Entrepreneurs and marketers will always debate how much of their budget to allocate for advertising versus public relations campaigns. In the past, an aggressive ad-campaign was all you needed to gain market share. That is no longer the case in today’s ultra-saturated consumer environment. Consumers are increasingly hungry for third-party information to make a better-informed purchase. This is especially true for millennial and generation-z consumers, who are known to view paid advertising as less genuine and therefore less reliable.
While younger consumers are the wariest of paid advertising, it’s by no means unique to those generations. Research shows that 70% of consumers want to become familiar with a company through articles as opposed to advertisements. With so much choice and information available these days, researching a company before making a decision is a must for the majority of consumers. If you want to thrive in this saturated environment, you need the credibility of third-party information standing behind your brand. This is where a well-crafted public relations campaign can be so effective at establishing credibility, reaching new audiences, and ultimately moving the needle on your highest priority business goals.
Know Your Narrative
At the heart of every top-notch public relations campaign is a compelling story. Without an interesting narrative, any public relations effort is dead on arrival. This is often the most frustrating part of a campaign, but every single brand has an amazing story locked away somewhere: you just need to know where to look and how to present the best angle.
However, a story on its own is just words on a page. A public relations campaign needs both an amazing story and people who can spread it far and wide. This is where well-developed relationships with the media are worth their weight in gold. The media runs on a continuous flow of compelling stories, and it’s your job to feed the right story to the right people. This process should be a win for all sides: publications get novel, interesting content, and brands gain exposure and credibility.
Building a Public Relations Campaign
People may not want to hear it, but good public relations campaigns take time, often months. If you’re not going to dedicate the necessary time, you’re likely doing more harm than good. To ensure that you’re going about your public relations campaign in the right way, you need to dial in both your goals and your strategy.
When asked, most companies say their goal is to be featured in a certain publication, like the Wall Street Journal or Forbes. This is ultimately short-sighted, as media coverage is a public relations campaign strategy, not an end goal. A goal should be concrete and measurable, such as an increase in sales by 10% by the end of the fiscal year. You may achieve this by getting placed in a premier publication, but that’s only one step in what should be a broad approach to driving results.
With your desired outcome set, it’s now time to build the strategy that will fuel your public relations campaign. Defining a viable strategy can seem daunting when there are so many paths to choose from, but they all rely on the same core elements: your message, desired audience, and how best to reach that audience.
Once you’ve defined your message, which again must be compelling and not just a sales pitch, it’s time to identify your target audience. For many companies your audience is current and potential customers, but it could also be a certain community, industry peers, investors, or even regulatory bodies. The right audience depends on the goal for your public relations campaign, so always craft your strategy with the end-result in mind.
With your ideal audience defined, identify which publications to target based on the media that your audience consumes. For example, if c-suite executives are your target you might look to outlets like the Wall Street Journal or Bloomberg. Major publications provide major exposure, but don’t shy away from more niche outlets based on size alone. At the end of the day the more (relevant) media you can target the better off your public relations campaign will be, and the closer you’ll be to achieving your goal.
Media Coverage: The Art of Pitching
To get your story out in the world requires media coverage, and there are three main ways to achieve this: a media pitch, a press release, and a media advisory. Press releases are what most people think of when they hear the phrase “public relations campaign”. It’s typically a one or two-page document that gives an in-depth overview of your news story. These are typically hosted on a company’s site or distributed via newswire but don’t expect reporters to be interested. They’re bombarded with hundreds of these each day, and they’re simply too long for today’s quick-paced media.
Where a press release is long and in-depth, a media advisory is short and to the point. These are typically used to announce an event or to invite reporters to a press conference or briefing. These can be an important aspect of your public relations campaign, but again don’t expect reporters to take your advisory and run with it in their publications.
A media pitch is the main tool in your public relations campaign arsenal. A pitch is a very brief email, generally sent to reporters, editors or producers, that outlines your story and inquires if they want more information, such as an interview. Pitching the media truly is an art, and something that takes a lot of practice to master. It all starts with the first thing the reporter sees: the subject line. These must as short as possible while still being compelling. Think of it almost as the title of your story, e.g. “3 Unexpected Benefits of Removing Sugar from your Diet”. Reporters get hundreds of emails per day, meaning your subject line is the only way to stave off outright rejection. Make sure that it’s interesting, succinct and clear in order to get your message opened.
After a friendly greeting, get right to the hook, or the meat, of your media pitch. In two to four sentences lay out the most important aspects of your message, followed by a few sentences that establish the credibility of the person or organization behind the story. Then wrap it up with a call-to-action, which is a one sentence or less reason for why the reporter should respond to your email. This usually takes the form of inquiring about setting up an interview to go in depth on the story. The ultimate goal of media pitching in a public relations campaign is to get responses from the media, so make it easy for them to cover your story.
Entire books could be written on the art of pitching, but experience will always be the best teacher. To guide you, we have in fact written a very thorough how-to on best practices for pitching in our free public relations strategy guide here. A successful campaign might send out hundreds, if not thousands of pitches. Just keep in mind that journalists are people and professionals too, and a friendly relationship is worth infinitely more than a single article placement. At the end of the day you want to secure recurring placements in your target publications, so you can’t afford to burn any bridges. This is why a quality public relations campaign takes time, but if you have the patience and savvy to pull it off, the rewards are well worth the effort.