When it comes to public relations, there are a lot of opinions out there on best practices, winning strategies, tactics to avoid, etc. There are just as many self-appointed “spin doctors” and PR “pros” cluttering the blogosphere, all offering their “guaranteed” opinions on the topic — some spot on, others not so much.
In the spirit of transparency, yes, this is yet one more blog post offering professional advice on your next PR campaign. However, this article is unabashedly honest. At Madison+Main, we pride ourselves on giving our clients the straight dope. The fact of the matter. The truth (because it is often stranger, simpler, and more interesting than fiction.)
Regardless of the flowery prose many in the PR profession will adorn their craft with, here’s the oversimplified, Occam’s razor-sharp reasoning behind why most small business owners hire a public relations firm: You need someone to tell your story in a more effective, compelling, and influential way to more people so you can attract more clients.
That sound about right?
So, with honesty as our guide, here are three hard brutally honest truths about PR that nobody else in this industry will tell you, as well as one big PR tip that will get your small business story told faster than anything else:
1. Nobody really cares about your new website (except you — and maybe your customers)
So your small business just updated your website and it’s amazing. It was a complete overhaul, you spent a boatload of money on it, and the new-and-improved version is the difference between night and day from what it was. It looks great. It functions better than ever. You are almost done with the final QA testing and SEO touches and want to launch it with a loud bang – featuring a PR campaign!
Here’s the rub: Unless it says Google on the sign outside your office, the media isn’t going to care. Sorry. While your team and your customers have a lot to celebrate regarding your new website, your press release will likely land in the mud with a thud. Unless your new website creates world peace, reporters and their assignment editors won’t give PR about it a second glance.
Instead of investing in a press release and hours of media outreach, place your PR efforts and dollars in areas that will offer a better, more effective ROI, like a social media or targeted PPC awareness campaign focused on your existing customers. New websites are a great time to preach to your choir, because they will care just as much as you do.
New websites are generally not newsworthy. On the other hand, if you have a really great story to tell about your brand with multiple newsworthy values, you will have more earned media success (with a little bit of PR magic and concentrated outreach, of course.) Brand stories about benevolence, community engagement, and selflessness are typically attention-getters on an assignment desk. If your brand is doing all the right things and you foster a culture of civic engagement, the stories will write themselves and they will be truly newsworthy.
2. Successful PR campaigns require a lot more than a press release
The initials “PR” don’t stand for “press release.” Of course, it means “public relations” but we like to think it also means “professionally redundant.” When seeking earned media opportunities, it takes more than a single release to grab the attention of the press.
While it seems like sending a press release is an active measure, a press release on its own is largely a passive entity. Members of the media get hundreds of emails and press releases a day. Even with an amazing story to tell and a Pulitzer-worthy subject line, your message is still one of 100-plus — likely all received before lunch. However, the recipient will absolutely pay it some attention (at least they’ll read it once) after a quick, friendly phone call. And a follow-up tweet. And a LinkedIn DM, if they’re being stubborn.
When you hire a PR agency to help with your exposure, you are paying for more than a press release. You’re paying for carefully planned persistence by people who know how to get someone to take action while refraining from coming across as pushy. You are investing in years of relationship-building with the right gatekeepers in all the right newsrooms. You are spending your hard-earned marketing dollars to make sure your story isn’t ignored in the inbox.
3. With business wire services, you get what you pay for
“…and we want it to go out on the wire!” It’s a common phrase often heard early in conversations with PR clients — and it’s OK. There are a lot of PR and business newswire services out there and we have used many of them over the years. However, after you spend an extra $500-plus for your press release to go out on the wire, what do you actually get?
The wire services will tell you that you will get amazing coverage and your story will be published by hundreds of legitimate media outlets — but that is only partially true. When you get your coverage report after the first 24-48 hours, the numbers will look quite impressive on the surface. However, a few weeks later, when you click on most of the links where your story was published, prepare for a lot of 404 errors and disappointment. As a depressing kicker, even when your story was live, Google likely didn’t rank it and it was hidden deep within the outlets’ websites — so deep, most humans (and robots) likely never saw it.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There are some definite advantages to using a PR wire service — for some stories. If your story has multiple newsworthy values to it, there is a (small) chance that some reporter might take notice. Also, the link posted from the wire service will live online for a long time, which can be helpful for SEO purposes and long-term outreach, marketing, and background research purposes.
One Big Tip for Small Business PR: Make it easy to make it happen
Journalists are very, very busy people. Part of it is the nature of the news industry, but a more prevalent issue is that today’s local newsrooms (and newspapers) are running thinner than ever before. Just 30 years ago many cities — and even some small towns — still had separate morning and evening newspapers. Today, there are only two afternoon newspapers in existence — and both are in Montana.
The shrinking newsroom is a very real thing these days, but there is a way for your brand to take advantage of journalism’s waning moment — make it amazingly easy to cover your story.
Even though newsrooms are shrinking, our appetite for news is more gluttonous than ever before and journalists and editors are forced to produce the same amount of news with fewer resources and less time. If the story you are trying to tell requires the media professional to dig for interviews, collect footage or photos, source quotes, or research background information, it might take until never for them to get around to it. However, by providing a fully-hatched story-in-an-email, you might be giving them just the break they were seeking to complete the Metro section or D-block of the evening news.
When telling your story, think like a journalist and tell it just like a news story. In your press release, remove the obvious, self-promotional PR-speak and instead use a journalistic-style approach with an enticing lede followed by an inverted pyramid of factual information. Write a real headline. Provide real quotes from multiple sources. Provide high-quality images with detailed cutlines and media source info. Give them links to background information and reference material. To encourage TV editors, provide usable B-roll. Offer up members of the company’s leadership (and easy access to them) for follow up interviews and fact checking.
It’s a lot of work, but we’ve found that the easier and more resourceful you make your story to cover, the more success you’ll have. You might even find that your PR efforts were so good, you get the copy-and-paste treatment, which is a BIG win for your brand — but a sad day for journalism.
Looking for more bold truths to solve your public relations desires? Get in touch with Madison+Main today to get the creative marketing, branding, and communications solutions your business has been seeking by calling us at (877) 623-6246! #BoldBrandsWin