Liz Ivens is a Journalist and Public Relations Consultant. Below, Liz discusses how powerful the media and PR can be for promoting your brand—when done correctly.
All publicity is good publicity, right? Rarely. The media—whether print, broadcast, online or social—is the most effective medium for raising the awareness of a business or brand. And using the oxygen of publicity through PR media coverage is one of the smartest ways to do this.
But for your brand to truly engage with its customers, you need to have a powerful narrative. You need to tell a story. It’s crucial you know how to communicate that story in the first place. If you don’t, someone will tell it for you — and it may not be in the way you want.
Indeed, get it wrong and it can be catastrophic.
What is ‘PR’?
In a nutshell, public relations coverage is ‘earned media’—in other words, content that appears in print, online or in the broadcast media, which is there because an editor or journalist believes it is of genuine interest to their audience. It has earned its place to be there.
It has what journalists call a ‘news hook’—whether that is a new ground-breaking product, some interesting research, or perhaps a powerful human interest story.
Whilst done in the right way it may have the ability to create a visible and instant impact, more often PR is about building a narrative and the credibility of a brand over the long term to solidify your company legend and create a lasting legacy of trust.
The right fit
So how do you approach PR and decide on the best strategy?
Firstly, you need to ask yourself why you need PR coverage. What are your objectives? Do you want to attract new consumers to drive sales? Maybe you are looking for investment and you need more visibility in the business media? Or perhaps you’re simply looking to raise the credibility and ‘talkability’ of your company? After all, the perception of a thriving, innovative brand being talked about in a positive way can create an infectious energy and a buzz that in turn drives growth.
Secondly, you’ll need to decide what sort of engagement you’ll require with a PR company. And for how long? A retainer lasting a year or a one-off campaign? Or would you perhaps be better to get a PR specialist ‘in house’?
Thirdly, you’ll need to establish what your budget is. Be prepared to invest a decent amount in a good PR Agency — after all, you pay peanuts you get monkeys.
How well your money is spent will depend on ensuring you have clear objectives, a strong strategy and the right PR team.
Finally, and crucially, you need ask if now is the right time. Do you genuinely have something to say? Can you sustain this? Is your brand ready to face the spotlight of public scrutiny? These are big questions, which require careful thinking at a senior level.
The right PR Agency
If you are going to use a PR Agency, there are so many to choose from. How do you pick the right one?
Well, chemistry is extremely important — you’re trusting them with your brand after all. You need to get on with them.
Secondly, do your homework. What clients have they worked with? How have they performed? Have they had any negative media?
This last point is crucial. After all, they’ll be looking after your reputation so it’s crucial they can look after their own too.
Three quick but very different examples to illustrate this:
Last month, a passenger on an easyJet flight tweeted an image of a fellow passenger using a seat without a backrest as the aircraft was boarding. easyJet asked him to remove the image and message them directly. Cue Twitter outrage of a ‘cover up’ — and a PR nightmare. In reality, the passenger moved to a different spot before the aircraft took off and no one sat on the backless seat. But the damage had been done, and the story was widely picked up by the media.
Earlier this year, meanwhile, it was widely reported in the media across Europe that agro-chemical giant Monsanto hired a PR outfit which allegedly used questionable lobbying tactics to promote a best-selling weedkiller. The PR firm — a Dublin-based outfit called Red Flag Consulting — strongly denied any wrongdoing. But yet more allegations surfaced in the Australian media and Bayer, Monsanto’s new owners, were reportedly so uncomfortable they ceased the PR campaign, saying “the means did not justify the ends”. A client distancing itself from its own PR campaign is never a good look.
Finally, who can forget the demise of the once mighty PR firm, Bell Pottinger? The firm was put into administration in September 2017 — with the loss of more than 250 jobs — after it suffered an exodus of clients and a nosedive in fee income following the scandal over its campaign to stir up racial tensions in South Africa. It had become the story.
Here are some other key points to bear in mind when thinking about a PR consultancy:
- Don’t be seduced by glitzy websites or awards. Instead, look for clear indications of what results they’ve achieved for their clients.
- Ask for examples of case studies. What were the objectives and how did they fulfil them? If they have none on their website, ask to see some.
- Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to some of their current or former clients for testimonials.
- Be wary of those who set their fees against the amount of coverage. While it’s important to agree a fair set of ideal targets, nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to placing editorial stories. PR agencies who do this will over-promise and under deliver.
- Be clear about who you’ll be working with. Many larger agencies will seduce potential new clients with senior staff, only to pass them onto juniors if they win the account. Who will you be talking to on a day-to-day basis?
- Ask what journalistic background they have. How do they pitch to journalists? Do they specialise in certain areas?
If you are not going to use a PR Agency but are going to go it alone or in house, there are some crucial points you need to adhere to:
- Be clear about your story and your objectives.
- Write a simple, one-page press brief with a clear headline and the story encapsulated in the first paragraph
- Make sure you have a strong news hook.
- Consider your target market and research your target media. Is it relevant to the publication you’re pitching to?
- Identify the right journalist and the right part of the media organisation.
- Know when to pitch — don’t pitch to a Sunday newspaper on a Friday afternoon, or to a Daily newspaper at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
- Ensure you have images and case studies.
- Be ready to answer tricky questions if required!