They are born every day: media darlings.
I’m talking about those business owners who appear to be coming out of thin air to capture way more than their fair share of publicity. You read about them when picking up your favorite trade magazine and you hear about them when attending industry conferences. They seem to be everywhere.
Obviously, you want the same exposure for your organization. And when comparing their business to yours, you are probably as ready as they are.
Still, something is holding you back. You’re not actively pursuing media opportunities because somehow you feel that you first need to have all your ducks in a row: more customers, a proven track record or funding.
These are understandable emotions, but what are the facts? In other words, how do you know you are ready for PR?
What is PR?
Let’s start by defining PR.
As with many industries, the rise of the internet has had a profound impact on the public relations practice and how we look at it. As a consequence, experts tend to have very different perspectives on what it means. Marketing expert Heidi Cohen once identified no less than 31 different definitions of PR – and the list could probably go on forever.
For our purposes, we limit ourselves to the following definition: PR is aimed at generating exposure on websites and social media as well as newspapers, magazines, TV and radio. Unlike advertising, PR doesn’t “buy” exposure but “earns” it through a variety of tools – such as press releases and media pitches – and, most importantly, by building relationships with journalists and influencers.
Why Do You Need PR?
If you are already writing blogs to showcase your expertise and build a connection with your audience, you might wonder: what do I need PR for?
That’s a good question.
With most of us spending so much time on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s tempting to assume that social media is all you need to get your message across.
But that would be a mistake.
Securing media coverage is still a highly effective way to raise awareness for your business. Look at your own media consumption habits. You probably read newspapers, magazines and website articles and you watch TV and listen to the radio – like most people do. And as you will have noticed, most of the news stories that are shared on social platforms originate from the media.
Compared with traditional marketing methods such as advertising, PR helps you establish unparalleled respect and credibility in the market. Like customer testimonials, it provides third-party validation or, as content marketing guru Andy Crestodina puts it, social proof.
PR can also help you break out of your usual circle of clients and open up revenue potential you’ve never even considered before. Consider the story of serial entrepreneur Bert Seither, who turned an imminent change in drone legislation into a massive PR opportunity for his aerial photography business. A single well-timed press release gave him credibility as an expert, and eventually helped him double the value of his company.
How Do You Know You Are “PR Ready”?
The decision on when to launch your breakthrough product or service might be one of the most important ones in your life as an entrepreneur. It’s also one of the most difficult decisions. For many of us, the biggest challenge is to control our natural tendency to keep tinkering with the product until it’s perfect.
The same goes for your decision on when to get involved in PR.
You might be concerned that if you go out and seek media opportunities before you’re ready, you end up wasting a lot of time – which you don’t have. Or worse, you might damage your company’s reputation and limit your chances of getting coverage further down the road. On the other hand, you don’t want to be one of those companies that misses out on opportunities because they never take the plunge.
Putting all emotions aside, there’s a way of knowing when you’re ready. If you can answer “yes” to all of the questions below, it’s time to stop tinkering and move onto PR planning and execution.
1. Do you have a purpose?
It’s crucial to ask yourself why you want to become active in PR in the first place. If you don’t have a purpose, why would you even bother?
Your PR purpose should answer two key questions: who are you trying to reach (your target audience) and why do you want to communicate with them (your challenge)?
Your PR purpose = your target audience + your challenge
In most cases, your purpose is evident – it just jumps out at you because it’s so intertwined with your everyday business. For instance, you want potential customers in a new market segment to know about your existence.
If you find it hard to pinpoint your purpose, start by thinking about the “problem” you want to solve. Maybe you have difficulty attracting talent because they have the wrong impression of your business. In that case, your purpose would be: reach out to potential recruits and change their perception of your business.
2. Do you know your market?
You need to know what’s going on in your industry. Who are your competitors? What are the hot topics and trends people are talking about? Who are your (prospective) clients and how do they think or feel about you?
Whether it’s investors or journalists you’re pitching to, you have to be able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of your market.
If your business has secured financing or is about to be funded, you can probably use your pitch deck to answer most of these questions. Whether it’s investors or journalists you’re pitching to, you have to be able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of your market.
3. Do you know yourself?
To build a consistent reputation, you need to know who you are, what you stand for and how you want to be perceived by your target audience. Based on that, you should be able to come up with a few messages that concisely explain why your company exists and how it’s different from competitors.
If you have pitched to investors before, you can probably use your “elevator pitch” as a starting point. Make sure that it answers the questions above though.
If you have pitched to investors before, you can probably use your “elevator pitch” as a starting point for your messaging.
When you move onto execution, these messages will serve as your PR yardstick. All your communication should be aligned with them, so it supports the reputation you’re trying to build. This example from United Airlines, which mistakenly jumped on a popular Wendy’s social media campaign, shows just how important consistent branding and messaging are to the success of your business.
4. Do you have an interesting story?
If you have answered “yes” to the first three questions, your business is probably ready. But to be successful in PR, the media will have to agree with that assessment.
But how do the media think?
The most important thing to remember: journalists typically don’t care about you or your products; they care about stories.
Journalists typically don’t care about you or your products; they care about stories.
When you are launching a product, you might feel tempted to talk about features and benefits. But that’s usually not going to cut it. To appeal to journalists, you should focus on other, more interesting, aspects of your story, which we call news hooks.
To give you an idea of what news hooks are, consider the following questions:
- Are you the first, only, biggest, best, largest, smallest, newest etc.?
- Are you tapping into a hot trend or, even better, going against it?
- Does your story involve a big name or a big number?
In short, news hooks demonstrate what’s unique about your story and why your target audience should care.
At this stage, you don’t need to have all the answers. But you should at least have thought about why journalists and influencers might be interested in you, or rather, your story.
5. Can you back it up?
Journalists don’t like unsubstantiated claims. If you say your new product addresses a need in the market or that you are the first company in the world to hit a certain technology milestone, remember to back up your claims. Provide data and link to sources wherever you can. This will be crucial to establishing trust and credibility and building a long-term relationship with the media, which is really what PR is all about.
PR is all about establishing trust and credibility and building a long-term relationship with the media.
Using PR as a Mirror to Your Business
If you checked all of the boxes above and you are still not sure if you’re ready, you should take a cue from online retailer Amazon.
Amazon uses a process that’s known as “Working Backwards” to ensure that new products and services meet the needs of the customer. As part of this process, product managers have to start new initiatives by writing a press release announcing the finished product.
As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels explains it, “writing a press release up front clarifies how the world will see the product – not just how we think about it internally.”
The press release is one of the most used tools in PR. It’s an official statement that uses a concise format to efficiently share information about a specific news event with the media.
But, as demonstrated by Amazon, you don’t necessarily have to send it out.
A press release can also be used as a tool to achieve clarity of thought and learn more about yourself and your customers. In that sense, you could see it as a mirror – it allows you to put yourself in the shoes of your customers, future employees or journalists and look at your company from their perspective – with an outside view.
So, if you’re still on the fence, it’s time to take the ultimate test.
Pick an upcoming event at your business such as a product launch or a new hire, write a press release about it and see for yourself.
Most likely, this exercise will mark the start of a successful PR journey. At the very least, it provides you with a fresh perspective on your business, which will only make you stronger. Just look at Amazon.
Marcel van de Hoef is co-founder of Publiqly, whose step-by-step systems help small and medium-sized companies write press releases that journalists and bloggers can’t ignore. Can’t wait to get started with PR, or create your own mirror? Download our ultimate press release writing guide here to get started today.