I have something to tell you and I don’t think your public relations person is going to like it: You’re probably getting ripped off.
There are a lot of PR people out there, and for too many, PR stands for “Project Ripoff.”
Don’t get me wrong. Journalists need PR people. In fact, good ones can be very, very helpful. But knowing who is going to make a good public relations person can be a real challenge for a business owner who doesn’t know the difference between good press and a sandwich press. And since most PR people are paid on retainer, it’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting for your hard-earned bread.
Here’s what you should know before you hire your next PR person.
News you can lose
Good PR people build trusted relationships with journalists by offering them useful, accurate, sometimes entertaining information that fills a need for the journalist’s publication. Sometimes those ideas and story pitches involve your company. Sometimes they don’t.
Good PR people know that a long-term relationship with the media is much more valuable than short-term success. PR people who do nothing but send standard-issue press releases about your company without considering the target audience of the publication are on a collision course with the “delete” button.
If a reporter has to take more than 10 seconds to figure out why your company is of interest, they won’t bother. There are too many fish in the sea of incoming e-mails to bother trying to figure out how to get yours off the hook.
Hold the cream cheese
No matter how great the bagels, your press event is likely a waste of your time and money. Good journalists are good because they can take a two-paragraph press release and turn it into a full-fledged, fully reported story in an hour. Rarely does a reporter need to attend a press conference to get the gist of what your story is. In fact, many of these events only create resentment; editorial teams are short-staffed, and there’s never enough time for them to get everything done in a day. Wasting time attending your press conference or your annual meeting can be frustrating especially when no good stories come out of it.
If you’re Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, by all means, host a press gathering. Your presence is news by itself. For the rest of you, please, tie up the dog, put the pony back in the barn, and think twice before inviting a bunch of reporters to your office or requesting a meeting. If you can’t sum up your pitch in an e-mail, you may need to rethink it before you proceed.
Perhaps one day a magical publication will appear that is interested in your company’s every move. Until then, you’re stuck dealing with the rest of the media, which primarily want to know how what you do is reflective of bigger trends going on in the world.
Got a new website? Just started a round of VC funding? Hired a new HR manager? That’s great stuff for your company newsletter or a report to your investors. The rest of us, though, aren’t really that interested. It’s very hard for a reporter to justify writing about what’s happening at your company and not do the same for every other company in your field.
Finding a way to make what you have to say relevant to a publication’s readers is really where a PR person can help. Your job is to make sure you’re providing what a PR person needs to make it happen. Be accessible and respond quickly. Anything you do to make it difficult to get the story done is going to decrease the likelihood that you’re going to get covered.
Tell a story
So what, exactly, are journalists looking for? It’s simple. They are looking for information that will be of interest to their readers. If you are an electrician, for example, and you just began installing fluorescent light fixtures, don’t issue a press release announcing that you’ve just begun installing fluorescent light fixtures.
Instead, your PR person (or you, if you don’t have one) can do a little research on the broader topic of energy-saving lighting. Find some numbers on how many people are now using energy-saving lighting, and perhaps offer some tips on how consumers who use this technology can make it more effective.
If you give reporters a good, newsworthy hook on which to anchor the story, they will, more than likely, interview you for the story. You will be positioned as an expert who knows about the subject matter, and that will go a lot further toward helping you build a customer base than will a press release about your new tool belt.
And try to time your e-mails right. Pitching this energy-saving story to a reporter about a month before Earth Day will get you a lot further than pitching it while editors are scrambling for New Year’s Eve stories.
Look the part
A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. And, in the case of the digital media, perhaps even a thousand clicks.
And, no, that photo of you in your tux at your daughter’s bat mitvah isn’t going to cut it.
Any good PR person will tell you there’s no better money you can spend than on a few good professional photos. And don’t be cheap. Get a few photos of you, a few of your products and, perhaps most important, a few of you with your products or in some situation that visually conveys what you do.
We in the media are all fighting for our readers’ attention every day. (Sound familiar?) Having a compelling image to go along with your publicity pitch will go a long way toward helping you get some media coverage.
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Jeanette Mulvey is the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.