There’s no doubt about it. Public relations is a critical component for achieving success. If you plan well and focus your public relations campaign, you can achieve the results you want. By actively managing effective public relations activities, you will enhance your public image.
Public relations, not to be confused with advertising programs (which can often be expensive and aim for quick and quantifiable results), is about developing solid relationships over time. Much more common in years past, an effective public relations campaign could include well-timed press releases and media events, coupled with considerable networking with potential clients at meetings and conferences. Treating contacts to lunch, dinner or even drinks continues to be a very reliable practice – if managed properly. Today, a considerable amount of PR effort has shifted from the use of traditional press releases and other classic techniques, to social media and similar online tactics. More on that later…
A Quick Look Back
One of the most successful public relations campaigns in advertising history was executed to create a demand for diamonds. When the De Beers brothers first discovered diamonds on their South African farm during the late nineteenth century, little demand for diamonds existed. Years later, after strategic planning and decisive implementation, management of the company drastically altered that fact with an aggressive public relations campaign.
De Beers began by gifting diamonds to well-known celebrities in hopes that they would flash them while in public – and flash they did. De Beers then strategically placed key stories in prominent publications, linking the size and beauty of the stones with the undying love of the famous couples that were targeted. Even Queen Elizabeth participated in the campaign, traveling to several South African diamond mines, accepting a diamond from company officials on a well-publicized trip. In today’s terms, a product endorsement from the Queen may not be worth quite as much as one from a celebrity, but it’s the same idea.
Women and men who adored diamonds became convinced that the stones were absolutely essential to their engagement. Within a few years, diamond sales had increased by 55 percent. The public relations campaign you have in mind will almost certainly be less extravagant, but with exceptional planning and the effective use of social networking and the broader Internet, you have the ability to achieve dramatic results.
Consider your public relations efforts crucial to your image in several key ways. Good public relations will give your audience a better understanding of your objectives. That perspective will eliminate indifference and ignorance, and mobilize your credibility. At the same time, you will be building trust with influencers and opinion-makers like journalists and analysts, who will hopefully generate increased attention for your organization and its products or services. In a very short time, your campaign could produce changes in attitudes and perceptions that will manifest for you in the marketplace.
When your organization is the recipient of quantitative and positive editorial coverage in the media, and/or public interest in your company and its products, that’s a sign of success. Keep in mind that nothing will likely happen overnight or by accident. Develop a creative and intelligent strategy from the beginning, and pay careful attention to the details at every step. You must actively manage your company’s reputation through precise coordination of its communications.
You now know the essence of public relations.
Consider where you stand right now as far as public relations is concerned. Perhaps you have identified, overlooked or ignored opportunities for effective public relations. It is time to ensure that your organization’s employees are completely clear on the goals and how their efforts contribute to those goals.
Do you know how effective your current public relations methods have or have not been? Do you have methods to measure success? Do you know what your clients listen to, read or watch? Do you know what websites they visit? Could you respond appropriately to an unexpected call from a journalist? And finally, if a negative incident involving your company or its products were to occur, would you know how to deal with the ensuing crisis?
The answer to all of these questions should be yes. If not, then it’s time to get to work.
First Thing’s First
Once you decide that you need to tackle this component of running your business, how should you implement an effective public relations strategy? To begin, remember this all- important guideline: In order to be effective over time, your public relations strategy must be built on honesty. While you can’t always be completely open about your company’s more sensitive issues, your public relations campaign must be about building trust. Any deviation from truth will undermine and sabotage your efforts. If your public relations efforts have previously been tainted with inconsistencies, half-truths or manipulation, you have cultivated a climate of cynicism. You must overcome this in your future efforts.
Pay attention to feedback from your early efforts, while addressing legitimate concerns. This will let you filter negative perceptions of your organization. Promote realistic expectations. Promise only what you know you can deliver. Then prove yourself and your organization to be trustworthy by being straightforward and truthful in all future communications.
Adopt these values as fundamentals to your business model:
Learn to be flexible. Good public relations have a way of producing the unexpected. Prepare for synchronicity and take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. Think strategically about where you are and what you want to accomplish, and pay attention to details.
Plan for Success
One of your first tasks is to determine what your budget will be. If you have high hopes for grand results from your public relations activities, you will need a budget to match. At the same time, determine how much of your budget should still be allocated to current marketing and communications activities. The resulting budget will determine the depth and breadth of a public relations campaign.
From the Inside Out
Your organization’s goals will dictate your public relations goals, so be clear about your overall business goals before you begin. Once you have established your public relations goals, decide how you will measure progress, and be sure to provide enough in your public relations budget for mandatory evaluations. Research everything available about your targeted audiences so that you can tailor communications to the people you desire to reach.
Your employees should be your organization’s best ambassadors. They’re your “front line.” Employees who feel valued and respected, whose needs are met and who have the information to accomplish their work will be motivated and productive. Involve and engage your workforce and they will evolve as your business evolves. Your organization’s success is fundamentally in your employees’ best interests as well.
If you suspect that your employees are not the loyal spokespersons they should be, take immediate and decisive action. Share your organizational and public relations goals with them, in all settings, at all times. Discuss objectives in one-on-one or group briefings, employee emails, break room notice boards, company newsletters and intranet sites.
Make certain that employees have the opportunity to review any press releases and media attention. Establish internal focus groups or suggestion boxes for employee feedback. Your employees know the company and its products better than anyone. It is your responsibility to incorporate their suggestions in order to prevent negative consequences. You do not want someone loudly complaining that no one ever listens to his or her input.
Develop Your Campaign
To plan a successful campaign, you need to be candid about where you are now and where you want to be. Who needs most to hear your message? How will you ensure that you reach the right people, and how will you know when you’ve reached them? Your answers form the focal point around which your entire campaign must be designed.
Once you have established the basics, consider other marketing and communications activities in which your organization is already engaged. How will you integrate your new campaign with those established activities? For the maximum effectiveness of both, each must enhance the other. You will be tempted to displace previous activities in favor of newer, more exciting ones. You want to resist that temptation. Remember that, to some degree, those activities helped you to reach your current position.
Develop a contemporary but classic theme for the entire campaign, something to give it precision and focus. Be realistic about the money you have to spend on your campaign, budgeting it over the life of the campaign. Once you have started to build some momentum, you will not want your budget to come up short.
Further, be sure to allocate a part of your budget to evaluating your results. While you want to stay true to your original intent, do whatever it takes to remain open and flexible. Opportunities will present themselves when you least expect it, and you will want the flexibility to take advantage of them when they do.
Never lose track of your target audience throughout the planning and execution of your campaign. Don’t waste your resources with shotgun blasts that miss the mark. Keep your targets in mind with respect to your messages. Research your target audience thoroughly and be absolutely clear about what you need to say. Know your topic well and take all the time necessary to prepare. And don’t forget to set milestones. Give your campaign a beginning, middle and end while relentlessly monitoring your progress.
Dare to be Creative
Carefully consider the following popular public relations techniques and how you could adapt them for your purposes.
Which of these techniques could you effectively enact? Sponsor a booklet or launch a joint promotion with another organization, perhaps a charity. Link some of your activities to a celebrity endorsement or sponsor a highly visible event. Give something to your community while advancing your own efforts. Award schemes, attitude or behavior surveys, exhibitions, and editorial competitions can be instrumental in conveying your messages. Invite the media to visit your plant or facility; give journalists a chance to see your world in an attempt to give your campaign a jolt. Do not dismiss the possibility of devising some of your own new ideas. You are in the best position to do so, after all. If you give an old activity a new twist or activate something that has never been done before, you will give your campaign a major boost. Just be careful not to get so self-impressed with your enthusiasm that you get detoured from the original destination.
Brainstorming is an excellent method to jump-start creativity. Schedule frequent brainstorming sessions in order to unearth new ideas for your campaign. They will become excellent arenas for resolving communications issues. Groups of four to six people work well for brainstorming, although you can experiment with larger groups. Typically, people in smaller groups may feel too vulnerable to share their wildest ideas, and some people will not contribute at all if the group is too large.
The most important rule of brainstorming is that there are no “bad,” “wrong” or “silly” ideas, just ideas. Record all of them and filter later. In the initial stage, the purpose is to stimulate creative thought, a process that can only flourish in a nonthreatening, noncritical, nonjudgmental atmosphere.
Employ a brief warm-up routine to break the ice and make everyone comfortable. You can find icebreaker questions everywhere online, such as, “If you were to choose a board of directors for your life, whom would you pick?”
After the warm-up, pose open-ended question to start the process such as, “How can we raise awareness about our product?” Have someone take notes, ideally on a white board or other visible medium, so that ideas do not get overlooked. It helps when everyone can read what has been contributed to document group creativity. Do not identify sources of ideas until it is time to give credit for those that are implemented.
If the session comes to a full stop, adjourn and schedule another session for the following day. An overnight break enables people to recharge and have the private time to generate new ideas for the next session.
Could You Run Your Own Campaign?
Most likely you could design, manage and evaluate your own public relations campaign. But you probably have more pressing concerns associated with simply running your business. This is a good opportunity for self-disclosure. Even if you have a minimum of natural talent in this area, should you be the one to devote the time and energy necessary to running a good public relations campaign?
Indeed, a do-it-yourself public relations campaign can have the consequences of a do-it- yourself appendectomy. The initial savings are frequently lost due to mistakes made along the way when you do it yourself. Expect some serious pain and exorbitant costs when you have to call in the professionals to repair the damage that a do-it-yourself public relations campaign has caused.
Hiring professional public relations advice buys years of experience, talent and skills developed through considerable trial and error. You are hiring people who know all stages of the process and will guide you through it with their abundance of knowledge and wisdom. But if, by chance, you feel you have the time and the natural talent to design and manage your own public relations campaign (and kudos to you if you do), here are a few mandatory ground rules.
Planning a Public Relations Campaign
Establish your goals, know your priorities and do your homework. Begin with clarifying your intended messages, and determining who will receive them and how you want to communicate them. Your options for delivery methods in our advancing technology are nearly infinite. Be grateful for the web because it is your oyster. It is filled with websites, blogs, discussion groups, interactive newsletters and search engines, every one of them hungry for and receptive to all types of news.
Traditional print and broadcast media also abound, with countless periodicals, including professional journals, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, television and radio. Thousands of media outlets serve every interest, hobby or activity that can be imagined, and they all want to fill their web pages. Your choices are limited only by the time, money and energy you have to invest in your campaign and by where you choose to focus your attention.
Your audience will determine the type of news you will develop and present for consideration. Imagine the moment when your message reaches someone in your target audience. Why is that person interested? What does that person listen to, read or view? Your answers will determine the media most appropriate to your message.
Figure out what’s different about your organization, product or service. What about it is new, creative or defining? Do you offer something of value that has not been previously available? Has your organization’s offering changed in some significant manner? What are those changes? Are they appearance, substance, chic or trend?
Consider the geography. Is your message impacted by location? Who is involved, who else might be interested and why? Prepare every aspect of your campaign attentively and carefully. Thorough preparation is the most vital element of your campaign.
Practical details such as magazine and journal deadlines must never be minimized. But do not forget to think in big pictures. Sufficient planning prior to implementing your public relations campaign will determine its success. Be open to ideas from the beginning, and lay the groundwork for a solid, quality public relations campaign.
Monitoring is Critical
Plan for joint promotions, competitions and teaser campaigns, as well as tracking your results. An interesting story about your product or service should always be available. Consider interviewing a personality or expert on your staff for a trade publication’s profile piece.
Check with satisfied customers, asking them to work with you to create case studies of how your business is helping them. People-stories are always desirable because audiences love to read and hear them. As people-stories can take a bit of time to complete because so many parties participate, begin compiling them immediately so that you will have them stockpiled when you are ready.
In contrast, you should also be prepared to abandon your careful plans at a moment’s notice. Logic notwithstanding, careful planning will enable you to respond to events as they happen, taking advantage of incidental opportunities as they arise. Do not waste time mourning the loss of your planning if that occurs. Instead, congratulate yourself for being so well prepared that you were able to recognize and take advantage of a fortunate occurrence.
You will stick strictly to your plans most of the time, taking the next step and following your agenda. But do not make the mistake of being ill-prepared or unprepared. If you do, you make it possible to miss those unforeseen opportunities when they arise while compromising the most mundane public relations priorities.
Be patient and persistent. If it looks as if nothing is working, don’t give up. Keep your attention on your public relations goals, no matter what distractions bombard you. Public relations can be a really slow and deliberate process, especially at the beginning. While persuading every target audience member to your point of view is an unrealistic expectation, and while not every campaign will be successful, don’t get discouraged if results are slow in materializing. Influencing the perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of other human beings requires time, tenacity and toughness.
Never Say Never
Here are a few suggestions to help you stay the course. If you are trying to achieve media coverage, remember that editorial deadlines create an agonizingly slow progress. Your organization’s coverage can take weeks or months to appear. Remember, too, that extenuating circumstances can and will influence your results, especially when the media are involved.
Public relations does not operate in a vacuum. Some things are simply beyond your control. A major news story will shove your organization’s story right off the page without hesitation. Your story will appear when the world or local news front settles down again and the media powers feel that it is time for a break.
If you feel that your competition is getting all the attention, keep in mind that persistence will create results. Powerful public relations are simply about getting a share of media attention. You do not need (or want) all of it. Maintain focus on your objectives and periodically monitor your progress.
When something is not working as intended, don’t be afraid to make small, necessary revisions. While you are already in review and planning mode, undertake a full review of your results. Try something different if the data suggests its feasibility, but don’t give up on your original plan without adequate analysis. Influencing your fellow human beings can be a daunting undertaking, and one that’s not easily accomplished.
Keep your public relations efforts true to the purposes of your business and appropriate to your stakeholders, target audiences, customers, suppliers, employees and competitors. A good public relations campaign will seek to communicate with all of these groups. Remaining attentive and alert enables you to be proactive about your communication on all levels. You will ultimately become less vulnerable and much more effective.
Establish in advance how your results will be measured and plan your budget accordingly. Evaluation is a vital aspect of your campaign that will allow you to maintain control of your program and guide your campaign through the rockiest of terrains.
Do-it-Yourself Public Relations: The Media
Dealing with the media can lead to the most rewarding aspects of your public relations campaign, but it can also be complex and frustrating. Don’t be one of those whose public relations material arrives on the journalist’s desk with too much irrelevant information, late for deadline. The following tips are essential:
Get Your Story Noticed
To get your story used, piggyback onto the topic or trend du jour. Watch the headlines and notice what is currently attracting interest. The web is full of these headlines, blogs and alerts. Your job will be to think of legitimate ways to link your story to those topics or trends.
Another method to attract attention is to link it to a topic already planned for use in the publication. For instance, some trade or industry journals maintain a forward-features list of topics for future months. Once you locate a copy of this, use it to your advantage.
Getting to know the publication, television program or website you are targeting is of maximum value. Each one has a style, a flavor, a flow and an identity. Do your homework. Identify what they normally cover and you will be more likely to provide something their journalists and copy editors will want. You’ll become confident, and won’t waste their time with junk. Get clear on these requirements and increase your chances of success.
Pay Attention to Details
Above all, pay attention to the little things. An impeccable mailing list is basic to the public relations world. It must be completely up to date, with no spelling or grammatical errors. If you are building a media professional database, call each contact prior to sending them any news, double-checking that you have their correct information.
Proofread your cover letter and story for grammar and spelling and make certain to spell the recipient’s name correctly before you send. Ask someone else to proof your work before you send it. Once you’ve read through a piece you have written numerous times, you will not notice errors. No matter how good you are, little mistakes will slip through.
Even the most experienced professionals will inevitably rely on someone else to check their work before hitting the send button.
Develop a Hit List
A principal benefit to using a public relations consultancy is their access to the latest directories for journalists and media contacts. Companies specialize in compiling these directories, and they take pains to manually update them daily with names, addresses, contact details and profile information of every publication and broadcast station.
Maintain your own hit list to suit your specific PR needs.
It might be wise to begin with one of your larger lists, from which you pull only the contacts you anticipate that you will need. Be certain to maintain it rigorously so that the contact information available to you is always completely current. As you create your list, be certain to include freelance journalists. The demand for freelance work continues to grow as more and more media employers reduce overhead by downsizing the full-time workforce.
Dealing with Cold Calls
A cold call from a journalist on the trail of a hot story can really ruin your day, especially if you are not sure of what you are doing and the subject is something unpleasant. Although most of the cold calls you receive will not be so scary, it’s always a good idea to be prepared. Make certain that you and your people are fully briefed on everything within your organization at the moment – and what can be shared with the public. You will boost internal confidence by taking such steps, and you will increase the likelihood that such calls are handled expertly while minimizing the chances of leaking bad information.
If such a call does catch you by surprise, give yourself some time to think. Take a deep breath and remember that a beat or two of silence will not make any difference and may throw your adversary off guard. It is all right if you do not respond to the journalist’s questions right away. Most journalism professionals are prepared for your lack of preparation. Take the contact’s name and phone number so that you can call them back at another time.
Find out what you can about the story for which they are calling and how they plan to use it before you disconnect. Ask the journalist whom else they plan to contact about it. Tell them that someone will call them back shortly. Make certain this happens, especially if your response is that you cannot help them now. Remember that journalists are simply doing their jobs, and do not get hostile about the call or story. Good ones will be persistent and it is a mistake to let that bother you. Set boundaries by assigning a staff member as company spokesperson and channeling media inquiries through that person. When time and resources allow, book a media training session.
Become Friends with the Internet
There are a many public relations experts who have excellent experience with the Internet, and they show us that we can approach Internet usage in several different ways. First, you can use it simply as another media channel; second, you can communicate directly with other users via social media, news groups, email and the like.
You will want to keep several fundamental principles in mind while using the Internet. Although the Internet functions differently from other media, it is fundamentally one more means available to convey your message to a target audience. The Internet provides you with the opportunity to make direct contact with your target customers, with intricate control over exactly how, what and when you communicate – and with infinite options to change your message or its tone whenever necessary.
The caveat is that you need to use precision with language, style and tone in order to be effective at targeting your audience from among the billions of people who have the ability to view your information. Avoid all forms of jargon. Your message will be much more effective when it is direct and straightforward, informative and compelling, rather than jarring and manipulative.
First impressions do count. This adage applies as much to the Internet as it ever did with face-to-face interactions. In fact, it applies more so, because that first impression cannot necessarily be forgotten or deleted. Your website is often a journalist’s first source of information about your organization, Make it easily navigable and accessible.
Keep press releases, product information, logos, pictures and other company information current and accessible. When you do so, journalists will derive a friendlier attitude about your organization, if only subliminally. A “virtual press office” is a good method to provide such information on a routine and constant basis. Also take a good, objective look at the image that your website presents. Is your presentation consistent throughout your website? Is it harmonious with your organization and your public relations campaign?
It’s critical to remember that, just as you can put most anything onto the Internet, so can anyone else. A former employee with an axe to grind, a competitor, or a dissatisfied client can say whatever they choose about you in public, often anonymously, given the ease with which Internet postings can be made. The significance of this to you is that your everyday communications need to be beyond reproach, both internally and externally, to prepare you for any such attacks. If one does occur, truth will be on your side and will generally prevail. Devote your full attention to any such attacks for as long as is necessary to resolve them.
Tips for Do-it-Yourself Public Relations
- Maintain good internal communications. Internal communication is just as important as the external communication you are generating. Make certain that your people know what you need them to know, encourage their input, and listen carefully when you receive it.
- Some aspects of public relations should not be delegated, such as being the spokesperson in media interviews. This is your responsibility and is best fulfilled by you.
- Learn to expect the unexpected. One of the primary benefits of keeping public relations central to your business thinking is your ability to dispel negative publicity when a major problem occurs. You are effective because you are prepared to communicate effectively at a moment’s notice.
- Build a contacts book of people whom you know, trust and with whom you enjoy working. Over time, you will build relationships with journalists who will contact you for stories and to whom you will go when you want a story to reach your target groups. When you call, they will be more receptive, especially if you have helped them in the past. Those relationships can be far more valuable than you may first realize, leading synchronously to unexpected and positive opportunities.
- At the same time, it helps to remember that it is ultimately a good story that makes the difference, not whom you know.
- Consider asking a journalist to write your story. You will be more likely to have a well-written piece that is well received by other journalists. Further, you will increase the chances that it will be grammatically correct and pass spell check. No guarantee exists that it will be accepted in the publications you target, but it could have a better chance, especially if you employ a journalist who is well known in your industry. Watch for conflict-of-interest issues when you choose this option, however. Be certain to confer in advance with the journalist about the piece you have in mind.
- When you prepare a story for the media, use any and all angles available to make it interesting, different or unusual. Journalists look for these, so make their jobs easier if you can. They will appreciate it and you will reap the rewards of better coverage. Even when your subject matter is not different or unusual, if your approach is, the effect will be equal.
- Summon the experts when necessary. You may not be ready for a full-time public relations team. But you may benefit from an occasional public relations audit to assess your needs and provide you with a strategic plan that you can implement on your own.
- With regard to Internet use, keep emails brief and concise. Communicate by email only with those journalists who are willing to accept electronically delivered information.
- On your website, do everything possible to minimize download time. Long waits can lead to frustration, a reaction that you do not want associated with your organization. This can undermine your public relations campaign in subtle ways. Utilize as much technical support as it takes to achieve optimum Internet performance.
- Keep your website uncomplicated and easy to navigate.
- Make certain that your website content is always current, especially the press releases and news briefs.
- Monitor the Internet for websites that may interfere with your business. If necessary, hire an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) expert.
- Consider including a downloadable library of images on your website for journalists’ use, in high and low resolutions.
- Remember Internet etiquette. A faux pas at a dinner party may eventually fade from memory, but a similar email mistake can remain public for eternity.
- Never lose sight of the fact that the common person has more power now than ever, thanks to the Internet.
Tools of the Public Relations Trade
The following media relations tools are commonly used by public relations experts to help them achieve editorial coverage. You can also use these tools to your advantage.
While preparing a press release, consider it a news story. Keep journalism’s W’s in mind – the who, what, where, why and when – and make sure they’re in the first paragraph, exactly where they will be immediately noticed. Think about your audience, not only those people you would ultimately like to reach, but also the journalist to whom your press release needs to go first.
Be considerate of journalists’ time; minutes and hours constitute a treasured commodity in their worlds. Write everything you need to say on one side of one page of paper. Check for factual accuracy and for grammar, punctuation and spelling. Your chances of success will multiply if you make it convenient for journalists to notice and use your article.
Make sure that your press release is a fit for the medium you are targeting and relevant to the publications you have in mind. Is it similar in tone and style to their usual stories? If not, rewrite it. Another key element is timing. The timing of your press release can make the critical difference between its getting noticed or discarded. And finally, do not forget to list the contact details for at least two people in your organization on your release, in a prominent location.
If you’re working with a product, celebrity or VIP, invite journalists to a photo opportunity. As an alternative, keep professionally-shot photos on hand so you can email them to a journalist within a moment’s notice.
Feature stories are written to provide broader understanding than a news story. They can be based either on topics or people. While most features are written by media staffers, it is not unusual to use a prepared feature. If your story is well written, compelling and timely, or if it involves an interesting or well-known personality, the media may accept it for publication. If no other alternatives are available, consider a prepaid advertising feature.
Anecdotes typically command attention. People love to hear or read others’ stories, and case studies demonstrating your product or service in action are excellent methods to grab media attention.
Advertorials are exactly what you would expect: advertisements designed and written to look like editorials. They can be written either by the media editorial team or by public relations specialists. They usually always mention the word “advertisement” somewhere in fine print as a disclaimer.
Competitions and Promotions
Competitions invite participation and can be useful tools if well planned and executed. Promotions differ from competitions in that they tend to extend for a longer duration.
The ground rules for competitions and promotions include being absolutely certain in advance as to your overall objective. It is also critical to know ahead of time whether the chief objective is quantity or quality. Play fair. Stick to the official rules and make certain that you can deliver what you promise. Prepare for a good response; you may not get it, but you will have a greater problem if you receive a flood of respondents and are not prepared for them. If you are creating a database, remember that you will need to obtain consent to add names and addresses to it.
Launch Events, Press Conferences & Press Trips
These are all events designed to cater to the media; of the three, launch events are easily the most overused. Understandably, you’re excited about your company’s new “game changing” or “revolutionary” product or service. But you might be disappointed in the turnout if the people you are inviting are particularly good at spotting things that aren’t necessarily “game changing” or “revolutionary.”
Press conferences, however, can be excellent alternatives for announcements of major importance. They uniquely offer senior executives a controlled forum for communicating directly with journalists. For example, press trips can provide journalists first-hand experience with your manufacturing facility or with products and personnel relevant to your story.
Create unusual and distinctive invitations for your launches, events and parties, to attract attention when they arrive. With any luck, they will survive the mailroom toss and arrive at the desks of the people you intend to reach. The success of your invitations is vital to the success of your public relations events.
Stunts, on the other hand, require a bit more caution, as they do not always produce the desired results. For instance, in 1842, Honore de Balzac tried to publicize his new play by circulating a rumor that tickets were already sold out. Unfortunately, this caused fans to stay away in droves and on opening night, the cast played to an empty house.
Make sure that when you are planning a stunt, there is a solid news link. Do not get too carried away with your own genius. You cannot always count on a media crew showing up simply because they said they would. They follow real news after all, and your well- planned stunt will easily be upstaged by a natural disaster or tragic event. If you have engaged the services of a celebrity, politician or other VIP, confirm and reconfirm. Stay in touch with their agents, right up until the day of the event. And even then, be prepared for a no-show.
A major portion of your job with public relations is providing the media with information they want and can use. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that interesting and statistically sound surveys are among the most popular public relations tools. When planning a survey, be clear about your objectives from the very beginning. And by all means, be sure to budget adequately for it.
Also, consider the timing of your survey and prepare for anything, as a survey can take on a life of its own. In other words, survey results can lead you to ask more questions about your campaign or your business itself. In some instances, the results may alter your interactions with your major audience, the media, or other organizations, or cause you to change the course of your business.
The Lunch Meeting
Public relations activity is all about relationships. Breaking bread with important clients or customers can enhance your relationships with them. A meal taken together in a relaxed and informal setting can provide for greater understanding and deeper rapport.
Video News Releases (VNRs)
As press releases are used to gain access to print media, so can video news releases help you gain access to television and online broadcasts for your organization, product or service.
Another method to draw attention to your organization is to create or fund an event or a cause. Think NASCAR, bicycle teams and marathons. Bear in mind that whatever you sponsor should be a fit for your campaign and your organization. Make certain that the timing is right. Consider the funds it will take to sustain it and where it will take place. Finally, will it draw the type of attention you desire from the media, and how will your results be measured?
Your “fifteen minutes of fame” have finally arrived and you are being interviewed by the media. Now what? Take a deep breath, resolve to tell the truth, and above all, keep it painfully simple.
It has been said that an effective spokesperson embodies eight C’s:
Be perfectly clear in your thinking and your speaking; project competence and confidence. To your best ability, control the conversation, while you express sincere concern for the views of others. Stay true to your commitments, and be consistent with your message. Your charisma will naturally develop if you don’t have it already.
Be clear about your objective for the overall campaign and for this interview in particular, before it begins. Pay attention to the context within which the interview is being conducted. Memorize key messages and reflect in advance about how you might respond to the very worst question that could be asked.
Take great pains to ensure that there is no hostility whatsoever in your response. During the interview, remain calm and positive and respond truthfully to questions as they are asked. Assume that anything you say may be seen in print. It is acceptable to repeat yourself to make a point and ensure that you are understood. But make certain to stop speaking when you have said all you need to say. Silence can be your best friend, even on the air.
The Basics of Media Relations
Above all, remember that if you want good press, you need to provide journalists what they require. Of the five W’s, give them these three first: why, when and what.
Why is what you have to say of interest to journalists and their readers. Ultimately, good journalists want to engage their readers. They are seeking info their readers will find interesting or engaging. Is what you have to say not only interesting but also relevant? Is it news, and if so, is it new news? To overstate the obvious: new product launches, service innovations, new staff members or a business expansion – in other words, relevant changes – constitute news.
When is their deadline? Is the publication daily, weekly or monthly?
What formats are acceptable?
The W’s are a little different from a journalist’s point of view. Where your story took place and when it happened can be just as important as who did what to whom and why. It is your challenge to “spin” a story so that its news value is apparent, to present your story so that it reaches the people you most want to reach.
Elements to get your story read and used include consumer issues or anything out of the ordinary, as well as anything that creates suspense. You may need to repeat yourself, again. And again. Not all of your stories will be picked up by the media, and sometimes your competitors will get coverage that you believe should be yours. You will miss opportunities on occasion and sometimes an important event in your organization will simply be overlooked.
On the other hand, it is useful to remember that conflict or any extreme emotion will get your organization noticed. Shock, horror or anything having to do with sex easily qualifies for headlines. Situations often do not go the way you plan, and events occur that you would prefer not have widely reported. On occasion, it may be just as difficult to keep your news out of the news as it is to generate coverage when you want it.
Try to be prepared in case the worst should happen, because it sometimes does. Try to imagine what might go wrong and think about how you will handle different scenarios. Study what others have done in the past; read, listen, absorb and think for yourself.
Above all, if your worst-case scenario should actually materialize, do not disappear, as you might be inclined to do. The worst reaction when bad things happen is no reaction at all.
Communicate and communicate more, to your employees, to your investors, and to your customers, no matter how uncomfortable that interaction may be for you. Be candid about events as they happen and you will be more likely to emerge, if not unscathed, less scathed than you might have expected.
Call in the Public Relations Experts
By this time, you may have determined that a public relations campaign is more than you want to tackle on your own. You have decided to call on a public relations agency or consultancy. Or you could also simply hire a freelance public relations professional. Understand from the outset that the success of your campaign is highly dependent upon the quality of your relationship with the professional or professionals you choose. Chemistry is key. With that as a given, how should you choose the appropriate individual or agency?
To begin, prepare a brief that will fully articulate your objectives. Once you have prepared your brief, compile an initial list of prospective public relations agencies or freelance consultants. Refine that list to a shortlist, ideally three agencies or freelancers. Schedule presentations, where your shortlisted agencies or freelancers will formally deliver proposals for a creative campaign strategy.
When it is time for the pitch, be careful to include everyone in your organization who will be involved in the decision-making and ensure they will attend. Allow sufficient lead-time for each agency or freelancer to properly research and prepare their pitches, and provide each one adequate time to give their presentation when the scheduled day arrives.
Provide the necessary equipment for the presentations and make certain that the equipment works. Allow time at the end of each presentation for questions and answers. Take notes, being thorough and including the discussion of budgets and an overview of how each agency or freelancer operates. For example, do they charge per project or will they require a retainer? You will not want any budget surprises. Before the end of the pitch, agree on a date by which you will respond, and be certain to honor that deadline. The method and professionalism by which you conduct the pitch will set the tone for the balance of your working relationship with the agency or freelancer you choose.
During the pitch and the ensuing negotiations, watch for any signals that the agency or freelancer might be promising more than they can reasonably deliver. Also try to be honest about any unrealistic expectations you may have. The job of a public relations professional is to advise you, to be your objective resource and your guide through the complex world of public relations. If during the initial negotiations you find that you have misgivings about someone or if the fit is not right, trust your instincts.
Accountability is Key
You must have trust and confidence in the professional with whom you finally choose to work. That way, you will be able to make the best possible decisions once the campaign is underway. Look for substance beneath the hearty handshake and winning smile. You are going to want someone on whom you can rely when the rubber meets the road, not a retread who will leave you stranded beside the freeway.
When budgeting for a public relations agency or freelancer, remember that you will need to allow not only for the consultant’s time, but also for the actual cost of implementing their ideas and their day-to-day operating expenses such as telephone and postage.
Carefully discuss financial details and ask how the agency or freelancer accounts for time and costs incurred.
A good public relations adviser will routinely timesheet completed work and fully account for all costs. He or she will also be as interested in reporting routine activities for the project as they are about its exciting events. Ask to see examples of their activity- and cost-reporting. Most importantly, do not hesitate to ask how they intend to track and measure results. A skilled professional will work with you to identify appropriate methods for evaluating your activities.
Once you have chosen the professional freelancer or agency, continue to consider your public relations campaign a priority. Signal that attitude in the way you relate to the freelancer or agency. Simple, basic courtesy is mandatory: Be sure to listen, always say thank you, and never bully. Respond in a timely fashion to your consultant’s requests, as a slow response can result in a lost opportunity.
Allow for a sufficient budget so that they can do the job you have asked them to do, while keeping your expectations realistic. Conduct regular and open progress interviews from the outset, making certain that everybody knows precisely how much and how often you want to be informed about activity. Once these progress interviews have been set, adhere completely to the agreed-upon schedule.
The Public Relations Team
In other creative services businesses such as advertising and design agencies, people who work there tend to be divided into strategists, creative types and administrators. Those who are drawn toward public relations work, however, tend to have a blend of all three skill sets. This impacts the dynamics of the public relations team, and you will need to understand the different responsibilities in order to deal effectively with your team.
Generally speaking, the team will have a manager who is responsible for overall campaign direction and team management. This person will typically be the account director or head of communications. First-tier team members will be account managers, executives and communications managers, those who are responsible for making your campaign a reality. Second-tier team members are those responsible for selling your stories and ideas to the media and your customers.
Your public relations team should be able to manage both negative and positive situations. Some larger firms have crisis-management specialists, but in most consultancies, everyone on the public relations team is trained to handle difficult situations in the most appropriate manner.
Measuring Your Success
It is important to evaluate your campaign as you progress, and in order to accomplish that objective, you must first identify the point from which you are starting. Where do you stand with customers, clients, employees, buyers, investors, journalists and any other group that has influence for your business?
As you begin measuring your success, consider using any existing research your organization might have, such as data previously gathered for advertising, research and development, or sales. A baseline would enable you to monitor and track public relations activity. If your campaign is a relatively simple one, you may decide to conduct your own basic media tracking analysis.
When the purpose of your public relations campaign is to raise awareness or increase understanding of a particular issue, what percent of change will satisfy your requirements and how will you know when this change has occurred? Decide in advance upon a list of criteria you will use to assess each item of editorial coverage, such as photographs, product mentions, quotes, etc.
Will delivery of a key message be critical to the success of the campaign? Identify the media in which editorial coverage is desired and rank in order of importance. Then, use those rankings to weigh each publication for relevance to the media tracking analysis. Finally, choose one of the evaluation methods discussed below to help track activity, within the available budget. If you are working with a public relations agency, share your ideas for analysis and evaluation with them and solicit their input. Alternatively, speak to two or three individuals at evaluation and market research agencies to determine what they recommend.
Time, resources and money can become significant roadblocks for evaluation of a public relations campaign. Has this aspect of the campaign been budgeted? Analysis is important and will require careful allocation of resources. Be certain to allot sufficient resources to this aspect of managing the campaign.
Some experts recommend that a minimum of ten percent of overall public relations spending be dedicated to analyzing results; others suggest a sliding scale based on the budgeted amount. It might be possible to reallocate funds from elsewhere in the business. Do not allow old-fashioned and rigid rules about marketing budgets to prevent the public relations campaign from having resources necessary to achieve success.
Remember to assign an appropriate amount of importance to the evaluation of your campaign. Failure to monitor your progress is similar to driving blind. If you cannot see the landmarks and have no map, how will you know which direction you’re headed in? And worse, how will you steer your campaign now and in the future?
When evaluating your public relations campaign, reflect on where you began and where you are now in order to derive an honest assessment of progress. Use the objectives stated in the beginning of the campaign and separately measure your track record against each one. Be specific about what is being measured, and how. Then determine if the budget and resources will be sufficient for delivery. If not, re-examine your goals.
If you have engaged the services of a public relations consultant or agency, confer with them about their recommendations for research and evaluation. This should be included in their original proposal, especially if you remembered to ask for it at the time of the pitch. If they did not include it (regardless of the reason), do not hesitate to ask. A majority of these professionals will consider this a routine part of their services. They may also engage the collaboration of specialists in media evaluation or market research on your behalf, in order to undertake more formal and detailed research.
Your organization may also choose to employ your own market research specialists for evaluation of the campaign. Take the time to shop and research these specialists, as their offerings can and will vary widely. You will find shops that offer everything from media- impact monitoring to target-audience research, in-depth analysis and reporting to individuals who specialize in only one or two aspects. When restraints on time and money make this necessary, you may embark on your own media monitoring, but limit yourself to the most basic methods.
Be sure that you have allocated enough money to accomplish the evaluations your campaign deserves. Borrow something from the marketing budget if need be, or from sales, if you think that long term gains will justify doing so. It simply doesn’t make sense to spend the organization’s resources on a public relations campaign, large or small,
without also allocating the funds to find out if the campaign had any effect. Amazingly, a number of businesses do just that, every day.
Quick and Easy is Not the Same as Compromise
A number of quick and fairly effective tools are also available, either combined with or instead of the in-depth methods of the following discussion. They include monitoring website hits before, during and after a public relations campaign to determine whether your campaign is having a positive effect. You can also monitor calls to telephone lines that frequently spike dramatically at the peak of a successful public relations campaign. Monitoring can provide an excellent way to know if the targeted audience has been reached.
If your organization is publicly listed, market performance can be an extraordinary indicator of the word on the street. When your public relations campaign focuses on limiting the effects of damaging information or gossip, the share price is a particularly vivid way to know if the campaign is working.
Advertising Value Equivalent
One way to measure the effectiveness of your public relations campaign is called the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). This method measures the amount of editorial space gained (by column inch) as the result of a media-relations campaign. It compares those numbers to advertising space, assuming the value of the editorial space to be equal to the value of the same amount of advertising space.
Evaluating your campaign in this manner is like comparing rockets to donkey carts. Editorial space is eminently more valuable, primarily because it cannot be bought. Editorial coverage provides an independent point of view, bestowing more powerful exposure than advertising ever will.
Further, AVE completely omits the effects of editorial coverage such as changed attitudes, opinions or behavior. Public relations will not always directly affect sales following a positive editorial piece the way that advertising can, but it could easily impact attitudes toward your company.
If the editorial reaches your target groups – consumers, trade buyers, journalists and key opinion leaders in your industry – those individuals may begin to re-evaluate their opinion of your organization based on what they see, hear or read. You may not notice immediate direct actions such as sales, website visits or phone calls. But gradual changes in attitude and behavior by your target audiences can eventually lead to increased sales, share price points or enhanced long term brand value.
Media and Audience Evaluations
A better way to evaluate your campaign than AVE is to measure your success separately with two distinct groups. Those groups are the channel of delivery – the media – and the intended destination of your message – your target audiences.
Monitoring Media Coverage
You have the ability to monitor the level of “noise” generated by your campaign by using media tracking analysis, the most basic way of measuring whether what you are communicating is being relayed via the media to target audiences. The following points can help you choose the way in which you can evaluate your media coverage.
Simply put, has your message been delivered? Revisit your original public relations plan and compose a list of key items you wanted covered in the media. Points are awarded for each milestone event. These milestones include an appearance of a product photograph, quote from a key executive in your organization, listing of your company’s website or phone number in an editorial or feature article, or statements incorporating your key messages. Track the awarded points on a graph, in order to illustrate the frequency and effectiveness of your campaign.
Publication Relevance and Position
How widely is the publication circulated and read, and how is it regarded in your industry? Did the coverage achieve a prominent position within the publication and on the page on which it appeared? Logically, you would award more points in your analysis to pieces that are well placed in prestigious publications. In the Internet environment, this would equate to the location of your website within a search, combined with the number of site visits.
Now, you will want to consider how many people have read the item of media coverage being analyzed. Find out how many copies were sold of the issue in question (the circulation), and consider the readership of the publication, with an assumption that two or three people will read each copy sold. OTS (Opportunities to See) is a phrase experts use when they take this concept further and add readership calculations for several instances of editorial coverage.
A more sophisticated analysis is called “audience reach and frequency.” This method accounts for cross reading, listening, and viewing habits and can provide a more realistic figure for the number of people actually reached. Further, the calculation includes the number of times an individual is potentially exposed to your message.
Quality & Quantity – Hard & Soft Data
Quality of the coverage is a critical consideration. Is your message not only being read but also being understood? Is the level of awareness about your organization or your product increasing? Most likely, these were among the most important goals at the beginning of your campaign and their measurement is substantially more subjective. Quantitative measures can provide some degree of analysis, but qualitative measures provide in-depth analyses of attitudes and behavior patterns, adding a degree of understanding not available with solely quantitative analysis.
Quantitative research includes attitude surveys, omnibus surveys, and opinion polls, while qualitative research includes panels and focus groups. Differences between the two types of research can be most easily observed in the results they produce, known as “hard” and “soft” data. Quantitative research produces “hard” data, or numbers, about how a group feels with regard to an issue or a product. Qualitative research provides “soft” data, explaining why the group feels as they do.
Gathering “Hard” Data
Attitude surveys create a baseline against which you can benchmark your campaign as it progresses. These surveys are normally conducted during the beginning, middle and end of a campaign, to track any changes that have occurred. Surveys can be purchased off the shelf or tailored to suit specific needs. They can be conducted over the phone, face-to- face, or electronically. Very often, larger businesses consider these surveys routine components of their public relations programs.
Omnibus surveys are wide-ranging surveys conducted by survey specialist companies, to track public opinion on a range of topics. Providing statistically robust results, these surveys often include a limited number of specific questions pertinent to your organization’s important issues.
Opinion polls are perhaps best known for their use by political parties and the media in the months prior to elections. Tracking and reporting of voter intentions is often considered to have swayed public opinion. Opinion polls are generally restricted to a single question delivered by phone, face-to-face or over the Internet.
Collecting “Soft” Data
Qualitative research is conducted by way of panels and focus groups. A panel is a type of survey in which people are interviewed on different occasions, over a period of time, about the same set of topics or issues. Panel results can identify a deeper understanding of public attitudes.
Focus groups are informal discussion groups run by a moderator with a predetermined structure. They generally consist of seven or eight people who are asked for opinions and advice on a specific topic, issue, product or idea. Although their responses are subjective, taken as a whole their feedback can provide guidance about the possible acceptance or lack of it for the idea or product you are considering.
These focus groups are employed in situations where a deeper understanding of a particular target group is required; they are also used in the design and planning of attitude survey questionnaires that seek to identify issues pertinent to target audiences. Informal focus groups can be valuable aids to small businesses as less expensive equivalents to wider research.
Evaluating the Data
Ultimately, whether the results derived are from quantitative or qualitative research, the question to be answered is, “Did our campaign produce the results we wanted in the audiences we targeted?”
What were the tangible effects? Has behavior actually been influenced?
Allow some time and exercise some patience while compiling the results. Data analysis is a process where the outcome is beyond your control. It is bound to take some time for any public relations campaign to change the attitudes and behaviors of human beings.
Competitor Tracking & Benchmarking – Lessons Learned
It is also important to track your competitors’ success, using tools similar to the ones for your own progress. By doing so, you will better understand the context or environment within which your public relations activity is operating. After taking a closer look, you may be able to dispel anxiety that your competitors are getting better coverage than you are. You may also gain some insight into new and different ways to advance your own campaign.
The long drive is over, you have arrived at the destination, and the days and nights on the road are at an end. How is the view? More importantly, did the journey provide what you wanted? If you planned well, identified and capitalized on opportunities as they arose, and paid attention to the advice of experts through the process, the answer is most likely a resounding yes. Congratulations on your successful navigation through the world of public relations, and welcome to an environment of practical solutions and strategic excellence.