A Guide to Effective PR for Your Business
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Learn how to build and maintain a positive image for your business.
In business, reputation is everything.
Unless you have a good image in the eyes of your customers and others, you won’t ever achieve to the extent that you want to.
Good public relations (PR) is essential to building and maintaining a good image.
Whilst not as immediately an effective a promotional tool as advertising, well done PR is more credible, and its effects can be longer lasting.
This guide will help you to not only understand PR, but to plan and create PR opportunities as well as teaching you how to compose press releases and newsworthy stories.
How should I plan my PR?
The benefits of PR are usually not as immediate or tangible as those of advertising, as it is less likely to generate short-term sales.
More commonly, the benefits are seen in the long-term, and may be longer lasting.
When creating a PR plan, you therefore need to think in terms of an extended period.
A PR strategy that isn’t designed to operate over several months or even years will not be effective.
Research publications or broadcasts to find out the kind of story they run, and whether they are suited to spreading the work about your business.
It would be worth researching your customers’ media habits too.
By establishing the kinds of publications they read and broadcasts they watch/listen to.
You can see if you are able to get your PR into any of these.
By reading press directories, you’ll be able to find out what publications circulate in your area.
Hollis, BRAD and Willings Press Guide are some examples.
Remember however, that the media does not work for you, and cannot be forced to fit to your schedule.
Publications may take a long time to respond to your press releases, and can have lead times of several months or more.
Your plan should take this into account.
Finally, the cost of PR is commonly measured in time rather than cash – though if you plan on using a PR agency then you will have to establish what money you’re prepared to set aside.
What should my PR achieve?
Good PR can achieve lots of possible business objectives. This includes:
- Increase awareness.
Being mentioned in a magazine or newspaper can drastically increase the number of enquiries you receive – even on a one-off basis.
- Build a reputation amongst customers.
Whilst claims about your benefits made in advertisements can be dismissed by cynical customers, those made by journalists are seen to carry more credibility.
- Influence groups.
Groups who influence how your business is run and performed – suppliers, councils, trade associations, community groups, and so on – can in turn be influenced by positive and effective PR. It can also help you to lobby trade bodies and government representatives.
- Influence employees.
Those within your organisation can also be influenced by good PR. If you are planning a major change to the running and organisation of the business, good PR can help you implement this by assuaging fears and placating dissent.
- Back up campaigns.
When executed effectively, PR and advertising can work hand in hand to spread the word about the benefits of your business.
- Address specific groups with specialised messages.
Whereas the audience for advertising tends to be broad, and the message conveyed by it more general, PR can allow you to tailor a more specific message to a more specific audience.
- Promote events.
Information about product launches and other promotional events can be broadcast through the use of PR. You can get the word through a mention in the relevant sections of related publications, many of which have dedicated spaces for news about such events.
Developing a comprehensive strategy could see you go some way towards meeting several or even all of these.
How can I create PR opportunities?
If you set aside some time and money, you can create PR opportunities from scratch.
Write and submit articles to local publications, trade magazines and related websites.
They’re always looking for content and will likely be interested in publishing material that you write related to your business and the area it operates in.
You can further promote yourself and your business by framing yourself as an authority in a particular field and you could see yourself being invited to speak at public events or comment on issues and in the media.
Commission surveys and write them up as news releases, if they are relevant to your area of business they can be a great promotional tool.
You can also host or take part in various events that provide opportunities for good PR coverage.
If you develop a new project, take the opportunity to host a product launch for it.
You can generate buzz and coverage in relevant publications/broadcasts.
Invite local media to any openings of new premises you may have or hold events on anniversaries (5 years of trading) or upon reaching certain milestones (1,000th customer).
You can also team up with select media outlets to run competitions related to your business. Consider offering your own products as prizes.
You can either host your own sponsorship events for local charities or attend/donate to any that are already in place.
Finally, sponsoring a local sports team or gallery can give you positive exposure during media coverage of games, matches, competitions and exhibitions.
How can I get my PR into the media?
You need to create a story. No one wants to read an advert in the guise of a news piece, and journalists do not want to write/cover pieces. You need to ensure you have an element of interest in anything you submit for publication/broadcast.
- Tailor the story to the audience. If you are submitting the same story to several publications, rewrite/doctor it to suit the interest of the different audiences. Unless an audience feels that a story reflects their interests they will not read it.
- Prioritise the element of interest. Foreground whatever makes your piece intriguing and new, and avoid directly promoting your business. Your aim should primarily be to increase awareness of your business, not to ‘sell’ it.
- Jazz it up. Dry, functional prose will read like an advertisement – and therefore won’t be read. Don’t be afraid to be funny, or even controversial. It will encourage people to read.
- Use standard formatting. If it is a press release, use the standard press release format. If it is an article, format it similarly to how other articles in the publication are formatted.
- Submit on-time. Work to the deadlines a publication has – if they have short lead times you may have to be very quick off the mark.
- Build relationships. Forge personal contacts with journalists by inviting them to lunches or events. Keep them interested by sending them inside industry news and comments on business issues.
How do I compose a press release?
Before writing and submitting press releases, research the publication you are submitting to and the journalist responsible for the relevant section. Any press releases should be addressed to them.
Use standard press release formatting – Use double spaced lines and wide margins.
Use an eye-catching headline –This will encourage the journalist to read the release, and demonstrate the ‘newsworthy’ elements.
Foreground important elements – Put all the key points in the first paragraph, and then arrange the subsequent paragraphs in order of importance.
Be concise – Write in short sentences and paragraphs.
Be consistent with the existing style – Read examples of pieces in the publication you are submitting to, and do your best to copy it.
Check spellings and facts – Do not send out messy or unverifiable copy.
Include photographs – Pictures attract the attention of readers and journalists. Make sure any photographs you include are high-quality, and in the correct size and format for the publication. Consider using a press photographer for this purpose.
Include contact details – Journalists may need to check details.
Use an appropriate email/letter title – Title it ‘press release’.
Should I use a PR agency?
If your PR budget is in excess of £15,000, you might consider using a PR agency.
They can help secure you coverage in relevant publications, and can save you a lot of time.
Make sure to pick a relevant, experienced agency as ideally they should have experience of your area of business and be able to demonstrate a proven track record of success.
For smaller projects, consider using freelance PR agents – they can have day rates ranging from £300 to £1000.
When approaching a PR agency, provide a brief.
Tell them about your business, the benefits you wish to communicate, and what you are trying to achieve with your PR.
Integrate them into your overall promotional strategy.
Their work should complement, and not contradict, your other promotional activities.