Essential guide to effective PR

Public Relations (PR) helps your business protect and enhance its reputation

The reputation of your business is critical to its success. Public relations (PR) is the work you do to protect and enhance that reputation. Good publicity builds brand awareness, it reassures existing customers and it brings in new customers as more people hear good things about your business.

PR best practice is about spotting and creating opportunities to get good publicity. It’s also vital to build strong relationships with journalists and influencers who can help you reach your target audience.

Planning

Opportunities

Creating interest

Handling the media

Writing a press release

Photographs

PR agencies

Planning

Think about the audiences you are trying to reach

  • Most PR aims to build your reputation with customers.
  • You may need to reach several target groups, all with slightly different messages. Your planning process should prioritise these target groups and agree key messages for them.
  • Reach out to key opinion-formers to encourage them to share their good opinion about your business with their own networks.
  • Lobby trade bodies, local government, community groups, suppliers and other people who matter to your business. Your immediate objective is positive publicity
  • PR can be used to increase awareness of your business and products. Even a single mention in a national paper can generate a large number of enquiries.
  • You can publicise events, such as product launches, through the media. Trade publications and websites often have sections for this kind of news.
  • PR can reinforce advertising campaigns and other promotional activities. Favourable comments by journalists about your product are more credible than the claims you make in your advertisements.

Your longer-term goal may be to build your image and credibility

  • Without PR, it can take years to build up a reputation.
  • A good reputation can help you attract customers, charge higher prices, do better deals with suppliers, and recruit and retain employees.

Plan well in advance

  • PR usually brings long-term benefits, rather than immediate sales.
  • You cannot control the timing of media coverage. You may have to send press releases over a period of months to a publication before it pays any attention to you.
  • Although a single mention may have an impact, good PR will create a cumulative effect, as your publicity builds up..

Look for publications and websites that reach your target audience

  • Ask your customers what they read, hear and watch. Think about the geographical location of the people you are trying to reach.
  • Research a range of media outlets (websites, publications, local TV and radio) to find out what kinds of stories they cover.
  • It is always easier to get exposure in local newspapers and specialist magazines than in the national press. But do not be afraid to approach the nationals if your story is strong enough.

Identify other options

  • Local TV and radio broadcasts can bring your message to life, through words or images. For example, a news item or interview.
  • Public relations can involve a lot more than simply putting out press releases. You may need to reach out to specific experts or influencers to get across complex or specialised messages.
  • The best form of PR is a satisfied customer who recommends your business to other people.

Budget realistically for the time and costs involved

  • The largest cost of PR is usually management time.
  • Using a PR agency can increase the effectiveness and reach of your PR and reduce the demands on your time but will increase costs.

2. Opportunities

Most businesses generate natural opportunities for PR activity

For example:

  • a new product launch;
  • opening new premises;
  • appointments of new staff;
  • successful contracts and customer stories;
  • events on social media that have gone viral; or
  • milestone events (eg your 1,000th customer).

You can create publicity opportunities

For example:

  • submit articles for publication in your local press or trade magazines, or on relevant websites which are looking for content;
  • commission a survey (serious or frivolous) that can be written up as a news release;
  • promote yourself as an expert and offer yourself for public speaking or comment on topical issues;
  • develop a social media presence, participate in online forums and write or comment on blogs;
  • suggest a local newspaper competition with your products as prizes.

You can become involved with events and stories which are already in the public eye

  • Send letters to the editor about local or industry issues.
  • Sponsor, or donate products to, charity events.
  • Support careers evenings at local schools or colleges.
  • Sponsor a local sports team or exhibition.

You can become involved in organisations which are likely to attract publicity

  • Team up with suppliers or customers to work on attracting joint publicity.
  • Become a figurehead in a trade association or local organisation, so that its publicity brings you publicity.

3. Creating interest

Journalists will only cover your story if they think it is interesting or newsworthy

News is typically:

  • topical
  • new or controversial;
  • amusing or surprising;
  • directly important to the readership (or audience);
  • a revelation or discovery;
  • linked with famous people or places.

Maximise the publicity value of your PR opportunities

  • Think of an angle to make it more interesting. For example, inviting a celebrity to the opening of your new premises.
  • Write your press release to highlight the interesting aspects of the story – provide facts and statistics, background information and quotes to help journalists write a good story.
  • Tailor the same story to suit different media. For example, a local paper might be interested in a local business success while a specialist journal might focus on technical details of a new product.
  • Think about the image you are promoting. Beware of providing stories which can lead to bad publicity. Your first priority is to provide a story which will be published. Journalists are unlikely to respond to a press release which reads like an advertisement for your business.

Bad publicity

Disgruntled employees, complaints from customers, crises and accidents all make strong news stories. Be prepared for bad publicity.

Put your side of the story

  • If a journalist contacts you, check what the deadline is, carefully construct a written statement, and respond in good time.
  • An article saying that you refused to comment always looks bad.
  • Avoid “off the record” comments. In a serious situation, there is no such thing.

Do not let journalists speak directly to your employees

  • Let all employees know who to refer journalists' enquiries to.

Take action

  • The most effective way of dealing with bad publicity is to show that you have done everything you reasonably could to correct any problems.

4. Handling the media

With PR you have to sell yourself to the media to get good publicity.

Give the editors and journalists what they need

  • Send them interesting stories they will want to publish.
  • Make sure your press releases reach publications before their deadlines.
  • Submit your press release well in advance.
  • Invite trade journalists to any event you are holding.
  • Use a standard format and the right style when writing a press release.

Always send press releases by email; get the email addresses of key media contacts.

  • Journalists and editors are often happy to discuss ideas over the telephone. It can save time, and ensures you hit their deadlines

Build relationships with individual journalists

  • Find out the names of the journalists and make personal contact.
  • Invite them to your events or give them a call to find out what kind of stories they’re interested in.
  • Be helpful. Tip them off on breaking industry news; become a useful source of comment on key issues.

Do not be put off

  • Send press releases whenever you have a worthwhile story, even if your last release received no coverage. There are many reasons why a story may be rejected or held over, which may have nothing to do with your release.
  • Put journalists on your mailing list for background information they may find interesting (e.g. your company newsletter).

5. Writing a press release

Send your press release to the right people

  • Contact media organisations to find out the names of journalists who are most likely to cover the story.

Adopt a simple press release format to make it easier for the journalist

  • Title the subject of your email Press release.
  • Use double spaced lines, with wide margins, to make the text easier to read.
  • Include the date at the top of the press release.

Focus on a strong opening

  • Write a relevant and attention-grabbing headline.
  • The opening paragraph must summarise the story and highlight the key points of interest.
  • Add extra paragraphs giving more detail, in order of importance.

Write in the style of the publication, website or programme

  • Use short sentences and short paragraphs (no more than 60 words per paragraph).
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon.
  • Include quotations. Comment should always come from a named individual, not your business.
  • Aim to write a release in a style that could be published in your targeted publications with no editing. Ensure you cover the most important points at the top so the story could be cut at the end of any paragraph with no further editing.
  • Keep the text short and to the point, typically no more than 300 words. Put any detailed or background information in a separate Note to editors at the end of the press release.

Provide contact details

  • Below the text, put the writer's name, address, email address and telephone number.
  • Make sure the person named is available to speak to journalists.

Keep your credibility

  • Read the release thoroughly to check spellings and all checkable facts before sending it.

Heading for the waste bin

Editors say the ten most common mistakes in connection with press releases are:

  • long, boring text with nothing to say;
  • dull photos of products (with no people) or of rows of middle-aged men;
  • no quotes;
  • failure to think up any angles;
  • good story, buried in paragraph four;
  • failure to tailor the press release to the media it is being sent to;
  • sending a press release about a business outside the circulation or broadcast area;
  • missing the deadline;
  • sending the press release to the wrong person or just to “the editor”;
  • spelling the journalist's name incorrectly.

6. Photographs

An interesting and relevant picture will always increase your chances of coverage

  • The picture will attract the journalist's attention, even if it is not used.
  • If the picture is published, it will help to draw readers' attention as well.

Plan ahead

  • How can you make the photo interesting? Think about the background, people, poses, products, props and lighting.
  • If your story catches an editor's attention in advance, they may send their own photographer.

Provide pictures that are easy to publish

  • Check what format the image should be sent in (this will usually be a high quality jpeg).
  • Include a caption which includes your company's name and the names of anyone in the photo.

If possible, have the picture taken by a press photographer

  • A press photographer will have an eye for the shots the media want.
  • Ask your local newspaper to recommend a good freelance photographer.
  • If the publication knows the photographer, journalists are more likely to look at your press release.

7. PR agencies

Consider using an agency if your annual PR budget is greater than £15,000

  • For smaller projects, you can employ freelance PR professionals. Day rates can range from £300 to £1,000.
  • Choose an agency with relevant experience and contacts

Provide a clear briefing on what you are trying to achieve

  • Explain what makes your company and your products different.

Plan how the agency will work with your other promotional activities and agencies

  • Be wary of agencies that see PR as the solution to every marketing services need.

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