By Robert Wynne, Contributor
Everyone wants positive public relations. But not everyone can afford a talented PR firm or consultant. For small businesses or individuals looking to raise their profiles, the choices include:
buying expensive advertisements and hoping someone notices
networking like crazy while trying to meet someone influential, rich or famous
posting their thoughts on Facebook or Twitter TWTR -1.64% all day
using public relations tactics.
The first two choices are great if you are flush with cash and time. Choice #3 is a complete waste of time. The last option is not the easiest choice, but it’s the most effective. When individuals or businesses get recognition from third-party experts in the media, most people find that more credible than ads. Before starting, let us define public relations. It’s the Persuasion Business. You are trying to convince the media, the public, your employees, your vendors or shareholders to change their opinion, reinforce their attitudes, write about or film your client, vote for your issue or candidate, or purchase your service or product.
Here are the attributes of public relations compared to advertising as we discussed in a previous column,
Here are the steps anyone can use to prepare for, and hopefully obtain, positive recognition in the outside world.
1. Get Organized
Before reaching reporters with professional story ideas, be optimistic. Assume they will eventually want more information. Be prepared. Here’s what you need:
Website. The design must be clean (no templates from 2006) and the information must be easy to find. Your website shows what you do and illustrates why you are the best, or the highest value, the most qualified, etc. Don’t make reporters fill out a form to reach you. Direct email, please. You are not the Sultan of Brunei, the next Nicki Minaj or a reality TV star.
Biography. This tells the world what you do, what are your credentials, and why you are an expert.
About Us. This information explains your firm in about 2-3 paragraphs.
Testimonials. It’s always nice to see good clients saying good things about you. A gmail, yahoo or aol email address says “I’m only here temporarily, renting space above a copy shop.” Everyone needs a professional email with the company name, no exceptions.
2. Understand Media
It’s easy to say “I want an article.” That would be like saying you want a house. What city? What size? Budget? When pitching yourself or your firm, you must understand the types of media.
Opinions-Editorials. This is for reinforcing or changing opinions on a political, social or economic subject like the minimum wage, same-sex marriage, a local election or a similar subject. Op-Eds are sent to the editorial department, which is often separate from the news section, so check the right place before sending. Get to the point, make a point, and have a strong opinion.
Breaking News. When a tornado hits, the FIFA scandal gets revealed, a merger gets announced or other stories happen, journalists need experts. This is when you reach a reporter on deadline, usually via email, and give them your expertise. You might get a small quote in a story, which is some benefit. The added benefit is making an important friend.
Trends. This is when you identify a movement or series of events, explain it, then you insert yourself as an expert or leader.
Feature. This is the platinum standard. This is when you pitch a single-source story about YOU. An example from a current client would be “small college attracts Saudi royalty” which ran in a major West Coast newspaper or a two-minute CNBC about a fashion client about the shortage of tailors. For this type of story, you must explain why your story is unusual, newsworthy and impactful. It can’t be “I need the PR or my business will die.” Think of something that will make the journalist say, “Wow, I didn’t know that. Tell me more.”
3. Understand Story
Before contacting reporters, you should know the answer to these questions the media will ask:
What’s the story?
Why should I care?
Why should I care now?
If a reporter tells you she likes your story idea but it’s an “evergreen,” that means there is no time hook. Your story could run the next day, next month, or never. Find an event, trend or statistic that makes you relevant today. And don’t forget “Robert’s Rule” – When in doubt, Go Local. Local papers, magazines, radio and TV stations are in business to serve local interests. If you are a Local story, say it loud and say it proud.
4. Meet reporters
One reason clients hire PR firms is because we know hundreds of reporters. I won’t lie, that’s a huge advantage. But if you don’t have the budget to hire a PR firm and have some time and energy, you can meet some key reporters. Follow them on Twitter and comment on their stories when appropriate. Send them emails with positive encouragement. Reporters get plenty of “Hey Dummy, I hated your story why didn’t you ask my opinion” emails and you can distinguish yourself by being positive. Once a dialogue is established, you can also be helpful by suggesting new story angles and offering yourself as an expert.
Attend local Public Relations Society of America PRSA, Toastmasters, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club or any other group meetings in your town where journalists are speaking. Meeting them in person helps them remember you later when you contact them. The PRSA has monthly meetings with journalists you can attend without being a member. Go to their local websites and check the schedule. Another tactic: say hello to reporters at charity events.
5. Social Media
“Be Brief, not Boring” – texts and posts should be interesting, funny and relevant as Greg Galant from MuckRack explained in a previous column. Be newsworthy, write posts on breaking news and send it to the media. Don’t forget hashtags, many journalists search for subjects this way.
Don’t spend much time on Facebook. For PR purposes, it doesn’t help to be seen next to photos of cats and kids. Facebook is one of those, “it can’t hurt, but it probably won’t help” strategies. If something bad happens to yourself or your firm, don’t get angry with negative posts. Respond in a professional, calm manner. If you create video, make it very professional. Otherwise, don’t waste your time. Reporters use high-quality video all the time, especially Mashable, Buzzfeed, Gizmodo and the newer media.
Use Twitter. It’s still the #1 tool for PR. As we discussed in a previous column. For PR professionals and entrepreneurs, there are three main reasons to use Twitter:
Announcements: You want to tell the public something about you, your business or your client such as a new product, an award, an upcoming event, or introduction into a new market; or to keep your audience updated during a crisis or emergency.
Research: Find out what your competitors, clients, friends, media or influencers are tweeting about.
Networking: To meet new influencers, clients, friends, competitors or reporters and follow them and get them to follow you.
Public Relations isn’t easy. But if you follow some of these rules, break some others, and persevere while being helpful to reporters, you can raise your profile and make influential friends in the media and beyond.