In a two-part series, ‘Understanding PR’ exclusively for the Women’s Inspire Network, PR consultant Tara Gilleece explains PR in layman’s terms and outlines how it works, and what the options are with regard to engaging a consultant or agency or attempting some DIY PR for your business or social enterprise.
A recent survey of WIN associates indicated low levels of understanding of PR, and general apprehension as to the costs.
This series will attempt to explain PR in practical terms and allay some fears on the cost and value equation.
So, what is PR, what is news, and how do you decide your audience or market, the media, messages and the tools you will use, like photography, endorsement or sponsorship, to reach and influence that audience?
What is PR?
A marketing definition a lot of people can relate to is ‘advertising is what you pay for, and publicity is what you pray for’!
At the most basic level, PR is about editorial coverage for your business or product, based on identifying something new, different or newsworthy about what you have to offer.
Another good definition – ‘PR is doing good and getting the credit’ – but the big question is how to get the credit?
You need to COMMUNICATE what it is you are ‘doing good’ and make it NEWSWORTHY.
PR for business can be b2b or b2c, or both; depending on whether you need to speak to consumers or to a trade or corporate audience.
The audience determines the choice of media you approach, and the content of your media release; you need to supply the information that will most influence your chosen audience.
PR is also used by lobby groups, charities, public representatives etc, basically using the same tools, but with slightly different objectives.
A Common Misunderstanding
PR is NOT advertising, your sales pitch is NOT News; but PR can help turn your sales pitch or your business achievement into news.
‘We’re super nice people and we sell nice stuff, or we do a good job’ just won’t hack it!
But, have you launched an exclusive new range, a massive sale, got new stockists, or bagged a brand ambassador with profile? Longer opening hours, a loyalty scheme, a national award, a contract to supply a local business, or the creation of new jobs are all good news topics that can catch the eye of an editor.
If you’re a service provider, can you produce articles or expert information on your area of expertise that will reach potential clients? (What do you think you’re reading now guys!)
Apart from conveying a sales message, which is not always the most dynamic news angle, PR will build profile and reputation and help explain your product or service, particularly if what you do is a little complex.
Complexity is good; it means there are people interested in hearing more and understanding better.
PR is more about brand-building and reputation, and is a longer-term investment, than the immediate sales motivator that advertising represents.
People like to do business with people they know and respect….PR builds understanding of you and your business, and if you’re ‘in the news’ or if your photo’s in the local paper, you’re generally seen as more credible and trustworthy!
What is News?
Come at this question from the editor’s viewpoint – they need to produce content that people want to read – otherwise they’re out of a job!
Start with what you see in the newspapers, read in magazines, hear on the radio, or read online; that’s news.
If you want PR profile, be aware of how others are doing it….keep up to date with trade publications and marketing news too.
Look for unique, interesting angles, relevant to your consumer, in order to ‘make news’, whether you’re in the business of mass market fmcg, specialist technology, or trade supply.
For news angles or drafting a media release, think ‘who, what, why, where and when?’
What’s happening? An event, launch, open day, exhibition, sponsorship etc; who is involved, is there a new business, promotion, service or product, why is it special, and what need does it serve?
‘Research says…..’ is good; can you survey customers or Facebook followers and share some newsy insights on a topic related to your business?
Despite the Irish reticence to talk ourselves up, success is a great news angle – people like to do business with successful people and businesses! Think great annual results, profitability, investment, growing customers, job creation, major awards etc
Quirky fun news angles are worth looking at too; the 80 year old customer in the gym, the shop owner reunited with her long lost aunt when she came in to buy a handbag, and the business whose entire workforce practice Tai Chi every lunchtime!
A good photo can say it all too, so do invest in some professional images if possible. Create fun and unusual angles though, and use props to bring the picture to life – not the standard line up of ‘suits’ which is so dull! If nothing else, get the suits jumping up and down to celebrate the great news!
A brand endorsement or association is also newsworthy; finding an individual with profile who is going to promote your brand provides news and photography potential.
The higher the profile individual, a TV celebrity for example, the greater the cost obviously!
But local sportspeople, writers or artists, or public figures also add kudos, generally at a lower cost.
Business owners can be too close to their business to clearly see what is most newsworthy or interesting to the general public, or even their customer base, so do talk to family, friends, staff and business associates, as to what your key marketing proposition and selling points are….it may just surprise you.
“Here comes the science bit—Concentrate!”
Part two of this introduction to PR will look closer at the practicalities of DIY public relations and how you might map out and manage a PR strategy for your business or organisation.
Part two in a series by PR consultant Tara Gilleece on leveraging PR to support brand and corporate marketing
So, you’ve decided your business is newsworthy and has something to say to the market. Planning PR and deciding who you’re talking to, what the message is, and how it will be conveyed will make the process more effective in the long run.
Define your Audience
Are you after all consumers or maybe just an upmarket demographic? Female vs male (who is the decision maker?) or do you need to reach kids and parents, teenagers or students?
Or maybe the focus should be your specialist trade market, be it the motor industry, interior designers or pharmacists; almost every sector has its trade publications and websites, so check them out.
Your PR communication, if using general media, can also reach politicians or public representatives, business associates or financial markets, and your community and employees, which is why PR is seen to have a more influential role than simply a sales goal.
Your Audience defines your Media
Having defined your market, establish what this audience reads, listens to, sees, logs onto, attends or tweets.
A PR or advertising agency will tell you, or you can ask directly via survey groups, asking your employees, and even checking out the media where your competition or brands similar to yours are active.
When you have compiled your media targets, the logistics of contacting local and national media is a lot easier now, with email addresses on most media websites and even alongside the print articles.
Remember newspaper supplements, magazines, and trade press have ‘long-lead times’; plan PR releases 3 months ahead if they’re part of your ‘route to market’
And, don’t neglect local media, including the radio, print and online community boards etc, which is probably most relevant to your local market.
Agree the Message
Be clear on what it is you want to communicate and your PR objective?
It could be company profile, brand awareness, sales, recruitment, or reputation management.
Agree the communication with other stake-holders in the business and then discuss how best to make the message newsworthy. You may need to adapt the message to various media and audiences. This is simply a case of asking what information is most significant or interesting to the audience you want to influence, whether that is a consumer, corporate or community group.
Also, employees are an under-used PR ‘vehicle’! Make sure they’re briefed on any campaigns, and know what your business core proposition is, and can help sell it in the wider community.
Main PR Tools
Media releases, the written copy of your news, is a key tool to start with. Part one of this article had advice on generating release content.
But there are many formats that serve communications needs, including photo or video releases that illustrate the news – a picture paints a thousand words, remember!
Also consider hosting media events, a launch reception, invitations to your show or exhibition, a facility tour or demonstration of your product or experience.
Speeches at events and conference presentations are good PR, and digital and social media, as well as websites, podcasts and blogs are great low-cost options to reach your audience.
More traditionally, brochures or newsletters can also be supplied to media and sent direct to customers, in print or digitally.
Sponsorship is an advanced PR tool, mainly for brand-building, corporate profile and awareness. It provides news, promotion, branding, events, speaking and merchandising opportunity.
Important to note – sponsorship is a commercial agreement, and not altruism, and you should agree terms that provide commercial or other business advantage!
Select your sponsorship according to the interests of the specific markets you want to reach, or something that is in line with attributes you associate your brand or company with; community, young, eco-aware, upmarket, social conscience etc
Although perceived as expensive there are sponsorships for all budgets; from the local tennis club to the UEFA Cup, and many sponsorships have longevity, where a year-long PR programme can be built around them.
Remember your ‘activation’ budget should at least match the sponsorship fee. If it’s costing €500, be prepared to spend at least €1k to profile your support.
Do not just pay for a sponsorship and walk away, expecting the recipients to generate a return for you. Plan and manage all the ways to promote it, from a release announcing the deal, to prize presentations, signage or branding, social media competitions, a weblink, or a display on your premises.
Why use a PR Agency?
Savvy business people will have a fair idea of how to craft and present their PR message, but it is a specialist area and using an independent consultant has advantages.
An agency will give honest, independent advice, not constrained by ‘being employed by the company’.
They have frequent media contact, credibility and influence, and the creativity and media awareness to come up with the unusual angles and news hooks that will appeal to editors and producers.
Available at short notice and out-of-hours, using a consultant is also cheaper and more efficient than an in-house PR for small companies.
If working with a PR agency, however, someone in-house and ideally a senior figure must ‘own’ PR, and commit to planning and contributing to campaigns.
As well as monthly fees, which can vary from €500 to €5,000, depending on the workload, you also should budget for third party expenses like photography, print, sampling, hospitality, events etc.
Most PR consultants will also offer once-off project work at a fixed fee, anything from €250 for a single press release and media follow-up, so don’t be afraid to ask what is possible based on your budget and objectives.
Contact Tara Gilleece at Gilleece Communications to talk about cost-effective focussed PR campaigns and projects, at no obligation. Special rates apply for WIN associates.
FOR INFORMATION: Tara Gilleece
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