There’s a reason Bill Gates once said, “If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget, I’d spend it on public relations.” Public relations (PR) is an invaluable tool that helps with brand credibility, employee recruitment and retention, and the overall success of an organization. Good public relations allows organizations to take advantage of unexpected opportunities that may arise while maximizing the effectiveness of the brand narrative without breaking the bank. The crazy thing that most people don’t understand is that minimal effort around strategic PR can yield a significant return that lasts well beyond the initial traction.
What exactly is Public Relations?
Marketing and Public Relations can be difficult to distinguish, especially when they’re so closely intertwined. The main difference between marketing and public relations is that marketing is focused on promoting and selling a specific product or service, whereas public relations is focused on maintaining a positive reputation for a company as a whole. The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Essentially, those focused on public relations are responsible for maintaining brand reputation, increasing brand awareness, and cultivating a positive relationship between the brand and the public.
How can your business leverage public relations to elevate your brand, strengthen your overall public perception while creating a community of trust? Here are 5 tips on how we’ve leveraged strategic PR to elevate our clients’ brands by working smarter, not harder, followed by real-world examples to demonstrate ROI. And, as always, if you need help developing a strategic public relations plan for your business, don’t hesitate to give us a shout to learn more about how we can help.
5 Steps to Strengthening Your PR Efforts
1. Develop a Plan
The first step in building your plan is asking yourself, “Why does this campaign, product, or service matter?” Having a strong sense of “why” sets your brand apart from competitors and increases your probability of media pickups. Your why is established by creating a compelling brand narrative. How do you do this? As said in Strategies versus Tactics: Understanding The ‘Why’ And ‘How’ In PR, “If you don’t start with “why” and truly understand what it means, then you’ll just end up like a hamster in a wheel — spinning around and around.”
A quality PR plan should also identify the core messages (what you want to say/what message you want to get across), outline the implementation process (how do you plan to reach this audience, at what frequency and where?), and a proposed timeline of execution. If you’re starting your first public relations strategy or want to optimize your current process, take a look at a few examples here.
2. Do Your Research
Research is where the bulk of the time should be spent. Before diving into media pitching, it’s crucial to analyze the situation. Are there any hot topics surrounding the brand’s industry? Who’s talking about them? What are competitors saying? What can the brand you represent contribute to the conversation?
One way to identify a unique angle that your brand represents is through a thorough SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Performing this type of research will unearth potential threats that, when evaluated with a ‘so what’ mentality in mind, can lend to fascinating media content that your competitors can’t compete with. Additionally, placing yourself in the seat of the consumer is never a bad thing. Think about what pain points they have that aren’t being addressed, or what recent changes in policy, legislation or federal mandates are impacting those that you provide services to. Chances are, there could be a newsworthy opportunity there that your business can take advantage of.
3. Create a Media List
Once you’ve done a bit of research, you’ve got to determine who will truly care about what you have to say. Refer back to the intended audience outlined in the PR plan, and determine where that audience can be reached. Is that audience limited to a certain location? What media market is that location a part of, and what outlets within that media market are relevant to the campaign? Choosing the right publication, or outlet, to pitch is crucial to the success of your outreach. Once identified, it’s important to target the right journalists, reporters and staff members within those outlets. Some writers specialize in a few topics, known as beats. The likelihood of your story/pitch getting picked up increases when the appropriate writer is engaged. It sounds super simple — but doing your homework upfront will ensure you reach the right person with the right story. In addition, you need to research where those reporters typically engage; are they more active on Twitter? Do they regularly post on LinkedIn? Those platforms might be a better place to get their attention vs email — so figure this out first as it will likely yield greater results.
Good old Google searching in your desired market can certainly provide a starting place to develop a targeted media list. However if you’re looking to gain traction on a much larger scale (say, across the US or focused throughout the West Coast), leaning on media database resources such Muck Rack or Cision can help.
4. Pitch Strategically
Cultivating real 1-1 relationships with the media is key to securing media coverage. Being proactive in this approach and establishing a genuine connection before pitching often leads to increased credibility and mutual respect. Connecting on a personal level now may be helpful as professional opportunities arise in the future.
Once those relationships have been established, it’s important to craft personal pitches that resonate with those journalists. When pitching, remember to be timely. According to the State of Journalism 2022, 67% of journalists prefer to receive pitches between 5AM & 12PM, and most journalists want to receive pitches earlier in the week (with Monday being the most preferred day, then Tuesday, Wednesday and so on). Keep pitches short; 68% of journalists prefer pitches less than 200 words. Many journalists receive hundreds of pitches a day and naturally, some get lost in the mix. Don’t be afraid to send a follow up; 90% of journalists say at least 1 follow up email is acceptable. For more tips to coverage success, check out our blog Breaking News: Journalists May Not Care About Your Press Release.
5. Make Coverage Report
Once follow ups have been sent and enough time has passed to allow for maximum coverage, we’d suggest measuring the success of your outreach through a coverage report. Tools like Muck Rack and Meltwater make this process a breeze, (but note they also require a subscription). They provide statistics on open rates, audience reach, article engagement, and much more. Coverage reports can offer an invaluable learning experience by helping PR specialists review what tactics worked and see what areas need improvement for the next campaign. Don’t have the budget for one of these? A simple Google Search or hashtag search through social media can also help — you just need to spend a bit of time pulling all the reporting data together. Check out this article to gain a few additional tips on capturing media coverage.
The use of strategic PR to support your business growth can skyrocket momentum if done right. Taking into account a few of the steps we mentioned earlier, here are some real-world examples that will help showcase the value of PR.
Real World Example #1
Scenario: A government contracting firm wanted to gain brand awareness within select markets across the US; this particular effort was in support of their employee gaining National-level recognition within the U.S. Army. Promoting this type of news is a great way to showcase their employees’ achievements in front of key customers, strengthen the organization’s public support of our Nation’s warfighter and publicly promote their unique culture.
Result: Although not our typical approach (see below), we collaborated with the client to draft a press release relevant to the story. This effort included drafting strategic quotes from both the client (employer) and the employee, capturing powerful photos that could be used for storytelling, and performing research on the best media outlets that we felt would connect with this story. In addition, we identified those outlets we wanted to target based on the geo-focus of the client (that aligned with their business development efforts).
After pitching the story, we received more than 10+ pickups nationwide, resulting in a potential touchpoint of 1.2M people/month (or UVM: unique visitors/month to the sites that picked up the story). Additionally, we received a $700K AVE, or advertising value equivalency, which results in more than 333x their initial investment. If this particular client wanted to gain the same traction on their own (vs strategic PR) they’d have to invest $700K to gain the same return in impressions. Instead, they hired us and saved about 99% of what that investment would have been had they not opted for public relations and just placed direct ads within those outlets.
As briefly mentioned above, we will typically lean away from a press release as our first effort to gain publicity. Why, you might ask? Well, press releases have become the traditional method when the desire is to get a message published to the masses (by pushing a release out on the wire). However, at Flourish, our goal is to gain traction in multiple outlets where each can tell their own unique story, based on what is of interest to them. When an authentic story idea is pitched right, it will often lead to a much longer term gain than a short term release pickup. By engaging a reporter with a unique angle that only they can tell (because they’re the only one who’s received that particular pitch), you’ll eliminate every single outlet telling the same exact story (and just publishing the release that was provided).
Real World Example #2
Scenario: A cybersecurity firm was looking to strengthen brand awareness among key audiences and establish thought leadership in order to gain exposure in the government contracting and commercial cybersecurity industries.
We researched the targeted markets and developed an extensive media list of local, state, regional, and industry outlets that may be interested in covering or featuring topics that this client had an expertise on. From there, we worked alongside their team of experts to create a pitch list used to entice targeted media.
Result: When our efforts began (all activity was performed in 3 months from start to finish) we were able to secure over 65 national and local media placements, resulting in a potential reach upward of 205 million people with an advertising value equivalency (AVE) of $190 million. During this time period, their overall website traffic increased 5%, with a peak at 392%, compared to the previous quarter. The most dramatic increases in website traffic tied back to media placements.
Real World Example #3
Scenario: A local Multifamily residential property buyer and seller’s goal was to increase awareness across the southeast US within targeted publications, toward targeted audiences. This was crucial in supporting the growth and visibility of their brand among investors and target audiences. By incorporating media relations into their overarching communications plan, we were able to build brand awareness and established them as a trusted leader in the multifamily space.
Result: In addition to creating a SME (subject matter expertise) profile that was used to pitch the Managing Partner to SME-focused podcasts, we engaged with regional media outlets over the course of 4 months. With this effort, we were able to garner an AVE of $498K. As you learned earlier, this means that the client would need to spend $498K in advertising dollars to get their message in front of the same audience reached through our organic public relations strategy. In addition, we received 11 articles that were written across the southeast US, resulting in a potential reach of 5M people throughout the 3 month period.
As you can see, there are certainly trends to the real world examples: research, developing targeted media lists and crafting an impactful pitch. Don’t leave strategic PR out of your marketing plans — you can’t afford it!
For marketers, the end goal is typically to generate leads. A great marketing campaign can send sales opportunities right to the bottom of the funnel and drive conversions. The reason for doing this is obvious: If your company has a more impactful message than your competitors, people may be more inclined to buy your product. When you look at marketing goals, they are almost always based on generating qualified leads and feeding the funnel to drive revenue. . Thinking that public relations exists to drive conversions in the same way that marketing does is missing the larger picture. Public relations is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long-term process that drives the credibility of your company and the visibility of your executives. Although public relations does help amplify your marketing efforts, it’s only a fraction of the true benefit.
Whether you’re a veteran company or a new brand, the perfect blend of marketing and public relations will ensure you’re not only driving sales, but you’re also building trust and long-term relationships with your audience. Having a foundation of “good PR” around your brand also helps soften the blow when bad PR — or unfortunate circumstances — hit. (Think COVID, a rogue employee who goes crazy on social media, or a product malfunction.)
What happens after the dust settles? Customers need to determine where their loyalty lies and with ongoing, consistent good public relations and branding, oftentimes you can overcome those scenarios — but if you’re only focused on the bottom line, the loyalty doesn’t run as deep.