To PR or not to PR

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Recently I wrote a blog for the flippin’ legends over at Your One and Only. My pal Tara asked me to share some insights about the wonderful world of PR, and so here you have what was initally published over here.

For most, PR is a curious creature. Part news, part advertising, part marketing, part novel.

But this rarely discussed, and rather curious beast is often the force behind brands that skyrocket in growth and bask in the warm glow of success. It’s the hidden lever that rapidly creates visibility and makes an unknown name, a familiar, trusted brand.

A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.
— Sir Richard Branson

Our mate Richard Branson gets it, according to the Virgin boss, “A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front-page ad.” Misunderstood as it may be, the proof is in the pudding. Consumers say that they trust earned media more than they do promotional content (62% of consumers trust traditional media compared to 23% trusting social media sources) and it’s not hard to see why. While “fake news” has had a significant impact on the trust factor, it has solidified trust with major mastheads as consumers have become more and more wary of digital media’s lack of credibility. Interestingly, in Australia, we have more trust in our media outlets than the global average (according to IPSOS ‘Trust in media’ survey).

Through this rather lengthy essay, I’ll dig into a few projects where I have seen PR play an extremely transformative role to the business bottom line.

Why do we trust the media?

As consumers we prefer to make our decisions informed by friends, co-workers and family and by third parties like people of influence, major media outlets and more recently podcasts. Why? Well we assume that those who provide recommendations have applied some intellectual critique and rigour before amplifying a cause or message. Their own personal brand or reputation is at risk without this scrutiny, so we trust that what they endorse is genuine.

Now many people use the term PR interchangeably when referring to marketing, advertising and media outreach, but they really are quite unique offerings and shouldn’t be subbed in for one another. While they’re heading towards remarkably similar game plans, they’re very different beasts.

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers
— Daniel J. Boorstin

I have heart eyes for this quote, it makes me laugh and it also helps me articulate the point, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers”. Daniel J. Boorstin, The irony that the PR industry, that works on the premise of building reputation and using communications to amplify a message, has one of the worst reputations known to mankind is not lost on me. I believe it’s time that this industry that is known as spin doctors and for twisting the truth woke up to itself and acted with a little more authenticity, scrutiny and transparency.

So, what is publicity and public relations all about?

Public relations is defined by the act of spreading a voice or information between an organisation and its key audiences (publics). In other words, it’s our gig to help your business be seen by all the people that matter, in all the right places. While you’re quite likely already doing several layers of PR on your own – through securing speaking gigs, appearing in blogs or spreading your message through content marketing, PR is really about dialling up those efforts by securing media coverage. That is being seen and heard through TV, radio, podcast, print or digital news outlets. The aim: helping more people understand your thang.

I’m not going to lie, explaining what PR is, is part of my daily life. So, I have had this conversation once or twice. Often people think that PR is for celebrities or major companies in crisis with huge budgets and while it can be an expensive exercise, I also firmly believe it’s something that business owners can learn to do themselves in order to save some serious coin.

When it comes to considering when publicity is going to be valuable for your business – consider whether you have a genuine story to tell.

By way of background the media landscape exists to inform and educate, and of course entertain its audiences. So, when it comes to considering when publicity is going to be valuable for your business – consider whether you have a genuine story to tell. And if you don’t, then it might be worth exploring how you can bake a story into the DNA of your business.

Generally speaking most PR campaigns will centre on your expertise, a report you have developed, some unique insights that you hold or when you have something new, unusual, out of the ordinary that needs to be shared with the world. I have found that PR most often becomes an extremely valuable tactic for businesses who have a high value product (over $1000) or for businesses that work in a cluttered marketplace and need to cut a slice of the pie away from the rest of the competitors. This is particularly valuable for service-based professionals like naturopaths, marketers and coaches where trust and expertise are important decision-making levers.

The power of storytelling

Humans have been sitting around campfires for eons… we love sharing stories. It’s how we learn, connect and build community.

PR is about finding the story, understanding the angles, and earning coverage that ties in with broader and current conversations. It’s about earning your place as a thought leader, building trust, establishing your reputation, and managing your messages. Harnessing that narrative power sculpts the way that organisations are seen in the world. Relationship building is the cornerstone of public relations.

Our job as PRs is to dig into your stories, uncover all of the nooks and crannies that make you unique and put you all back together in the form of a couple of stellar story angles.

Often, when people subscribe to PR agencies, what they gain access to is their established relationships with media. The inside scoop, however, is that anyone can build a little black book of clients through thoughtful, slow romance. You have everything you need without the media database.

Our job as PRs is to dig into your stories, uncover all of the nooks and crannies that make you unique and put you all back together in the form of a couple of stellar story angles. We don’t just explore one angle, our job is to have at least five or more angles on the go that we craft specifically for each outlet. Why so many you ask? Well because each media outlet has its own unique audiences and agenda. So to ensure your story is relevant we need to share the pieces of the puzzle that excite or interest their particular audience.

So we know that the potency of PR to change the trajectory of your business to be more connected, authentic, and successful is huge. Like any great relationship, the foundation of success is trust, always trust. Through thought leadership pieces, connections with the right people, and strategies that connect you to your tribe, PR brings in that magic cha-ching of mutually beneficial relationships. And trust me when I say how quickly I have seen media coverage transform businesses. Good media coverage amplifies your voice and your platform.

PR is powerful, the proof is in the results

One story that never fails to warm the cockles of my heart is the work we have been lucky to drive with Farmer Cookbook. We had the pleasure of crafting a custom PR campaign with a helluva story behind it, and with coverage secured in Delicious, Taste, Gourmet Traveller, ABC news, ABC radio, and Channel 7’s Daily Edition, we ended up smashing the initial target and managed to generate over $150k (and counting!).  

In the case of Farmer we were lucky to work with a host of celebrities and experts who poured time into being available for TV opportunities, radio interviews and we were fortunate to secure several extract features published in the pages of several major magazines.

Our job as PRs is to scan far and wide to find outlets and opportunities that align with our client’s objectives. There isn’t a PR who wouldn’t scan the news every single morning to make sure they’re across the big conversations of the day. We bounce from major media outlets like The Guardian or Channel 7 news to a parenting blog or knitting podcast. Our radar is tuned to the outlets that affect our clients and if you’re building your brand then you should be finely tuned to those that matter to your customers.

Finding your niche, and honing in on bespoke coverage for your brand means you have to get out of your bubble. Stop preaching to the choir. Consider speaking opportunities, award nominations, partnerships or collaborations outside of your patch – remember that your people might not know you yet, they might not even know your product category yet. But if you understand the places where they consume news or are entertained then you can begin to find new ways to get your brand story in front of them. 

Morag Gamble, a recent graduate of my PR course, is a permaculture expert who has secured consistent coverage in the eco/sustainability and gardening scenes for years but found that she had hit a bit of a ceiling and needed to reach new audiences. As a result, we pitched her… and secured coverage in The Age’s, Good Weekend and were able to bring her message to the mainstream, opening the conversation to a wider public aka new eyeballs.

For many clients that we work with, we aim to meet busy leaders and decision makers where they are, with thought leadership content that allows the clients to become known as the go-to peeps for their industry. We do this through a combination of mainstream outlets to build reputation and trust, and niche outlets to drive action and leads.

The value of speaking to your audience whilst also persuading the broader public to understand your unique insights or trust your capabilities is exemplified in two major ways. In addition to converting a wider crowd, the benefit of securing coverage in both niche and major titles means that you can ride the reputation and equity of big outlets whilst also strategically placing yourself to catch leads from small niche outlets. 

In addition to these happy benefits, linking your story to major news sites and industry digi-magazines allows you to benefit from established reputation and credibility in the eyes of Google – hello SEO perks! One of the most important ranking factors of SEO is links from high-quality, relevant websites.

To DIY or climb aboard the retainer thang

It all comes down to two things: time or money. Whichever one you can afford tends to be the one that wins.

In all honesty, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach, and the approach you take should directly reflect your business. Depending on whether you’re just starting out and are a bit strapped for cash or are a bit more established with less time but more funding, finding the right balance and the right approach is key. Regardless, spending one day per week on your campaign, or spending between $2000 – $7000 per month is a pretty standard benchmark to go by.

Anyone can learn how to manage a solid public relations campaign if you have the time, the know-how and the persistence.

And if you want to know how… I run a course that’ll give you the tools you need to kick-off a PR strategy that suits your business, helping you understand how to nurture relationships with media contacts, write a snappy bio, and pitch your product or service to secure media coverage and, more importantly, how to leverage that coverage.

5 quick tips to get started on your PR

  1. If you’re going to DIY you need 1 day per week during your ‘on campaign’ to dedicate to getting up and running.

  2. Research five outlets that you want to be seen in and find the key journalists that write the articles within these outlets that align to your business and where you want to be seen.

  3. Spend time researching your key messages. Ideally you want 3-5 messages that clearly speak to how you service your customer, answering their pain points with a bitch of punch.

  4. Uncover your angles and hooks by scanning the news and building a library of angles that make sense to your product, service or expertise.

  5. Create a succinct bio (a couple of paragraphs) that speaks to your capabilities and create a digital folder on Dropbox or Google with all of your product imagery and headshots.

When you have all of the above steps ready, it’s time to weave a pitch that combines a topical ‘newsy’ angle and weaves your key messages, expertise and a strong CTA in it.

Good luck!

Odette Barry