Done right, PR can be an effective promotional tool

One of the most powerful and credible ways to promote your company can also be the least expensive. Done right, public relations can generate awareness, improve your public image and stimulate sales. But first, you have to get covered.

Before you get started, it’s important to understand the function of public relations. It is used to either manage a crisis or get coverage on something new. This column addresses the latter.

The term itself is misleading because the process involves mostly media relations. PR is not free advertising, nor should it replace advertising or other forms of promotion. More appropriately expressed, it is “earned media.” To be effective at earning media coverage, it requires planning, targeting, preparation and follow-up.

  • Planning: As with all marketing initiatives, planning helps you avoid miscues and improve results. First, determine if PR makes good sense for your business situation. Do you have a compelling story to tell? If it’s not “newsworthy” it won’t get covered.

    Sometimes an event or publicity stunt can attract press. However, this can also be risky. Remember the 1980s TV sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati” and its Thanksgiving day promotion? As people on the ground were being pelted with live turkeys dropped from a helicopter, the radio station’s dumbfounded reporter looked straight into the camera and shrieked, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

    Remember, any media significant enough to help you can also hurt you. Think about what you’re doing and why before you start pushing for press. Also, make sure your PR tactics align well to your overall marketing strategy.

  • Targeting: If your story is of public interest — to which public? PR, like advertising, needs to be well targeted. Which media outlets reach the audience that would be most interested in your press and product? And, who at each media outlet is the right person to contact?

    Contact the assignment desk (electronic media) or editor (print and online) to find out if your news item spawns any interest, and if so, who to contact. You should also know how and when they want it (format and delivery)? Many of the news media have gone to online submission.

  • Preparation: Any media outlet worthy of your attention is inundated with press releases. Most of them aren’t given any consideration, so your story and release will need to stand out. Think creatively about what would separate your release from the stack. You also want to make it easy for the reporter to cover your story.

    Provide a well-branded and organized press kit. Include a short introduction letter, a press release covering the “5 W’s” (who, what, where, when and why), a background sheet, bios and high-resolution photos (or video). Don’t overload the kit — limit it to the most newsworthy content. Also, the contact person at your company needs to be accessible, articulate and informed.

  • Follow-up: Once you’ve delivered your press kit, contact the reporter to make sure he or she received it and offer more information or an interview. If the reporter seems uninterested, do your best to find out find out why.

Positive PR can have a lasting impact. You can use press (reprints or recordings) in your other promotion, presentations or at the point-of-sale to extend its shelf life.

If you determine your story or event is newsworthy, target the right press and desk, and make it easy for the reporter to cover and follow through, your PR probably won’t be a turkey.