Author: Stuart Brooks, MD of St Albans based PR consultancy, Blackbird Communications
“When it comes to engaging their audiences, many companies struggle to communicate. “We don’t really have anything new to say,” is an oft-quoted phrase.
There’s always something happening, an unexplored angle that could be exploited. It’s just a question of spotting it and making it ‘newsworthy’. This is one of the PR tools that a business can implement.
In the world of 24/7 media, PR activity is as much about content generation as it is brand reputation. Huge growth in social media and the advent of ‘citizen journalism’ has created a need for companies to cut through the noise and dross with clear, appropriate, meaningful messaging.
Someone once said to me “PR is the truth, well told.” Can’t argue with that but how much of what we see and hear, particularly online, is inaccurate or simply made up, in an attempt to get noticed? Quite a lot, in fact but that’s not PR, it’s simply lies or ‘spin’.
The number of major organisations that have been ‘economical’ with the truth, has soared in recent years and their actions, or inactivity, has burned them in terms of lost credibility and ultimately, lost customers and revenue. The world has become very transparent and companies ignore this fact at their peril. Reputations can be lost in a matter of hours and it can take years to win back trust, if at all.
A business needs to be aware of what people think and say about them and have the pulse of their customers. This requires tact, diplomacy, empathy and pragmatism. Companies need to manage expectations and keep people informed. According to the boss of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the industry’s professional association, ‘We have entered the world of public relationships.’
As a business, consider your customer relationship. Think of it in terms of your customer being either a ‘friendly neighbour’ or ‘long lost relative’. That might help to understand how best you are communicating with them.
To help small businesses on their brand-building journey, Blackbird offers these PR tips
Most businesses want to get noticed and most owners appreciate that more attention equals more sales. Before you start shouting, you need a strategy that considers your business objectives. What do you want to achieve? It’s important to understand your market and where the influencers are. Communication needs to be focused so it’s not a waste of time.
2. So what?
Relevance is absolutely crucial. So many businesses fall at the first hurdle. What might be a milestone for your company might be of little interest to everyone else. “We’ve launched a new widget” is not going to excite a journalist. However, “UK designed widget will put an end to ‘leaves on the line’ for commuters” is more likely to grab attention.
A piece of news needs to overcome the ‘so what?’ question. More than 90% of material issued to journalists will never see the light of day. Make sure that your company news is not one that gets ‘spiked’ through lack of relevance.
3. The art of storytelling
Think originality, brevity and clarity. Getting the angle right is a fundamental pillar to a successful news release. Always consider the audience when creating a headline. Keep the content snappy and avoid industry jargon or irritating management clichés. Rather than try and pad out text, keep it short and meaningful so that every sentence counts. Always read it aloud or to someone in the office to check that it is easily understood.
4. Perfect timing
Before releasing news, consider what else might be going on in your sector. Has a competitor just stolen your thunder? Is there a tradeshow coming up that you’re exhibiting at? Does your announcement have seasonal relevance? For example, launching a range of new items for Christmas at the beginning of December is not going to win you any friends with media titles that have long lead-in times. Make your pitch well in advance.
5. Zeroing in
Just as relevance of content is crucial, so is relevance of contact. The bane of a journalist’s life is being sent material that does not apply to their audience. Always research your target market thoroughly. Find out the key media channels in your sector and who the news editor is. Are they on Twitter? If so, follow them.
Most publications have a free media pack online, which shows the demographic of their readership. Focus your efforts on outlets most closely aligned to your target market rather than taking a scattergun approach. This will boost your credibility significantly if you can position your business as the ‘go to’ company for comment.
If your business works with larger ones, consider joining forces when developing news to increase your share of voice. Whether you are the latest supplier to join their roster or you are offering a reciprocal discount to each other’s customers, sharing resources and contacts can boost exposure.
7. Earn recognition
Another means of increasing awareness with limited effort is by entering industry awards. There are a number of websites that offer lists, such as The Awards Agency. Very often free to enter, being shortlisted or winning generates plenty of free publicity and also provides an excellent networking opportunity and flag waving exercise, whatever the outcome.
8. Play nicely
Always be mindful of brand reputation. Never, EVER castigate or admonish a customer, colleague or competitor in the public domain. Maintaining professionalism and courtesy in all situations creates the perception of control and authority. Always aim to take a difficult situation offline quickly. Remember that good news travels fast but bad news travels even faster.
9. Be persistent
PR is not a quick fix. It’s a slow burn process, sometimes punctuated by specific short-term projects related to an event or product launch. Developing awareness takes time and it’s important to stay the course and keep generating meaningful, appropriate content. Silence is most certainly not golden when it comes to PR. Equally, don’t bombard your market with messages as this will simply switch people off. Aim to achieve exposure with every piece of news.
Identify and connect with key stakeholders on Twitter and if possible, contribute to their activity and start a dialogue. Build confidence in your brand. When you approach a journalist with a potential PR opportunity, you’re much more likely to get a positive response. Also consider targeted offline networking as a means of creating awareness. You never know who you’ll meet.
Good PR takes time and everyone is time poor these days. Consider the value that you are adding to the business by doing it in-house. Is it taking your attention from other areas? Outsourcing public relations activity does not need to be expensive. Think of it as an investment in your brand. It’s our job as PR professionals to tell a client’s story and add value by boosting awareness and engagement. If you’re struggling to find the time to do it yourself and need some help, have a chat with Blackbird.
If you’d like to know how GSA Business Development can help generate growth for your business or book one of our new business development and marketing strategy workshops, contact us now on 0845 658 8192 or use the form on this site.