All too often, businesses come to me and ask for PR without really understanding what it is and why they need it. I frequently hear people say things like "our local paper is rubbish - I sent them a release and they didn't use it" or "they used my release but I didn't get any business from it."
PR is a marathon - it really is a case of the tortoise versus the hare. If you send in regular, consistently high-quality releases and are prepared for the fact that not all will be used, then the journalists will retain your name and turn to you when they need a story. Remember that it's a privilege to be featured in the press, particularly when you consider that advertising in the papers can reach into the hundreds of thousands, so make sure your story is of interest to their readers; not just advertising or self-promotion.
Here are some things that should be considered before you start to use PR to put your business name out there.
1. Customer service
Your customer service must be impeccable. All staff should be aware of the company's aims and any special offers that you're trying to promote. There is nothing worse than the media doing your promotion and telling their readers that you are offering this and that, only for a potential customer to walk in to your shop and for the person there to proclaim they know nothing about it. Ditto customers who make a special journey to see your offering only to be on the receiving end of rude staff.
2. Know your message
Keep things simple - one message at a time. Don't overcomplicate stories by trying to include too much.
3. Read the papers
If you want to appear in the press, then you need to read your local papers to get a feel for their style and to know what kind of stories they use. You also need to see what the competition is up to! Reading around your own trade is essential too and only takes a few minutes a day. It's also a good idea to know what's going on in the national news as this will help inform your writing and keep it up-to-date. It will also provide great ideas on which you can piggyback. As a former journalist myself, I felt it was quite disrespectful when people phoned up asking us to use a story and then ask for copies when it's in print "because I don't ever read your paper."
4. Prepare a bio
Always have a short piece ready on your work achievements, awards and anything else that highlights your expertise. It's also worth including your age plus anything quirky you do outside work.
5. Make sure you have a good quality headshot ready.
"Yes we'd like to use your release! Have you got a photo please?" Don't say "help yourself to one from my website or Facebook page" - it shows you're not interested, plus will be entirely too small for print. Try not to send a picture from your phone. Or one with your dog or one where you've hastily chopped someone else out! Ask a professional photographer - preferably one who understands what you do and can reflect this in the pictures.
6. Make time to brainstorm.
Set aside some time every week, with your team if you have one, to find out what's going on and what they're up to. You'd be amazed at what you find out!
7. Follow newspapers on Twitter.
Also follow your favourite journalists. They often will post queries on Twitter and if you can help, your name will be the first they think of when they need an expert in your field.
8. Know who does what.
Familiarise yourself with various publications and make sure you don't send motoring stories to the sports editor.
9. Know the deadlines.
Make sure you're not calling at a bad moment as this will get you remembered for the wrong reasons. Weekly papers tend to be slightly less busy at the end of the week and daily papers are busy in the evenings. Check before you call!
10. Case studies
Always ask your customers whether they're happy to be quoted as it gives credence to the service you offer. When someone gives you a testimonial, ask if you can use it, plus their name, for your media activity.