There are many definitions of PR but for the purposes of this white paper, “PR” is the practice of getting your message across to your market via editorial coverage, sometime called “earned media” in the publications, forums and websites that your customers and key influencers read. So long as it’s all positive, the more coverage you can get on a consistent basis, the better.
Whether conducted in-house or externally through an agency, most PR professionals will rely on more traditional forms of PR to convey corporate messages to their target audience. Press releases are all too often the favoured vehicle to communicate news to the press. Whilst there is nothing wrong with a press release, there can be an over reliance and an expectation of a steady pipeline of news coming from your company directly. So utter the phrase – “there’s no news” – and you’re likely to strike fear into the heart of most PR professionals.
This whitepaper seeks to explore this topic in greater detail. It will take a closer look at the tools and tactics that can be employed to get your organisation into your target media and provide a best practice guide on how to proactively shape PR activities in the future to look beyond the press release to a more creative form of PR – issues development.
Why PR doesn’t stand for Press Release
While this may sound fairly obvious, this is something which some companies truly believe. “Let’s get out a PR on this,” is a phrase that has been uttered all too often. The reality of good PR couldn’t be any further from this. Take a look at some of this year’s most successful and memorable PR moments – KFC’s memorable response to its distribution chaos being one such example – and not one of them relied solely on the creation of a press release. The majority used stunts, social media, apps, memes and more as a means to get their messages across to the media and public.
Operating in the B2B technology space it’s clear that some of these tactics – most notably the PR stunts – aren’t going to have the same levels of traction with a B2B audience. However, there are some useful lessons to be learned here. PR, as you all know, stands for Public Relations, and how we engage with the public has changed dramatically over the years. Social media has been a real game changer and has offered brands an outlet through which to engage with and build a relationship with their key target market. The way in which people digest information has also altered significantly; communicating in 140 characters is the norm, pictures and photos are used instead of words to sum up a story, news is breaking all the time. With this needs to come a change in our approach to the practice of PR.
The press release, at least for the foreseeable future, will continue to play a part in B2B campaigns – it is after all a solid piece of collateral to communicate clearly your news. That said, we have to stop treating it as the be all and end all. PR activities need to be focused to think in terms of campaigns – within which a press release is just one of the means to communicate news. PR professionals wanting to get their companies ahead in today’s media landscape must think creatively – and this means looking beyond the traditional bread-and-butter PR activities.
Taking a fresh approach to PR
Today’s PR teams face a host of new challenges; journalists are under increased pressure – with some tasked with posting up to eight news stories online a day. This can be both a blessing and a curse for the PR professional. A blessing, as you have an increased number of chances to get your story published, but a curse, because for every one story of yours that is published, seven more are – pushing your story down the rankings. Not only that, but as more companies get savvy to the positive effect of PR, there is an increased competition for share of voice in the media. Additionally, there are now more ways than ever of communicating with your target market – how do you determine which is the best? As such, there has been an increase in social media commentators – how can you make sure that your company is heard above the rest of the noise?
To be successful in this industry, you can’t afford to sit back and wait for the news to simply fall into your lap. If there is no news, then you have to work that much harder to get that vital coverage. You have to think beyond the press release and standalone activities – to building up a solid campaign around an issue or a topic that your client is passionate about and resonates well with the media.
The starting point for this lies in having a comprehensive understanding of your market, your competition and your target media. This will enable you to develop an effective PR campaign with activities tied together in a strategic, cohesive and complementary way – all framed around topical issues.
What follows is a three stage plan on how to effectively plan and execute a solid PR campaign that delivers both in terms of results and overall impact.
Laying the foundations – whether you are working with a new client, or looking at the year ahead for your own company, doing your research is a vital part of the puzzle when devising your PR strategy.
Assess the competition – establish the key players in your space, taking account of any emerging companies and evaluate the key messages being communicated to the press. Ask whether your company has a similar share of voice within the media and establish if there are any additional areas that you should be commenting on.
Know your media – make sure you are familiar with the key press covering your market and know the topics they cover. Make note of any regular opportunities within publications that you could put your company forward for. This will ensure that you are making the most of the media tools at your disposal.
Know your market – research the trends and key issues in the markets you are addressing. And stay up to date by monitoring the news every day. Think about the PEST factors (political, economic, social and technological.) Changes in the political landscape can be a rich vein of stories for both industry and national press. Factors that affect your customers are reflected in the media they read. So make sure you join the debate. Establish which of these topics are most suited to your company. Issues and trends are a key way of positioning yourself and your company as a thought leader and expert and offer a sound way to stay ahead of the competition.
Know your client/company – understand the company’s core offering, but also look for a greater level of insight here. Perhaps one of the execs has some external interests such as working with young people or charity fundraising which is an ideal hook for a profile opportunity. Maybe there’s an interesting backstory to the company’s history. Did your company pioneer a new technology? Is your founder a colourful personality? Has the company broken any records? Do you have an innovative business model or a new type of structure like employee ownership? Find out what you can and build a relationship of trust with your key contacts within the company.
Establish if the marketing / sales teams have any activities planned – you can build a better campaign if you are in sync with any wider marketing activities. Perhaps your company is attending an event, or planning a sales drive around a particular product. You can look to these as core activities or even inspiration when you are planning your strategy. Increasingly the value of PR is only truly achieved when integrated with other communications disciplines like SEO (search engine optimisation) owned content like blogs and white papers, events, market research and advertising or paid search.
It is this in-depth knowledge that will form the foundation of a solid PR strategy for your company over the months ahead. Yes, it might seem time consuming, but even a high level overview of the sector is a worthwhile exercise and a great starting point for any PR campaign.
Building your plan – placing issues development at the heart of your campaign
Research done, it’s now time to build your plan. You have to draft this with your company’s core PR objectives in mind. Is the goal to promote a product? If so, think about its many features and associate that with a trend. For example, if your company wants to promote the robust security features of a solution, consider commentary on changes in data protection legislation or any breaches of security. Is the goal to increase traffic to the website? If so, think about developing a corporate blog, or working in conjunction with marketing or a dedicated SEO specialist to boost your search rankings.
Ultimately, the most creative way to set your PR campaigns apart from the competition and to avoid the dreaded dry spell is to focus on issues development – taking a few core trends in the media, and owning them as a company. The goal here is to be associated with that issue and be known as a subject matter expert. These are the key steps that you need to follow to ensure that issues development is central to your PR strategy:
Idea shower – put down on paper any ideas that you think might work for your company. The most important thing here is to focus on the trends – not the company’s products. If you want to stand out from the crowd, and you want journalists to take notice of your brand, you are not going to do it by pitching in a product. Look at the features, and look at how they tie in with issues in the media. That is where the real story is and the media interest lies.
Develop a plan – quite simply, you don’t have time not to. A plan sets out clearly, both for you and your company, a list of planned activities over a defined period. It provides a benchmark from which to judge success and a framework from which to work. Identify three key trends from your idea shower that you are going to focus on over a six-month period and create a comprehensive plan around each.
Choose your outreach methods carefully – remember the tools at your disposal and think about which will have the greatest traction within your three individual PR campaigns. Use these methods that follow to build your campaign and get traction with the media:
Speculative pitches – this is always a useful way of sounding out a journalist on a particular topic. It could be that you’ve noticed that the journalist has previously written on a particular issue, or they’ve covered a similar area. It could be that you think that it’s something that they might be interested in. Whatever the reason, make sure your pitch is compelling, to the point, and offers the journalist something new.
Opinion pieces or thought leadership articles – these provide a valuable platform from which to talk about an issue in greater depth. A number of publications offer these as regular opportunities and they are a great way to position your company as a thought leader or an expert on a particular trend.
Newsjacking – this is a fantastic way of generating coverage and a great way of owning an issue and staying ahead of the competition. In short, this is where companies jump on the back of a breaking news story and offer some timely, concise, and opinionated comment (free from any product messages) on the news. The key is to make the comment easy to use for the journalist so that it makes filing a story easy. If you can act on these opportunities quickly enough, they can be a wonderful means of getting coverage and can really raise a company’s profile as an expert in the field. Use multiple Google Alerts to track the issues that affect your company, don’t just track mentions of your company or product name.
Profiles – once you’ve built up enough traction around your brand, profiles are way of taking a closer look at a key member of personnel or the company itself in an extended piece. Make sure you’re aware of the journalist’s requirements before pitching though – as some opportunities are only available to certain types of media outlets.
Research – this is a great way of providing some original statistics to add further weight to your company’s opinions. Options here are plentiful; you can analyse your own data – this is often a great, albeit fairly time consuming – way to generate some new collateral. You can commission a research house to conduct the research on your behalf – although this can be a fairly costly exercise. Or you can conduct the research yourself using an online survey tool. Whatever the approach, choose a topic / trend that you can shed some new light on. Think also of new ways to present the information, such as an infographic, to ensure that the statistics are presented in a more meaningful way.
Media briefings / roundtables – dedicated events with key members of the press and senior personnel from your company are often are great way of discussing trends in further detail. It is a natural follow-on activity from research and offers a great platform from which to extend the conversation on a particular issue and have a general discussion around the state of the industry. Media events also act as a good relationship building exercise by providing select members of the press with access to senior spokespeople.
Social media – last, but certainly not least, social media channels are great tools to use in issues development campaigns. You can quickly and easily communicate breaking news stories to your followers. Likewise, you can use social media as an information gathering tool – allowing you to keep abreast of any breaking news stories. To be truly successful in using social media for issues development activities, regularly feed your channels with fresh content. Also, think beyond the simple status updates – run polls, do live chats – all of these will boost your following, continue to cement your position as a thought leader and act as a way to increase your brand presence.
Additional tools are also worthy of a mention as you look to keep your company out of the coverage black hole:
Awards – this is a way of showcasing your company and/or its products to a wider audience. Even being nominated for an award holds its merits as you have a shortlisted logo to place on your website / email footers.
Analyst relations –arranging briefings with key analyst houses is a useful part of a PR program and can add further weight behind your company. Analyst houses can be incredibly influential with potential buyers of your company’s solutions. They also produce a number of reports which you can seek inclusion for your company within.
Product reviews – where available, these are still a valuable tool for promoting a new product. A word of caution though – make sure your product is robust enough to withstand the testing procedure before entering it for competitive assessment – you don’t want to do more harm than good.
Letters to the Editor – an often forgotten about but still valuable tool for the PR professional. Only go for the opportunities where a company’s name is published alongside the letter. It’s a useful way of getting your point across on an issue if the story has already broken and you’ve been too late to comment.
Customer case studies – these are a useful way of telling a story around a customer deployment in greater detail. Additionally, they are useful collateral for sales teams who can showcase previous work.
Online videos – these can be used in a variety of ways. Most interestingly, they can be used as a way of exploring an issue in greater detail. A video is fresh content to be used on a website, or link to a social media feed. It is again a different way of communicating information to your target audience.
The research has been done, the ideas generated and the plan formed – now comes the execution. Look at the plan and what you’ve set out to do, but be flexible. Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground, as something might crop up that you weren’t expecting that is the perfect opportunity for your company. You’ll have to be quick off the mark though, so make sure you’ve established sign-off processes with your spokespeople to ensure that you can take advantage of these opportunities and be first in line for comment.
Also be prepared for change. It could be that one of your planned campaigns doesn’t have as much traction as you’d hoped. In which case, monitor results and don’t be afraid to alter the course of your plan if things aren’t working.
The key to success in the delivery of a successful PR plan is proactivity. You have to be one step ahead of the competition and you have to remain in touch with any developments in the media. You also mustn’t lose sight of what constitutes a good story in the eyes of the media – do this and you risk jeopardising your relationship with certain members of the press.
Use the plan as a guide, but don’t be afraid to adjust your course, if necessary. Just keep checking back to your defined objectives and make sure your activities remain true to them.
PR has changed considerably from the days of posting out press releases in the mail, and will only continue to evolve over time. As PR practitioners, we have to stay on top of the trends and the emerging tools and guide our clients and our companies to deliver a comprehensive programme of activity that exceeds expectations and delivers on results.
Today’s PR professionals can’t afford to wait for a corporate announcement to land on their desk, they need to be strategic and think about what will make the biggest impact for their companies. Issues development is a proven way to deliver a successful PR campaign that ultimately improves a company’s brand profile, and ensures that a PR practitioner is never short of coverage opportunities again.