Becoming your own PR practitioner

We often think of public relations as the domain of spin doctors who are sent out by the big-end of town to control the media when there is a looming storm on the horizon. However, rather than merely creating 'spin' PR can be successfully used to notify the public (or in this case, your customers and potential customers) of something positive, e.g. your new business, product, service or an event. Therefore, think of positive PR as another marketing tool which you can use to raise the profile of your small business, and the even better news is, you can do it yourself.
What follows are some simple DIY tips to help you create a successful PR campaign for your small business.

Know what you want from your PR campaign

Taking some time to understand what you want to achieve from your PR campaign will help you make crucial choices about how to proceed. You also need to think about things like the audience you want to appeal to; whether you want to attract attention for a one-off event or a prolonged activity; and what areas you want to target, as having a grasp of these variables will help you create your message. Once you're happy with it, you need to think about the ways you're going to communicate it.

Getting a strong message out there

Successful PR is about communicating a message. Even big budget PR campaigns full of bells and whistles will amount to little if they fail to communicate a clear and concise message.
The bread and butter of a good PR campaign is a media release - a short, usually 1-2 page written document, targeted at media outlets which relates information about a certain issue or event in a concise and interesting fashion.  News outlets receive a lot of media releases but by targeting relevant and local media you might be able to earn yourself some free publicity.

Writing may not be your strong point and if this is the case you might need to employ the services of a communications professional to help out. But if you want to give it a shot yourself, it's important to remember some key points.

  • Make your message clear and reflect this in your headline. Your media release should have no more than four to five key points, with each point contained in a separate paragraph.
  • Try to use short, sharp sentences - the point is to grab someone's attention.
  • Quote your spokesperson (even if this is you).
  • Include your contact details in case someone wants to find out further information.

While writing a media release might seem a bit daunting at first, take your time and avoid putting too much pressure on yourself. You will find that writing will get easier with time.

Following up your message

Once you've written your strong-angled/catchy media release and sent it to the appropriate news outlets (remember - the local newspapers and television channel or a trade magazine are more likely to show interest than CNN), it is imperative that you follow it up with a phone call. In the trade this is called media liaising - a bit of jargon to help you along.

Like following up on a job application, a phone call to media outlets helps against your media release getting lost in the pile, but before dialling remember one thing: journalists are a busy lot and detest pointless phone calls, so speak clearly and succinctly as to why your event is newsworthy. Don't just ask, "Can you write a story on this".
Additionally, try to speak to a journalist who will potentially write a story based around your media release and invite him/her down to see your business or promotional event firsthand. This might even lead to a photo opportunity.  

Make your PR campaign part of your overall marketing strategy

To get the most out of a PR campaign, its best that it's not an isolated event, but part of an overall marketing strategy (see a list of 10 marketing must haves for more advice). If you run a website make sure it includes information relevant to your PR campaign (dates, pictures, contact details) and if you do happen to get a bit of media exposure, include this on your website - it's all part of building your brand.

It's all about promotion

It is important to recognise that sending out media releases is something that you do to promote your business and therefore something you should do only when you're planning something that a news outlet might be realistically interested in. Don't go firing media releases off every other day about trivial events such as when your store will be open over the Christmas holidays as this will only make news outlets less inclined to read your media releases when you do actually have something interesting to say.

Running your own PR campaign might at first appear a little daunting, but don't be too put-off by the prospect of dealing with the press. A media release and a couple of follow-up phone calls might be just the ticket to get your business the publicity to help you grow onwards and upwards.

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