Encyclopedia Britannica online (http://www.britannica.com/) offers the following lengthy definition for Public Relations:
“Public Relations—Aspect of communications involving the relations between an entity subject to or seeking public attention and the various publics that are or may be interested in it. The entity seeking attention may be a business corporation, an individual politician, a performer or author, a government or government agency, a charitable organization, a religious body, or almost any other person or organization…”
The discipline of Public Relations, typically referred to simply as PR, is multi-faceted. PR is part art, part science, part psychology and part gut. It demands great thinking, great writing, a great eye for a story, and the ability to get the right information into the right person’s hands at the right time. As illustrated in the definition, a wide variety of individuals and organizations use PR to promote awareness and shape opinion.
You’ve worked hard to build your business, and now you want to get the word out. While you may know PR could help you do this, you may not know what to do or how to do it. Knowing the basic parameters of a good PR plan helps.
A good PR plan can be based on a few key elements:
First, figure out what you are trying to achieve and what your message is.
PR is used for a variety of purposes. Politicians use is to gain public support for themselves and the issues they represent. Businesses use it to create awareness of new products and services. Celebrities use it to keep their names out in the public eye, and to keep their public persona intact.
PR is also used in crisis management moments, perhaps when there is a product recall or a health scare—think back to when cyanide-laced Tylenol Extra-Strength capsules were found in the retail stream in 1982, causing seven deaths. (The Washington Post even ran a headline “Tylenol, Killer or Cure”—talk about the need for crisis management!)
Unless you are currently dealing with a crisis of your own, your message is likely focused on what your business or organization does/offers. Also, that message should be supported by why the thing you offer is the best choice for prospects.
While these two points may seem simplistic, there are nuances that must be thought about. What about your message is going to get the attention of the media? Often, business owners make the mistake of believing that if it’s big news to them, then it will also be seen as such by the press. Sorry to burst your bubble, but often this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sometimes, stories that at first glance seem to lack “media-worthiness,” can be made more enticing to the media by approaching the subject matter from another angle. Perhaps something about your business can be linked to another piece of news that happens to be a hot topic…
Once your message is clarified, figure out who should receive it. Don’t only think in terms of who you wish to receive it. Think also in terms of who is most likely to get that message in front of your prospect, and who is most likely to get that message in front of the largest audience.
Furthermore, realizing that PR does not guarantee coverage in the same way advertising does, think about how else you will use your press releases to your advantage—whether or not the story is picked up by the media. Press releases can be used for your own promotional purposes regardless of whether they receive media pick-up or not.
Once you know what your goals and message points are, it’s time to write a press release. You’ve probably already looked online and found dozens of press release templates that show you the basic traditional format. You’ve probably also learned to utilize the traditional “who, what, when, where, why and how” points when writing the beginning of any news story, and then expanding upon those points later in the news piece.
However, be sure to pay attention to a couple other things:
Make sure you have a very strong headline. Create a headline that the media is likely to use.
Make the most of your words. A lot can be said with just a little. Conversely, people often say too much while not conveying much at all…
As mentioned previously, if your subject is not directly “media-worthy,” then think of additional story angles that are more likely to get media attention, and then bring your desired topics in as supporting items rather than primary subjects.
If you have anything that is truly groundbreaking, new or different—something that’s going to make a cynical, overworked and underpaid journalist get excited—then don’t hold back. USE IT!
Do you have any photos to include that would be of interest to the media—for example, a photo of a local celebrity or personality involved in your business in some way (as a client, spokesperson, volunteer, etc.)…
Once you’ve written your press release, it’s time to use it. Who are your going to send it to? Put together a list of contacts that you think should receive your story.
If you don’t already have one, create a master distribution list with all the necessary information (names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, position titles, media outlets, websites, etc.).
If you have an existing distribution list, make sure the information is up to date (journalists changes companies, quit, get fired, move, or get promoted as well, so keep in mind that the reporter or editor you spoke to six months ago may no longer be the appropriate contact).
Make sure you have a good distribution list. Take some time to think strategically about who should receive your press release. You may be surprised by some of the left-field ideas that may come which actually end up being fantastic choices for receiving and using your press release.
With your distribution list ready to go, it’s time to send your press release. These days, e-mail is the preferred method of receiving press releases (I won’t bother to mention mail and faxing as these are now pretty much universally obsolete methods of receiving press releases).
Create a short e-mail message that briefly outlines the subject matter of your press release. Outline only the most important details, and mention that you have included a full press release. Also, make sure that your e-mail’s subject line is short and designed to immediately grab the recipient’s attention.
Whether you attach your press release to the e-mail as an enclosure, or simply copy and paste it below the brief e-mail message is up to you. However, keep in mind that e-mail enclosures sometimes cause e-mails to go into recipients’ spam folders more readily than plain e-mails do. Likewise, if you have backup photos to accompany the story, simply mention them in the e-mail and state that you can send them if desired.
With any good PR strategy, repetition is key. PR should be practiced as an ongoing discipline. The more times you get your name out there with good stories, the more likely you are to receive media coverage. Continue going through the process of PLAN, WRITE, CONTACT, SEND and REPEAT. Create new stories and send them out on an ongoing basis. Continue to keep you eye out for story angles. Develop a relationship with the contacts on your media distribution list.
Whatever your do, keep trying and keep working on it. Make PR an integral part of your ongoing marketing plan for your business.
These five points offer some basics guidelines for starting a good and actionable plan. Think through these components and see what you come up with. Then, talk to a good public relations consultant who can help you further develop your plan, polish it and then execute it for tangible results.