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There’s a lot of mystery surrounding public relations or PR. It’s often seen as something of a dark art, and only relevant to consumer-focused businesses and brands. The truth is that every company needs PR. The good news is that the basics are relatively simple and you can do it yourself. Plus the internet has been the catalyst for the launch of a whole host of mainstream and niche media hungry for good editorial content – and you simply need to deliver what they’re looking for.

Why you need PR

By not pursuing a PR strategy, you’re missing out on free publicity that can raise not only the profile of your company and its product or service offering, but also your own personal profile as a trusted expert in your field, as well as those of your core team. This is really valuable, because ultimately people buy people.

The aim is to get you and your message in front of your potential customers by appearing in the editorial sections of the media they read and trust, whether in print or online. Appearing as editorial content is far more effective than placing an advertisement, as people are far more likely to read about you and trust what is being said – plus you don’t have to pay for it.

The first step is to identify who you want to reach. If you’ve created a great new app for young women to shop online, you’ll ideally want to be mentioned in Glamour and Cosmo, but there are also likely to be more niche fashion web channels you can also target where you’re likely to have more success. If, on the other hand, you’re promoting high-quality briefcases, you’d look at business magazines, particularly those targeting senior executives. But PR is just as relevant, and arguably easier and more effective, if you’re offering a niche product to a business audience. That’s because you will have a smaller number of publications to target and an audience that actually needs the product or service to help their specific business.

Finding the right angle

Once you’ve figured out who your audience is and the relevant media, it’s important to find your content angle. This is where you need to start thinking like a journalist: learn the publications inside out, work out which section you’re best positioned to be featured in and what will be of interest to readers.

Avoid sending a press release that just describes your product, or making a big deal out of something no one else cares about, such as the fact that you sold out of your new energy drink within an hour when you put up a pop-up stall in central London. That’s a great achievement, but would you bother to read this story if it were about a different company, in a different industry?

You’re going to need a much more compelling angle. If you have a groundbreaking new product or service you get a head start, but if you don’t here are a few ways to go about gaining coverage:

  1. Conduct original research. If you can go to journalists with surprising stats in your area of expertise, they might consider running a news story about them. They’ll mention who did the research and may even include a quote from you. Rplan.co.uk is an online investment platform that got their own article in London business newspaper City AM thanks to their discovery that 70 per cent of the nation's investment ISA portfolios are in sectors with top risk ratings.
  1. Plan a stunt or gimmick. This can be expensive and may backfire, but if you do it well, it’ll stand you in good stead. The Cereal Killer café in East London got unprecedented coverage in the national press thanks to its trendy – and easily parodied – USP. Despite controversy, it looks to have worked out well as they’re now set to open a third branch, which is also being heavily reported on.
  1. Find the story in your business. Patagonia is a company with a really distinct personality. They promote an environmental message and host initiatives which, in themselves, are of interest to a wide range of publications. Most recently they gained publicity in the Telegraph for encouraging people to recycle their clothes.
  1. Offer expert insight. Offering your opinion on a relevant industry topic or tips that your audience would find useful is a great way to appear in key media, as many are hungry for this kind of content. Although this doesn’t directly sell your business, it places you as a valuable thought leader in your field, which in turn boosts the profile and reputation of your business.
  1. Share your case studies. But make sure you take a problem and solution approach, leading with your client, while introducing your company as the expert that provided the solution. This requires an aptitude for writing and should tell your client’s story, including quotes from them, outlining their problem, and then how your company solved it, with supporting quotes from your team. Business-to-business industry sector titles are usually interested in this content if written in the right way or would be happy to write the piece for you if you can give them access to your client – so it’s worth having this conversation with your clients from the outset and pointing out to them how they too will benefit from the publicity.
Hitting the target

Once you’ve worked out an angle, it’s crucial to send the right email to the right person. Research the publications and find out if they’ve covered something similar recently and if so, reference it and explain why your story is different. Do a LinkedIn search and then cross-reference with Twitter to make sure you’re contacting the person most likely to buy into a story (usually either a reporter or a junior writer will be looking for tips). It’s unlikely a busy senior editor, for example, is going to take time out of their day to forward on your press release to the appropriate writer.

When it comes to writing a press release, you need to make it as easy as possible for the people on the receiving end. The perfect press release needs nothing done to it and could be published as it comes. That means writing a headline that fits in with the publication you’re pitching to, a subhead (if they use them) and a structure in line with their typical style.

A great way to understand the nuances of different publications is to pick a single story that’s been widely covered and read the different versions. For example, if you’re looking to get coverage of a new gadget you’re bringing to market, you might check out last year’s articles about the Apple Watch launch, while if you’re looking to make a video go viral, you might look at the coverage of the John Lewis Christmas ad.

Not everyone is a natural writer, so if you don’t feel confident, make sure you have a friend or colleague look over it. Ultimately, the success of your PR campaign is going to be down to how good your story is, and that’s something only you have control over, so make sure you know what your angle is and put the time and the effort into making it as good as it can be – if it works, it’ll definitely be worth it.

By William Stolerman, founder of The News Hub