Getting Started with Public Relations aka PR
What is PR?
PR or Public Relations is all about reputation, what you say or do and in turn what other people say about you.
In terms of a marketing activity for your company PR takes care of your reputation. Work is undertaken to build and maintain a good reputation for your company.
Imagine you are a greetings card designer launching your first range of greetings cards into the market. To make sales you know you need to get noticed and build a solid reputation.
You decide you want to be known for high quality, design-led greeting cards that are kind to the environment.
You put together a PR campaign and you successfully get your new greetings cards featured in:
- An industry website for design-led products
- A glossy consumer magazine’s article about the rise of Eco-friendly goods.
- An Eco-friendly shopping guide
With these 3 features you are establishing your company’s reputation, which will help you make sales. People reading the articles will associate your company with praise from third-party publications.
On the other hand, if your greetings cards were the subject of a review that said they were poor quality, poorly designed or damaging to the environment your reputation would suffer. Anyone viewing that article might decide not to buy from you.
Both of these situations can benefit from a little help with PR.
To feature in magazines, newspapers and blogs you need to have a PR outreach strategy that gets you in front of journalists and bloggers. At the same time you may also need PR to run “damage control” if your company gets negative press.
Why is PR Important?
Going back to what we started with, PR is about reputation.
People by from brands they like and trust. In today’s world easy access to internet-ready computers, tablets and mobile phones mean any buyer can assess your reputation in a matter of seconds.
If they find a good reputation for high quality products, good customer service and fast delivery they sees signals that they can trust you.
If a buyer finds bad reviews that rubbish your products, moan about your customer service or complain about deliveries they will back away from you in a heartbeat.
A good reputation quite simply leads to more potential for customers and sales.
When it comes to planning out your PR activities I’m going to hope that 99% of what you will do will be to generate good publicity.
There may be times when you have to also deal with bad stuff. If there is a genuine crisis, someone being hurt by one of your products for example, you need to stay calm, establish the facts and then prepare a response. But these genuine huge events are rare, hopefully non-existent for most companies.
As the majority of card & gift companies are small businesses, that small percentage of the time when you come across something negative it’s most likely to be a disgruntled customer who posts something bad about you in an online forum or on your social media page.
When this happens you need to stay calm, try not to take it personally and once again establish the facts and respond. This may be wherever the negative comment originated, or you may prefer to take the conversation to a more private space, such as email or direct messages. Your response will be dictated by the situation.
Again, hopefully this will be an incredibly rare situation.
The majority of the time you will be attempting to generate good press, and your activities will include:
- Writing and distributing press releases
- Creating a story pitch for a journalist or publication
- Responding to journalists enquiries
A press release is an official statement issued to the media giving information on a particular topic. For card and gift companies this will usually be the launch of a new product or service. It might also include changes in the company; a new policy, a new hire etc.
Another way to get featured in the press is to pitch journalists with a story idea. Rather than focusing on your products this will focus on something newsworthy about you or your business.
Many magazines, newspapers and blogs write articles about entrepreneurship, careers and lifestyle subjects; while these may not directly talk about your products, they will give a wider view of your business and start getting your name out there.
Pitches to journalists and publications give you the opportunity to establish your expertise and the values of your business.
You should be aware that pitches can go two ways: either the journalists writes the story and you help, or you write the story. The latter will happen more if you’re talking to a publication that sources articles from freelancers. Be aware of what your pitching and be prepared for writing an article, if that’s what’s needed.
Alternatively you may also set aside some PR time to look for opportunities to help a journalist. Many journalists and bloggers use social media to find sources and quotes for articles they are developing.
In responding to journalists enquiries you can play a part in an existing piece and get yourself a little free publicity.
What Does PR Need?
So we’ve considered three basic activities for generating good press: press releases, pitches and responding to enquiries. But what do you need in place to carry out these tasks?
Well there’s no hard or fast rules but here are a few things that might help:
The joy go blogs for PR comes down to 2 things. First a blog can establish your expertise. secondly a blog showcases your writing skills. If you’re pitching a story idea, or wanting to provide a quote for an article, pointing a journalists to your blog, gives them an easy way to assess your reputation and who you are.
Like your blog you social media profiles can also help journalists judge who you are. If you’ve got an active social media following and you’re putting out good content, this will encourage people to work with you. If you’re Twitter profile is an egg or your content looks spammy, the media won’t want to talk about you.
Being Easily to Contact
PR also requires you to be easy to contact. Journalists and bloggers often have a quick turnaround on researching and writing articles. Print journalists will often have fixed deadlines that they can’t miss. This means that you need to be at the other end of a phone if and when you’re needed. If a journalists only has an email contact for you and you only reply to your emails once a week, your likely to be passed over for someone who says “here’s my mobile number, call me anytime”.
PR and the Card and Gift Industry
I’m still trying to work out a good way to measure how effectively the greetings card and giftware industry uses PR.
I recently reviewed how over 600 companies utilised the free PR services at an industry trade show. My research showed that just 9% of the companies exhibiting had used the show’s PR services.
Combined with this I have close to 8 years experience receiving press releases. I’d estimate 90% of what I receive are irrelevant or aren’t good enough to be turned into a feature.
Together these two tiny bits of info would suggest that our industry struggles with PR. I have however seen examples where this definitely isn’t the case.
I’ve seen an up-and-coming greetings card designer featured on the front page of a national newspaper’s business supplement.
I’ve also seen an established greetings card company owner speak at numerous trade shows and business events.
My current feeling is that the majority of card and gift companies do find PR difficult. In future research I hope to find out why, but I think a lack of knowledge may be one cause. I will therefore be sharing a few PR lessons in upcoming articles and training.