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If you’re an entrepreneur who hasn’t jumped on the PR bandwagon yet, then chances are you’re letting opportunities to promote your business pass you by.
Publicity is simply a form of marketing, which is essentially telling your customers who you are, what you do, and why they should buy from you a thousand times over.
What sets publicity apart is that it involves generating coverage in news outlets, which have a much larger reach than your email marketing subscriber list. They’ve also established themselves, sometimes over the course of several decades, as reliable sources of information that people frequently read and implicitly trust (most of the time).
Having an article published about your business by one of these trusted outlets gives you a winning edge over your competitors, boosts your SEO, and builds your brand’s power fast.
In the words of Guy Kawasaki: “Brands are built on what people say about you, not what you’re saying about yourself.” An article written about you has the powerful ability to influence an audience and build your credibility as a businessperson. It gets people talking, it’s memorable, and it makes people want what you’ve got going on.
And if you’re a bootstrapping startup or don’t yet have a budget for PR, learning how to manage your own PR is a cost-effective way to market your business without paying a cent. That’s right, zilch, unlike paid advertising, which can be exorbitant, ineffective, and unmemorable.
In a landscape where we are constantly bombarded with advertising, where our social media feeds look more like a supermarket bulletin board of sales pitches, people remember an article for much longer than an ad. And frankly, consumers have started turning off and tuning out when they feel like you’re selling something to them.
We’re experiencing a new wave of what people want as consumers—they want value, they want to like you, they want to be educated, and they want you to offer solutions to their problems. If you don’t meet these needs, then one of your competitors will.
Many of the business owners I meet with are either not at the stage where they have a budget for PR or they are and they’re typically parting with upwards of $3,000 per month.
The others aren’t going near PR yet, either because they don’t understand it, don’t think they have a story of value that the media would want, or just have no clue of where to begin with contacting journalists or knowing what to say. Does this sound familiar?
Here’s the thing to remember. Media outlets and journalists, just like you and your customers, have problems and challenges of their own. The first is a need to constantly come up with competitive and engaging content that sparks interest in their readership and that continues to build their reputation as a thought leader. So by providing quality content that is entertaining, interesting and engaging, you can alleviate some of their pain.
As founder of the publicity education and consulting business Media Institute, the majority of what I do comes down to education.
As a journalist working on the news desk of the Herald Sun, I noticed the amount of content being submitted by large corporate organisations that had huge budgets for PR. And it would surprise me how many of them did not understand what made a good story, instead they would send through advertising copy dressed up as an editorial piece. Week in and week out, they would send their media releases and more often than not did these would end up in a shredding bin or left under a pile of empty coffee cups.
Why? Because these media releases were uninteresting, provided zero value to readers and were never going to be published. Harsh? Maybe, but considering you’re not paying a journalist to cover your story, you need to make what you write worth publishing.
The main reason I see businesses as being unable to gain media opportunities is because they are looking at media and publicity in the wrong way. The are looking at publicity in the sense of “What can I gain from this?” or “How can I promote myself and my business?”
If businesses instead looked at the needs of media outlets and created content with intent to offer value to their potential clients, they would be much more effective in generating coverage that inspired, captivated, and engaged. And they would have a higher chance of getting published in the first place.
Put simply, media outlets want quality content that engages readers, and people read content that is entertaining, interesting, and teaches them something. If you’re submitting content to a news outlet and that content isn’t remotely interesting or doesn’t solve problems, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. That’s painful and unnecessary for everyone involved.
That’s really the reason I started my business. Working as a journalist, I decided I wanted to bridge the gap between PR agencies and journalists. I wanted to offer better stories to journalists and I wanted to empower business owners to take PR back into their own hands and make their PR agents accountable. I have nothing against PR. If done the right way it can be effective. If done the wrong way it can be expensive and damaging to a brand’s reputation. Especially if a brand is pitching poor content and getting knocked back by a news outlet or editor. It doesn’t take much to sully a brand’s name, and journalists have a memory like an iron vault— they won’t forget the person that keeps sending them crappy content.
Publicity is an essential marketing strategy for any business owner and a lack of knowledge about it can be costly. So here’s what you need to know about PR to ensure you’re ahead of the game:
1. Be realistic
There is no quick fix with publicity. It should be something you incorporate as part of your media and marketing strategy and chip away at consistently. Like most things, building a brand up takes time and commitment, and getting it in front of the people who matter to you again and again.
Expecting to get on national television within a week is unrealistic and would most likely end up detrimental to your business. If you don’t know how to handle a media interview, it can hurt your reputation. You also need to ensure your website can cope with increased traffic, your phones are working, you have enough of your product in stock, and/or your employees can deliver your service. Otherwise why are you wanting to get on TV? Is it to grow your business or to satisfy your own ego?
With publicity, you are relying on a number of external factors in order to get published, such as whether your story is any good, the schedule of the journalist, whether a similar story has been run before, and so on. These are things you need to consider, and if you have a PR agent you should ask them about these variants.
2. Add value not self-promotion
People watch television, listen to the radio, and read online sites and newspapers for two main reasons—to be entertained and to be informed.
Your media release should not be a generic spiel about your business and services, because that’s no fun to read and no news site would ever publish that without sending you straight to the advertising department.
What you send to the media must be interesting and engaging, or offer information that is useful and educational.
Do not expect a call back if your media release is two-page biography about the business and contains no news value.
There’s generally three main types of news pieces that you can pitch: an advice or how to piece, a business profile piece, or a straight news piece.
There’s essentially three main stories that news outlets cover:
A straight media release – is reserved for news or special announcements. This could include your company gaining 50k in seed funding for example, if you’ve won an industry award, or anything political, economical or newsworthy.
A business profile piece – is not a summary about your business but a way for you to get the word out there about who you are and what you do. The best profile pieces motivate and inspire readers, explain a unique or new business, and even better if they explain a person’s setback and challenges and how they overcame them. When I work with clients I recommend they launch their startup or business with one of these. It basically says who the business is and what problem they solve and what is new or different about what they are doing. It should be sent with a photo of the founders or CEOs and
A how to piece – adds value to the reader and allows you to share your knowledge with the reader. It allows you to highlight your customer’s pain points and for you to voice them back to them. These are particularly useful for Google and SEO because you can literally write them so that they come up when people search for information in your area of speciality. For example if if you are dating and relationship coach you could write dating and relationship advice and handy tips that would lead your customers to you every time if you hit the right pain points.
3. Research where your money is going
If you do hire a PR agency, make sure you ask them what sites they are intending to target and whether that’s actually going to make you a return on investment.
Many agencies send out releases in bulk, which is not effective and puts journalists off. They can just tell they’re being spammed. So ask your firm who the names of their contacts are and whether they write about topics that are specifically relevant to your business. Ask them what track record they have in this type of industry in generating PR.
There is no point targeting outlets that have no relevance to your business and are not going to lead to sales or increased brand awareness.
For example if your target market is women aged 20-30 years-old who are interested in health and wellness and your objective is to sell them a health retreat, there’s no point sending your article to the Financial Review, because they are less likely to be reading it.
You’d be better pressed getting coverage in publications where your market is more likely to be reading such as Body and Soul or Women’s Health Magazine. However if you want to attract investors to your startup then perhaps the FInancial Review is a good fit. It really depends on what your desired outcome is and it’s important to have a media strategy to plan for that.
4. Be Prepared
Investing in media and publicity strategy, implementation and planning is essential but it’s something many businesses overlook.
So be prepared. Know what your business value points and messages are, get your media releases professionally written and edited, and have a publicity strategy in place to know what publicity opportunities exist within your business and how you can roll these out on an ongoing basis to build your brand.
Have media portraits taken and ready to go, have a media kit prepared ready for any journalist at the drop of a hat.
Be available once you send off your pitch or media release – you could end up on TV the same day.
Also have a plan for when things go wrong and invest in crisis training and management. What would you do and how would you respond if the media was ringing because there’s been a workplace accident. You need to plan for the unexpected, not just on the day it happens. What would your first response be? Would you release a statement? Who would you call first and what would you say?
Make it easy for journalists by providing them with quality content and be ready for unexpected opportunities and challenges.
So what should you be doing when it comes to using PR to market your business?
Instead of thinking of publicity as a marketing tool you need to figure out how to use, consider where the article you’re sending out is going and why people would want to read it in the first place.
If you think of the end product, rather than how you will benefit, then you will better your chances of being published.
This gets to the main problem in thinking of publicity as a form of marketing—business owners tend to generate advertising copy about the services they offer rather than creating news. No news outlet is going to publish anything that even remotely resembles advertising copy. That’s not what they do.
A media release should not contain information about your products and services, but rather an angle that is interesting and engaging for consumers of news and information.
Understand this main principle, and media coverage will become an untapped goldmine, and something you can incorporate into your business strategy today to be seen and heard.
Got any questions for me about how to use PR to your benefit? Ask away in the comments!