Using PR to improve your business FAQs

Contributor - Peter Ibbetson


Using PR to improve your business FAQs19 FAQs people ask about how to use PR to improve their business

  1. Is my business suitable for PR?
  2. How do I publicise the launch of my product?
  3. How do I use PR to increase sales?
  4. How do I promote my business using PR?
  5. Is PR a waste of money?
  6. Are PR agencies a waste of money?
  7. What's the best way to manage a PR agency?
  8. How do I measure the value of PR?
  9. How can media coverage improve my SEO?
  10. How do I shout about the award I've just won?
  11. Why do I need PR for my brand?
  12. Why are communities good for my PR?
  13. I've heard that storytelling is important in PR, but why is this so?
  14. Why do I need to be photographed for PR when I hate being snapped?
  15. Why is authenticity such a big deal in PR?
  16. What are the best free online PR services?
  17. Should I be keeping tabs on my competitors' PR?
  18. Can I see what press releases my competitors are putting out?
  19. I've got social media, so why do I need PR?

1. Is my business suitable for PR?

A clever PR professional can probably make a story out of any business, getting journalists to write about it in a positive way.

But the fact remains that some businesses are more interesting to journalists than others.

We can all name startups that were rarely out of the press when they started up: Innocent Drinks, The Body Shop, Tie Rack, Sock Shop, Glasses Direct, Pret a Manger, Coffee Republic, Mumsnet, Net-a-Porter, and The Black Farmer, to name but a few.

Innocent was cool and trendy. The Body Shop was all about natural beauty products and Anita Roddick's environmental campaigning. Tie Rack and Sock Shop were the poster boys for a wave of disruptive niche retailers. Coffee Republic quickly listed on AIM and was planning to take on the big chains. All of them had a story and many of them had PR companies working flat out to generate the barrage of publicity.

Put yourselves in the shoes of a journalist who is in the business of getting readers to read a publication or visit a website. Do you have a story that is of interest? Can you build a reputation as an expert, so that journalists ask you to comment on what's happening in your industry?

You may read an article in a local paper or magazine and think to yourself “Why are they talking to that company? I would have much more interesting things to say!” If so, you and your business are suitable for PR.

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2. How do I publicise the launch of my product?

The three critical elements are:

  • timing;
  • right solution;
  • communication.

Get into the mindset of your customer so that you're launching at the time when they want to buy; you're really going to meet their need; and you make sure they know about it.

Remember that often journalists will have their own lead times and you should be aiming to launch to meet their timescales too. For example, new winter fashions should be timed for late winter, with a focus on function, which is 'sold' to the target consumers by benefits.

To communicate, choose the best channel, aligning social media and traditional media.

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3. How do I use PR to increase sales?

In today's world buyers rely on independent endorsement of products, so increasing sales relies on getting those endorsements.

The most effective way of doing so is through the media. Target the journalists or bloggers that are most likely to write about you. Entice them to write about you, and watch out for increased web activity and on the back of it, increased sales.

Imagine you make barbecues. Potential purchasers will typically go to Google to search for which to buy. The top results will be the big DIY stores. But there may well also be a trusted review site article on the best barbecues to buy. That's what people will look at, and that's where you want to be. Then sales will grow.

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4. How do I promote my business using PR?

PR is at the heart of your marketing mix, covering:

Ideally you should be looking for independent, trusted journalists and bloggers to be writing favourable comments about you. This will be several times more effective than your own advertising and self-promotion, as much more belief is placed on independent comment.

It's important to try and combine all four components of your marketing mix to achieve the best impact.

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5. Is PR a waste of money?

PR is not a waste of money. Far from it. It is a critical part of any marketing strategy, sitting alongside advertising and sales promotions, for example.

The value you derive from it is increased sales. Without increased sales your business does not grow, and in fact it may contract. So a small allocation of budget from the marketing plan to try and get your brand covered in the press is well worth the investment.

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6. Are PR agencies a waste of money?

PR agencies are there to help businesses access the media. Many agencies specialise in particular niches and boast close relationships with the journalists that cover those sectors.

When working with a new client, the agency starts by helping the business with its PR strategy, working out how the business will best benefit from PR and what results can be expected for a given budget. The agency can then help with the timing and content of any press releases, and engagement with selected media, including distribution of the release to the relevant journalists and bloggers. Finally, it should help the business track the value achieved.

This all takes time and resource, so you can expect to pay even a one-person agency £1,000 a month for their time, commitment and connections. For a more established agency, this could increase to several thousands of pounds a month and a commitment of at least 12 months.

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7. What's the best way to manage a PR agency?

A business has three main options when looking to manage its PR. It can do it all itself, it can use an online platform to help do it, or it can use an agency.

Which agency will depend upon budget and sector specialism, but the best one will depend upon the people, and whether you can build a strong relationship with them.

Firstly decide whether the business needs a specialist agency that will help it to get into the columns of specialist outlets in a way that generic PR couldn't.

Then the budget should be assessed, and finally the people who would be running the PR interviewed, making sure that it is the people who will be doing the work that are met, not just the agency head.

Seeing what success they have had with similar clients is important - but be aware that they may also be dealing with your competitors.

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8. How do I measure the value of PR?

The traditional way to measure value is record every mention and every column inch achieved, and then to value this against the cost of advertising in the same publication. A mention by a journalist is judged to be four times as valuable as an advertisement, on the basis that a message disseminated via PR is far more credible than the same message via an advertisement.

For example, if the editor of BeeCraft magazine writes that a particular hive is robust, it is much more powerful than an advertisement in the same magazine from the same hive manufacturer making the same claim about the hive being robust.

However, the fact remains that the value of PR is hard to pin down. People may end up buying your product having seen press coverage - but their purchasing decision will have also been influenced by other factors including price, design, existing familiarity with the brand, word of mouth recommendations, and so on. One cannot attribute each sale to a single aspect of the purchasing 'journey'.

Furthermore, tracking and analysing PR adds significantly to the cost. So many businesses just treat PR as part of the overall marketing mix, reviewing how effective the overall marketing strategy has been at the end of the year.

For a small business, that is probably the most sensible way of managing the value of PR. Think about the cost and effort involved, and what you achieved. Is it worth continuing?

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9. How can media coverage improve my SEO?

An important thing that search engines consider when calculating the score for any of your web pages is the links to your website, called inbound links or backlinks.

When you get online media coverage, journalists often include a link to your website in their article. These links pass on 'Google juice' to your own website.

If you get a backlink from a 'high authority' (trusted) website such as the BBC, the Royal Navy, or the gov.uk site, for example, the link can make quite a difference to the ranking of the page (and the whole website) that is linked to. Indeed, search engines value the 'quality' of backlinks far more than the quantity.

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10. How do I shout about the award I've just won?

Act quickly, to get your business into the media while it is still news.

Immediately celebrate your win on all social media channels, especially Twitter, and include pictures. Show your appreciation of the event and the other award nominees.

Have a press release ready to send first thing the next morning, and send it to all relevant small business, industry and local journalists.

Include the contact details of a relevant spokesperson who will be available for interview, in case a journalist would like further information.

Even if a journalist does not wish to cover your story, they will notice that your business was a 'winner'. This is all part of building up a positive relationship with that journalist.

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11. Why do I need PR for my brand?

If you run a successful business, with great products and a fantastic service, you will want people to know about it.

Innovative companies such as Trunki, which makes colourful ride-on suitcases for children, have built up their whole business on the back of PR and social media. Good news travels fast.

But PR also offers opportunities for a me-too business like a firm of accountants. Indeed, PR is the tool that allows businesses to show that they are different.

Take the example of accountants The Wow Company, who specialise in serving creative agencies. The firm's annual BenchPress Report reviews the financial health of almost 500 agencies and gives the firm plenty to talk about. It sets Wow apart from other accounting firms.

Wow has a story to tell, so it makes sense to use PR to spread the news. The end result is that more creative agencies will notice and talk about Wow. PR is part of the 'marketing mix' that leads to more sales.

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12. Why are communities good for my PR?

The main objective of PR is to entice others to say positive things about your business.

Communities are populated by people who share a common interest. It might be work-related, such as a forum for teachers to discuss issues. Or it might be a website for hobbyists who want to chat about fishing or scuba diving. Alternatively it might be a temporary community that comes together on Twitter to discuss a hashtagged topic.

All of these communities are PR opportunities for someone. If you sell crafts kits to schools, and you have something helpful to offer this community, let them know about it. For example, you may have commissioned some research on how craft kits help learning development, or you may have created some useful case studies showing how schools can involve parents in after-school crafts clubs.

Aim to be visible in relevant communities, and to lead others on a journey that ends with them saying nice things about you.

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13. I've heard that storytelling is important in PR, but why is this so?

Take the well-known example of Airbnb, the room-letting website that went global in just a few years.

The company could have focused relentlessly on how much money homeowners can make and how much money travellers can save. Instead, they have focused their PR on the human side of the Airbnb experience.

They churn out inspiring stories of real people who feel more alive as a result of being involved with Airbnb. Homeowners who have met all kinds of interesting people and who have learnt to trust their visitors in an era with so little trust - and travellers who have been to every corner of the planet, enjoying the hospitality of their Airbnb hosts.

This storytelling resulted in vast numbers of people (and journalists) knowing about, talking about and writing about Airbnb.

People connect with, and remember, stories. Successful stories are those that inspire, challenge, or educate, or that are controversial. Most journalists favour stories with conflict.

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14. Why do I need to be photographed for PR when I hate being snapped?

Any news release is enhanced by a good image. This need not necessarily be the business owner, and often a relevant but genuinely interesting picture is more attractive for the journalist. So give the journalist a choice of images, including the business owner themselves.

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15. Why is authenticity such a big deal in PR?

'Spin' rarely works as an effective PR tool. Both journalists and readers can see through it and are more likely to be negative about your product as a result.

Long-term success relies upon continual positive mentions by trusted independent commentators, and authenticity is a requirement of this.

For example, Anita Roddick could not have achieved her PR coups for The Body Shop if she had not been a genuine environmental warrior.

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16. What are the best free online PR services?

There are various online PR platforms offering a wide range of services. Most of them offer a free trial period for you to try the product out, too.

Press release distribution services

These enable you to send out your releases to a list of journalists. Most of the time the platform will match your release to the relevant journalists according to your business industry sector, or geographically. If the story is interesting and relevant enough, this kind of platform can produce good results.

Editorial request services

These allow you to receive editorial requests from journalists looking for quotes to include in their article.

Combined services

Some online PR platforms offer both a release distribution and a comment request service. You can also find some online tools that allow you to embed a media room on your website and provide access to a calendar.

Most of those services are not free after a certain period of time. However, there are PR platforms for every budget.

You can also use Twitter to do your PR. Indeed, thanks to hashtags such as #journorequest, you can find some editorial requests from journalists and bloggers yourself.

To choose the best online PR service, you need to define your needs and your budget. Creating a PR calendar is very useful to help you with that.

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17. Should I be keeping tabs on my competitors' PR?

Keeping an eye on your competitors' PR can give you insights into publications and journalists that may be interested in your business. It can also help you understand the type of stories and news angles that get coverage.

But look beyond your direct competitors. If you sell carpets, look at companies that sell other flooring products. What can you learn from them?

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18. Can I see what press releases my competitors are putting out?

Yes, it is often possible to track down the press releases they have written. The press release should be on their own website, as the whole idea is to make it available to anyone who comes across the story - including journalists from other publications. It was also probably shared on social media.

Otherwise, do a search on Google.

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19. I've got social media, so why do I need PR?

Social media and PR go hand-in-hand. Both are used to make your business visible and to build its reputation.

If you win an award, open a new office, or hire a new team member, it's always good to celebrate these things on social media.

But if your award is sufficiently newsworthy, and you manage to get coverage in a trade magazine, for example, you can potentially reach a much larger audience.

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contributor

Peter Ibbetson

A banker by training; an entrepreneur by heart; a visionary by head. His first career was in banking, rising through a range of roles to Head of Business Banking at NatWest, before trying his hand at a portfolio career. Being enticed back into the RBS Group to represent the SME side of the ban...