new leads: you must know your audience and your market intimately. First, think about the geographic regions you want to target, based on where your customers and potential customers are. Then, think about the publications of interest to your customers in those regions. It could be a daily newspaper, a local magazine, or even a trade publication. What are the local TV affiliates in these areas? Are there any local community newsletters? Create a master list, then find out the correct contact at each outlet for your type of business story or product area. Sending a release about a new piece of software to the travel editor at the Boston Globe will simply wind up in the circular file. But by learning the name of the technology editor of the business section and finding out how she likes to receive newsworthy information (phone, fax, email, snail mail only), you will be one step closer to having your story heard and considered by the right person.

Where to Find Media Contact Information
There are many free and paid resources available to help you build your media database. Visit your local library for a listing of regional publications or free online sources like political parties (they sometimes have listings). Or use search engines to find specific newspapers, magazines, or local TV stations. Look up the media outlet online. Many of them have specific places on their websites where you can submit your release directly to the publication. There are also paid services like PR Newswire and Vocus that will not only build your lists for you, but handle the distribution as well. These services offer huge master databases housing every publication from The Town Tattler to the New York Times. Gather all the information you can, including the journalist’s name, specific title or department, phone, fax, email, and snail mail address. If possible, determine how the journalist would like to receive information. Some prefer email, others fax, and some still say “write only,” which means if they receive anything other than the old-school press release in a #10 envelopes officially stamped by the United States Post Office, there’s a good chance you’ll never hear from them.

Be sensitive to these folks’ time, too. Calling a reporter to “chat about an idea” while he’s on deadline trying to file a story will not only aggravate him, but will most likely ruin your chances of any story placement in that publication.

Lead Times
If you’re looking for some free publicity for an event, don’t call two days before it’s scheduled to take place to see if the newspaper “could put something in tomorrow’s paper.” Newspapers traditionally work on a three to four week lead-time; magazines anywhere from six to 12 months. TV, sometimes in less than an hour! If your event is on June 12, you’ll want to send out your press release by the middle of May. If your new product launch is slated for fall 2009, start thinking about sending information to magazines by spring/summer 2008.

Understanding the journalists’ world and how they operate is the key to building a successful media list, one that’s juicy with hot contacts and leads looking for the right story to tell. Just remember, developing your media list is like developing your customer list. Get to the heart of what the media want and when they want it – then deliver it! And while a big mass media list covers more territory, your story pitch may not apply to all on the list, reducing your chance for good quality editorial success. But if you have a targeted, well-thought out list that contains up-to-date contacts, there’s a good chance you have the start of some beautiful relationships, which ultimately will garner some fantastic free publicity!

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.)