If I could change one false perception about marketing your business, it would be that good marketing begins and ends with advertising.
Now, I love a good ad. An engaging, on-point, 30-second spot can be a thing of beauty. But a good advertising and marketing strategy has two engines: awareness and relationship-building, and the driver of those engines is public relations.
PR wears many hats. It’s everything from media relations and story placement to grassroots outreach and philanthropic activities. If you have the discipline and ability to DIY, a basic campaign can be fairly easy on the budget. On the other hand, it can also have a pretty high time cost. But if you’re willing to put in the hard work, good public relations can generate invaluable, long-lasting results. To get you thinking like a PR maven, think about the option more likely to inspire a purchase: a beautiful but obviously paid-for shoe ad in a magazine or an article discussing that same pair of shoes as one of the top 10 must-haves for runners? Unpaid, third-party endorsements are powerful, and your customers are much more likely to make a purchase based on those third-party endorsements than an advertisement.
Running an effective and affordable PR effort is challenging but doable. Here are some tips and tricks to help your business craft an efficient, cost-effective PR strategy:
Know your goals. Before launching into any PR effort, you must identify what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to generate more sales? Launch a new product? Reach a new audience? While the answer may be yes to all of the above, try to focus on your most important goal and target your current efforts around your goal. Once you’ve generated success in that one area, you can launch a new PR effort toward the next goal.
Tell (or create) a compelling story. Pitch the story not the product. This cannot be stressed enough. Think beyond what you want to say, and consider the deeper connection to a larger trend. The key to effective PR — whether it’s pitching a story to the media or inspiring customers to respond to a call to action — is shaping the story to meet their goals, not your goals. Writers and audiences look for stories that are authentic, relatable and unique. But first, you need a hook. Start by asking:
- Has your business created something entirely new to the market or developed an innovative solution to a widely experienced problem?
- What trends can your business speak to?
- Does your business have expertise it can lend to a major news story?
- Is there a local angle around something your business is doing that impacts the community right now?
- Do any of your employees or customers have an interesting story relating to your business?
- Have you launched a philanthropic activity or effort that people can join?
- Have you recently won any awards or recognition?
Be a thought leader. Thought leadership can be a great PR strategy. It’s essentially providing your audience or customers with useful, genuinely interesting content intended to inform on larger trends. It is not meant to persuade them about your own company or product. Providing effective insights into your industry and its trends can be press-worthy and valuable — but only if it feels authentic.
Connect truthfully. Many businesses approach PR like a machine gun, firing off as many emails and press releases as possible. This is wasted effort. Spend time doing your research. Identify journalists, bloggers, social media influencers and other key audiences whose interests most fit your brand and industry, and connect with them. Start by introducing yourself, reading their work and taking an interest in what they have to say so you can understand their styles and preferences. This allows you to start building relationships long before you hit them up for a story or action. Then, even after they cover your story, maintain those relationships and keep engaging.
Be a social media star. Focus on at least one or two platforms. Not only can this be effective in connecting with influencers and journalists in your community and industry, but it can also help you identify developing trends and news around which you can craft PR stories for your brand. Additionally, being the manager of your own social media is a highly effective method for promoting your company in general, as it provides your customers a platform for engaging with your business by giving feedback and asking questions concerning your products. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube are all economical PR methods.
Get to the point. Whether you’re talking to the media, your customers or the general public, keep your message short and to the point. No one wants to read a long, rambling soliloquy about your company. Tell the audience in the first few sentences how they’ll benefit from your story, and have a good angle that shows you respect their time.
Be a fantastic resource. Don’t stop with a good story, bring it to life and make it easy for a journalist, blogger, customer or volunteer to take it and run. Craft an outline of the story, provide relevant website links, photos, videos and outreach materials that demonstrate that you want your audiences to be successful regardless of whether they use the information.
Always have a call to action. End every interaction with a clear call to action that tells the consumer what you would like them to do. This rule applies in every situation, from talking to the media to having a one-on-one conversation at a networking event. Particularly, phrasing this as a question, such as, “Why don’t you give it a try?” may illicit a quicker response than an open-ended statement such as, “Please call with any questions.”
A consistent public relations strategy will help build general awareness of your service or product and will enhance the effectiveness of any of your other marketing and advertising efforts.