While large companies have millions to spend on courting the press, freelance trainers and coaches can get that all important media coverage just as well with a tiny budget. Matt Henkes explains.
Remember Fathers for Justice? They included the portly old gentleman who scaled the walls of Buckingham Palace dressed as Batman; or his comrades who managed to blag their way into the public viewing box of the commons to flour bomb Tony Blair as he addressed the house. These were PR stunts on an extreme level, and demonstrate the power of the media and how it can be used to get a message heard.
Obviously, we’re not suggesting that you don the black cape and set out to wreak havoc. These are extreme examples, but a vast amount of the information you see in the media relating to companies or organisations will be a result of some kind of PR exercise.
Essentially, PR is the means by which you manage your reputation and build long term relationships with your customers and stakeholders. It doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with the media, though that is its most visible form.
While large companies invest huge amounts of money in PR campaigns, their smaller counterparts have far less to spend on getting their message out. However, it is still possible to get that all important media coverage by forking out very little.
How do you know if you need PR?
“A time will come when you have to start thinking about the extra things you can do to push your business,” says Anna Mealor, deputy director general and head of marketing at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). “I think people know when they have to do more. It’s usually at that point when they start to think, ‘What else can we do to increase our sales?’ What can you do to encourage people to visit you or use your service?
“At a certain level you can virtually call it customer relations when you first start off because it is about the way you present yourself; how you answer the telephone, how your stationary looks and how you use your email and website.
“Speak to some of your customers,” she adds. “Get their endorsements and put them on the website. Ask them questions about the service, what they like about you, what they don’t and where you can improve.”
Take a step up from these simple actions and you begin wading into the world of media coverage, press releases and journalists. This is not as scary as it may sound, but there are ways to go about it.
Finding your target media and building contacts
This is where you work out who you are trying to get your message to. Who are your potential customers, investors or partners and where does your message need to be for them to see it? Look at the trade press coverage of your industry or sector. Which of your competitors are included and why? What is the message that they’re trying to get across? Getting an idea of the type of things that gain coverage in your trade press will help you to grab some of that valuable exposure for yourself. Look at the style of the paper or magazine you’re aiming for and copy it. If your news release fits in with their style, it’s more likely to get published.
Make the effort to contact the journalists that will be covering your area, both in the trade and general press, and find out what is most likely to get you coverage. Ask them what they want and they’ll tell you. Find out what their deadline days are and make sure that anything you send them is well in advance of this. Bear in mind that the more often you supply them with suitable content, the more they will come back to you in the future.
When dealing with the media, it is important to have an established idea of exactly what it is you want to achieve. Keep this in mind at every point of contact, be it sending a press release, doing an interview or running a competition in the local paper. Remember when talking to journalists that everything you say is a matter of public record, unless you both specifically agree otherwise.
Catching their interest
Journalists deal in news. This may seem obvious but it’s important to make sure that what you’re supplying is not just an advert for your business disguised as a press release. It has to have some news value. If you’re writing for the trade press, they’re more likely to be interested in some of your latest deals or product developments. However, a local paper would probably be more interested in a story with a human angle, such as how you’ve supported a member of your team through a qualification or how your sales team are training for the London marathon.
Writing a press release
Your average news desk is constantly awash with press releases of all shapes and sizes. They are constantly bombarded, so make your release short and sharp, with a catchy headline.
Don’t try and include too much information. A good press release will always have the date at the top and will typically be no more than two pages long, with the important information at the top followed by a nice snappy quote from yourself or one of your company directors. It’s a good idea to include some background information about your firm with contact details at the bottom.
WRITING A GOOD PRESS RELEASE
- Ensure it covers the ‘five Ws’ – Who, what, when, where and why
- Add an Editor’s Note at the end containing company and contact details
- Grab the reader’s attention by including a good headline
- Proof-read before sending
Never underestimate the value of a high quality image. Editors want their publication to look good, so including an interesting picture will increase your chances of gaining the coverage you’re after.
Getting the professionals in
Of course if you feel like you want to invest in a professional PR consultant, and go about finding one in the proper way, it’s highly likely that they will do a much better job than you. The CIPR offers a service that it claims will find the right agency to meet your needs. Be prepared though, they don’t come cheap.
“It depends what you want to do, but if you were hiring a PR consultant by the day then you can expect a ball park figure to be around anything from £400 a day and upwards,” says Mealor. “If you do it on a project basis it could be cheaper, but you are going to invest some money in it.
“Ensure that the consultant you work with is recognised by a professional body like the CIPR,” she adds. “Then you’ll know that they’re accountable and they’ve had to meet certain criteria.
“Decide what you want to achieve before you approach them and always ask around before signing with someone. Find out if anybody in the local area has also been using PR, and who they would recommend.”
Why not just advertise?
Getting a journalist to write about your company is worth more in terms of the reader’s perception, than paying for an advert, says Mealor. “Advertising is paid for, so you pay for your piece and it’s not presented by a third party,” she adds. “With PR, if you get an article in the paper and the journalist is saying good things about what you’re doing, the reader and your stakeholders will know that it’s impartial and this person is writing about it because the product or service is good.”
Matt Henkes is the commerical editor at Sift Media.Visit http://www.trainingzone.co.uk/free-resources.