Public relations (PR)
Public relations (PR) means getting people to talk and think about your business in a positive way. It can be an important part of your marketing plan.
It's a way to get good publicity without advertising. Also if there's ever a problem facing your business it helps you deal with it effectively.
You can use PR to attract and impress people such as customers, suppliers, distributors, banks and other lenders, potential employees and possible business partners.
PR isn't just for big companies using national newspapers or television. Even the smallest business can use publicity opportunities to catch the eye of its local audience and promote itself online to reach a wider customer base.
Develop your public relations plan
To make the most of public relations (PR) in your business, you should develop a strategic plan. Your plan should include:
- Aims and objectives - consider what you want to gain from your public relations activities. Set measurable objectives for your campaigns. For example you may want to increase brand recognition among a specific audience or generate one piece of media coverage per month. See your marketing objectives.
- Target audience - think about the people you want to reach with your messages. This could be potential investors, the local community or your customers. Refer to you market strategy to define your target market.
- Target media - once your audience is defined, how will you reach them? Consider news media they consume and online channels they use. See identify your target media for public relations.
- PR tactics - decide the kinds of tactics you will use, eg: press releases, opinion articles events, online PR, corporate social responsibility (CSR). Think about the kinds of stories your business can release and ways to raise your profile in your local community or industry.
- Schedule - plan your media and other PR activities with a schedule. This will help you keep track of media deadlines and topical content themes.
- Resources and budget - plan how much time and money you can invest in PR and what will get in return. Consider if you should be using a PR agency.
- Evaluation - work out how you will decide how successful your PR activities have been. Use this information to improve future campaigns. The results of PR can be tricky to measure. Some ways to evaluate campaigns include surveys and social listening tools.
Identify your target media for public relations
The first step to getting media coverage for your business is to decide who your target audience is and which media you should use to reach them. Ask yourself who will be interested in your story and which publications or media will reach these people or businesses? Your target media list may include:
- your local paid-for newspaper
- your local free paper
- local magazines
- local radio and television
- trade, technical and professional magazines covering your type of business or expertise
- national newspapers
- consumer and lifestyle magazines
- local bloggers or those with an interest in your industry
- online news media
- national radio and television - but usually your local station will feed your story to the network if it's good enough
Build media contacts
News media (including newspapers, online news and radio stations) will normally have a number of journalists. Communicating directly with a particular journalist can be more effective than sending a press release to the news desk.
Research the type of article particular journalists write. Identify those with an interest in your interest or the type of story you have.
Make things easy for journalists by sending them press releases in a convenient format (eg email), written in a suitable style. Make sure you are available to answer any questions they may have about the press release. It can help to offer accompanying photography with a caption. Be aware of copy deadlines.
When you have sent a press release, follow up with a phone call to ensure it has been received and check if they anything else.
Try not to bombard journalists with stories that won't be of interest for publication. What may be big news for your business, may not be newsworthy to the general public.
Keep a record of journalists you have worked with in the past and try to develop a relationship with them.
Advantages and disadvantages of public relations
Public relations (PR) can help raise your business' profile and improve your reputation. If done well, it can be a cost-effective way to get your message to a large audience. However, it can be tricky to guarantee success. Consider the benefits and challenges to make the most of PR in your business.
What are the benefits of public relations?
The benefits of public relations include:
- Influence - audiences are more likely to trust messages coming from an objective source rather than paid-for advertising messages. It is one of the most credible forms of promotion and can be persuasive.
- Reach - a good story can be picked up by several news outlets, exposing your message to a large audience.
- Cost-effectiveness - PR can be an economical way to reach a large audience in comparison to paid for advertising media placement, particularly if it is done in-house.
What are the challenges of public relations?
Some of the challenges of public relations include:
- No direct control - unlike advertising, you can't exactly control how your business is portrayed by the media, when your message will appear, and where it will be placed.
- No guaranteed results - you may spend time and money on writing a press release, getting suitable photography and speaking with journalists, but you can never guarantee your story will be published. This can result in a poor return-on-investment.
- Evaluation - it can be difficult to measure the effectiveness of PR activities. You can count media mentions and published stories, but it's harder to determine the impact this has on your audience.
Public relations opportunities
Once you have identified the right media outlets, you can target them with press releases. Press releases are usually news stories that convey positive messages about your business. They should be written in a journalistic style.
You should try to tailor press releases for each different media outlet.
For example, if a small engineering company wins a big Italian order with a new manufacturing technique, the press release for the trade and technical press should highlight the success of the technique and the company's use of innovation.
The press release for the local paper however, should be about increased employment and the prestige for the town in beating foreign competition.
Potential PR stories
There are many natural PR opportunities:
- a new product launch
- new premises
- new members of staff
- an important new order
- business expansion
- involvement with a charity
- significant anniversaries, eg your 1,000th customer
- business partnerships
- changes in business structure such as mergers and acquisitions
And you can create publicity opportunities:
- submit articles, such as opinion pieces, for publication
- commission a survey on serious or fun issues and send the results to the press
- suggest a competition with your product as the prize
- give expert opinions and volunteer quoteson current affairs
How to enter and win business awards
Winning a business award is an excellent PR opportunity. It raises the profile of your business and highlights your expertise.
Types of business award
Awards may recognise excellence in a particular industry sector or in business practices across all sectors. There are local and UK-wide business awards for industries and areas such as:
- consumer products
- tourism and hospitality
- food and drink
- corporate social responsibility (CSR)
- employment practices
- individual staff eg 'apprentice of the year'
Benefits of entering business awards
Winning, or being nominated or shortlisted, for an award has a number of advantages:
- raise brand awareness
- highlight areas of excellence
- boost staff morale
- networking opportunities at award events
The application process can help you reflect on your business practices and identify strengths and weaknesses. Even if you aren't successful, this can help you consider how to improve your business and make useful comparisons with your competitors. See measure performance and set targets.
Business award entry dos and don'ts
Avoid these common pitfalls when completing award applications:
- Not following the rules - make sure to carefully read the terms and conditions before you start your application. Does your business fit the criteria? Be sure to adhere to rules like word counts and deadlines.
- Using internal jargon - many businesses use abbreviations and terms that won't make sense to outsiders. This could make your application confusing to the judges. Try to write your entry in plain English that is easy to read. Ask someone who doesn't work with your business to read over your application and check it makes sense.
- Making assumptions - award judges may have different levels of knowledge and expertise in your industry. Be cautious about going into complicated, technical details.
Follow these tips for a completing a successful award entry:
- Deadlines - check when your entry must be submitted and make sure you give yourself plenty of time. Other people in your organisation may want to read over the entry so factor this in.
- Provide evidence - be sure to back up what you say with measurable evidence. For example, did your activities increase sales or reduce sickness absence? Include meaningful statistics. It is better to present hard facts about your business than subjective opinions.
- Structure your answer - make sure to explain the context, the action you took, the reasons why you did it and the outcome. Respond to everything the specific question is asking.
- Explain the context - give the judges relevant information about your organisation, the environment and the situation.
- Objectives - compare measurable objectives with actual outcomes. This will help demonstrate the impact your initiative.
- Presentation - check your spelling, grammar and layout before submitting your entry.
Business award PR
If you win or are shortlisted for an award, you'll want to share the good news with customers and potential customers. Use social media and public relations to promote the message. See online public relations and write an effective press release.
Online public relations
Businesses need to consider how they manage public relations (PR) online. Traditional techniques may not always apply to online PR.
With online PR, you communicate not only with targeted media channels and online journalists but also with the wider public who are talking about your business. Online PR is no longer driven by the few but rather by the many. The challenge is identifying the key influencers talking about your brand online and how you can engage with them to communicate your message. See influencer marketing
There are a number of key differences in how you should approach online PR compared to traditional routes:
- Online communities tend to form around interests or 'passion points'. You need to identify the online communities that are most relevant to your target audience and provide the stories and messages that will get them talking about your business.
- Create 'a buzz' around your brand by using different types of content - eg video, images, articles, blog posts, etc. These can quickly gain social currency and be spread virally over the internet.
- As well as using third party sites, think about publishing content to your own website, social media channels or blog. This will give you a little more control over how your message is delivered. Think about the tone of your content and what interests your customers about your brand.
- Online audiences value authenticity, transparency and interaction over 'spin' and obvious sales messages. If your audience feels that you're trying to hide something it will do your company's reputation more harm than good.
- It's well worth befriending people with an influential online presence in your field, such as bloggers, to act as brand advocates. Advocates can also help you manage reputational risk.
See content marketing.
Online reputation management is the business of monitoring what online communities are saying about your brand. Monitoring what consumers say can provide early warning signs for product or service issues, and allow you to 'catch' potential disasters before they escalate. Tools such as Google Alerts and Twitter Search can help you to track key industry words and phrases.
Communities you should monitor include blogs, discussion threads, forums and social networking sites.
If a crisis does occur, you can immediately respond to concerns and post information. Addressing crises quickly can head off speculation and accusations that you're trying to deny or hide something.
If you have built up a reputation for transparency through your online presence from the start, your crisis response will carry more weight.
Dealing with bad publicity
Disgruntled employees and customers, crises and accidents can all generate negative news stories.
Make sure employees know who to refer journalists' enquiries to and ensure that only employees who are authorised to do so respond to enquiries.
If a journalist contacts you, check their deadline, carefully construct a written statement, and respond in time. It usually doesn't look good if you refuse to comment.
Show you have done everything you reasonably could to correct any problems.
If there's a tricky follow up question, take time to put your case forward and restate it by written communication if possible.
It's not a good idea to go off the record when there's bad news. Answer truthfully to any questions put to you, although it's not your job to volunteer every detail.
Be aware that any response you give may carry legal implications. In the worst case scenarios it might be worth seeking legal advice before making any responses or consider making statements for the media through your legal representatives.
Using a public relations agency
There are no hard-and-fast rules for when small companies should call in outside PR help. Take into account:
- how confident and successful you are at managing your PR and dealing with journalists
- whether you're involved in a crucial product launch or sales expansion that might be helped by using an agency for, say, six months
- whether you face a potentially controversial or sensitive issue, or are involved in an industry that's in the media spotlight
- how much time it's taking
- how much it's costing you
Consider using a PR agency if your annual PR budget is greater than £10,000-£15,000. For smaller one-off projects, you can employ freelance PR agents.
Choose the right agency
Choose an agency or freelancer with relevant experience and contacts. Getting publicity in national newspapers, television and radio is extremely difficult without an experienced agency or freelancer.
Provide a clear briefing on what you're trying to achieve. Explain what makes your company and products different.
Plan how the PR agency will work with your other promotional activities. Be wary of agencies that see PR as the answer to everything, with no thought of alternatives such as advertising.
Get value for money
Always get quotes on how much you'll be paying and what you'll get for your money.
- How much will it cost to write a press release?
- Who'll be doing follow ups and answering queries arising from the release - you or the agency? Are you getting 24-hour cover or just an event- or press release-based service?
- Like your business, PR agencies will have fixed costs to cover. Decide how much actual PR output you're getting for your money.
- Assess how interested the agency is in your business, and whether it understands it.
Make sure you establish clear objectives from the outset and communicate these to the agency. At the end of the campaign you can compare your results against these original objectives to assess whether you have obtained good value for your outlay.
Write an effective press release
What's important to you may not grab the news organisation. Consider what can make a story about your business newsworthy. Factors that make a story newsworthy include:
- timing - current and recent events and the latest updates on a situation
- significance - the number of people affected by the story
- proximity - how 'close to home' a story is
- prominence - links to famous people or organisations
- human interest - stories that provoke emotional responses
Structure your press release
Most press releases are now delivered by email. It is better to put your press release in the body of the email, rather than as an attachment. Put the headline in the subject line to grab the journalist's attention.
In the body of the email, use the heading 'Press Release'. Then write the date. Avoid using embargos as these can be frustrating for journalists - indicate 'for immediate release'. Put a headline on the left - six or seven words in bold type. The headline will be active, understandable, convey the main point of the story and make people want to read on.
Your press release should convey the 'what, who, where, how and why' of the story. Ensure that it easily read and written in a journalistic style. Avoid using excessive marketing language. If you sending the release to an online news outlet, use 'writing for the web' principles.
The first paragraph, the introduction, expands on the headline. It concentrates on what has happened or will happen, who is involved and where. It conveys the whole story in a nutshell and its interest and relevance to the readership. It would still be understandable if the rest of the press release was deleted.
Tailor the introduction to the publication. A trade journal is attracted by what a new product can do for its business audience, a local paper is interested in local jobs, prestige or human interest.
Subsequent paragraphs give the how and why, explaining and developing the story outlined in the introduction.
Most press releases will include a quote from a senior person in the business.
Keep everything tight and clear, with short sentences. Don't make it sound like an ad. Write the release like a newspaper report. Refer to your business in the third person - 'it' not 'we'.
Write 'end' and then name a contact within your business, with phone and email details. A 'note to editors' can give background or more detailed information.
You can offer accompanying photography by including 'photography available' in the note to editors. Often photos with captions are published instead of a full article, so don't miss the opportunity
Non-media public relations
Don't see your PR as just something that's directly targeted at the media. You can influence and impress people - including the media - in many ways, not just by getting a mention in a news story.
Try out some of these ideas for raising awareness of your business in your locality or your industry sector using non-media and activity-based PR. For example, you could try:
- giving talks on business and other subjects to organisations, schools and colleges
- joining an organisation and becoming a spokesperson
- sponsoring events such as a school fête or exhibition
- sponsoring a local sports team
- organising competitions, initiatives and surveys, possibly in cooperation with a news organisation
- meeting and talking to opinion-formers, journalists and other business people and leaders, just being seen around
- sending letters to the editor on local or industry issues
- helping with, or donating products to charity
- teaming up with suppliers or customers to work on attracting joint publicity
For more information on raising your profile by connecting with the local community, see corporate social responsibility (CSR).