By Julia Vockrodt, Managing Director, VP Communications
Public Relations (PR), normally the province of the marketing function, is changing rapidly in response to the enormous opportunities opened up by the internet and how people are using it. The printed media remains the main vehicle for reaching specific audiences with shared interests; the UK publishes more magazine titles than any other country in the World. However, many publications now also publish electronically on the web and some skip the print stage and only appear on the web. In a second stage in the evolution of the web, individuals are cutting out the middleman, and publishing their own material direct to the internet through blogs and social networking sites, of which there are more and more business oriented ones all the time.
One of the by-products of this evolution, as the internet provides access to far more audiences, is a move of focus to what the individual is doing, rather than only focusing on building the image of a corporation or product. Positive news and increased recognition of an individual’s talents and achievements supports the reputation of products or companies with which the person is associated.
Good PR is often far more effective than advertising because it is the news equivalent of search engine optimisation; instead of paying for expensive advertisements, which not everyone reads, you can get yourself inserted directly into the stories.
Some examples of good PR which SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) companies have used are:
• An announcement that one of your firm’s senior executives has been made an advisor to the government on a job-creation programme.
• An announcement that your firm sponsors a major charitable or sporting event (e.g. the London Marathon or a famine-relief project).
• An announcement that your company has had a year of record exports creating new jobs and contributing to the national balance of payments
Five Top PR Tips
1) Try and think like a journalist: Journalists are constantly looking for newsworthy stories to cover, but the story needs to be relevant to their target audience. Read their magazine or newspaper, listen or watch their programme to find out what they are interested in before you approach them with a story idea.
2) Be prepared: before you make an announcement, make sure you have done your homework by preparing a “Q&A” document that has answers to all the questions you are likely to be asked (including those with negative connotations) and that you have facts and figures to back up any claims you make; make sure that at least one of your senior executives (ideally with media training) is available and happy to talk directly to the press.
3) Decide on your area of expertise: Whatever business you are in, even if it a charity or non-profit making organisation, you are an expert in something — probably several things. If you are an osteopath, contact the media just before Back Care Awareness Week. If you are an accountant, contact the local press just before the budget and tell them you're available for comment on how the budget will affect local businesses.
4) Make sure your message is clear and concise: If you can’t summarise exactly what it is you do and why people should buy from you in a couple of sentences, then your message is too long and complicated and no one will remember or understand it.
5) Use Social Media: Building up a group of people online who are interested in what you do is a great way of creating a ready-made audience when you want to announce something important. Monitoring and engaging with people is something that you can do continuously, through tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. For example, writing a blog, which is similar to an online diary, is a great way for you to position your business in the eyes of your customers, your industry and the press and attract visitors to your website. You can also show that you are a leading authority in your industry by posting opinions and thought leadership pieces.
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