Holding the balance of (PR) power
Public relations or PR is one of the most misunderstood professions. Yet there is no more evidence of its power than the fact that Australian businesses spend almost $450 million with PR agencies each year. Around 75 per cent of news content is generated through PR, meaning that much of what you read in newspapers and blogs or see on television current affairs and news programs can be traced back to a strong PR pitch. This is good news for your business. It means there are countless opportunities to promote your product or service to those stakeholders important to your business’ success. The better you understand the media and how it works, the more effectively you can craft and pitch newsworthy stories about your business in the hope of securing free media space.
Australia’s media is broad and varied, from local and metropolitan newspapers, radio and television news programs to industry and trade publications and websites and blogs covering every aspect of every industry.
Recent changes in the media landscape have seen extensive diversification in the industry, with traditional media outlets offering more content across multiple platforms including websites, iPad and iPhone Apps, Twitter and Facebook profiles and blogs.
Journalists appreciate receiving interesting story ideas, facts, figures and access to insights and commentary from company spokespeople via PR professionals. Now more than ever, journalists are time poor and are likely to welcome a well thought out and relevant pitch, particularly when you can help them pull the elements together by offering a photo or access to a spokesperson. PR professionals curate and present timely, accurate and relevant information to journalists, who make a decision on whether to write and publish the story.
Advertising, despite sharing the marketing umbrella, is a different ball game. It is paid column inches, the content is controlled and it is perceived as less ‘credible’ because it doesn’t carry the same influence as an independently researched story. Nevertheless, it is an important component of any franchisee’s local marketing activity, as are flyers, direct mail and digital content such as electronic direct mail (EDM) and social media.
When booking your next advertisement, it’s worth asking the publisher whether there are any advertorial-style opportunities. Use this as a point of negotiation. An article positioned near your advertisement will create more impact than a stand-alone advertisement.
Many franchisees have active local marketing activities. Have you considered or does yours include public relations?
As a franchisee, PR is a powerful marketing tool available to your business. It keeps you on your stakeholders’ radar. It connects you with your existing and potential customers, enhances your brand’s image and, importantly, influences purchasing decisions.
PR can help your business to survive and thrive in a depressed market. It is particularly important in challenging economic climates and industries where there is much competition for the customer’s dollar.
DO IT YOURSELF
While many big businesses employ an inhouse PR professional or public relations agency, with some common sense, DIY PR can work wonders for your business. PR tactics can take many forms – from media releases, events and emails to journalists suggesting story ideas to stunts, media photo opportunities, competitions and social media campaigns.
Firstly, identify your stakeholders. Who do you want to reach? Where are they based? What are their interests? What news publications or websites do they read? Your stakeholders will likely be broad and varied, including customers, suppliers and/or employees.
Secondly, what do you want to communicate? Are you offering a product or service that’s new to your industry? Are you organising an event for your customers and want to drive attendance? Do you have a great prize you can offer a media outlet as part of a competition? Do you have access to any great research which points to interesting insights? Are you seeing any trends or changes in the buying habits of your customers? Think strategically about how this communication fits with your business goals.
Any publicity should reinforce your business’ reputation, not tarnish it. Ensure it’s in keeping with your brand and business.
A journalist will not write any story. They apply a ‘newsworthy’ test to the information presented to them – is this something my readers would be interested in? Is it too commercial? What’s the purpose of the story?
One of the biggest challenges in PR is removing the commercial element and creating ‘news’. Yes, we all want media coverage because it increases the profile of our business, but an upcoming sale or an extension to your business trading hours won’t be of interest to a journalist. This is not news and it would be seen as too commercial. Instead ask yourself, what information can I offer that is unique or different? You might, for example, have a team member who has won an important award. Maybe a local bedding store has access to some great data about sleeping habits. Perhaps you’ve installed some new technology not available elsewhere.
Consider the types of stories you see in the media you read, listen to or watch – can you imagine your prospective story appearing? Also think about it from the readers’ perspective. What’s in it for them? How would they benefit? Think broadly about what you can offer a journalist and how you and your business fit into the story.
It could be something as simple as “I noticed your story about the pre-Christmas shopping habits of local consumers. As a business owner, I have some interesting insights and trends to share with you. Among our customer base we have seen that more than 90 per cent are doing their shopping early to avoid bill shock…” Avoid bland statements that say little. They may be safe, but they’re not newsworthy.
Media love statistics. Numbers that support a trend are always welcomed. It’s the evidence needed to back up an opinion. For example, “among our customers more than half have not changed their pillow in ten years. Sydneysiders should be conscious of what they’re resting their heads on at night, to improve their quality of sleep…”
ENGAGE THE READER
Tell your story in the most engaging way possible. Avoid the inclination to be linear: “I started my business in 1987… and then… and then…” Just like everybody has a book (or story) in them, so does every business. Use lively, personable language. Talk about the challenges you’ve overcome. Consider using loyal customers for case studies. Journalists are busy people. Communicate clearly and cut to the chase. Present your idea or information in a way that excites and piques their interest. Journalists work to tight deadlines, so it’s important to respond in a timely fashion. If you assist an editor or journalist with their story, and do it well, they are more likely to call on you again for future stories.
The age of digital and social media means that anyone can become a journalist in their own right, publishing content online. Your franchisor may have a social media presence which you can utilise for local campaigns or they may permit you to develop your own local profile. Social media is a fluid and live communication vehicle, running 24/7. Ensure you have a strategy for using it to market your franchise locally.
Social media is the ideal forum for posting news about your business, from new products and sales promotions to customer service and community engagement. Leverage your direct customer communication channels to drive new and loyal social media followers. Keep your social media tone light and friendly. Don’t underestimate its power to affect the reputation of your franchise. Happy customers may post good feedback, but those who have a bad experience are even more likely to share. Any complaint via social media is public and may become the source of a negative social or traditional media campaign.
It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the rules of Facebook and Twitter and perhaps even research the house rules used by larger businesses.
Many franchisors require franchisees to contribute to a marketing fund and most have guidelines for franchisees’ local marketing activities. Before you decide to embark on a local PR campaign to promote your business, check with your franchisor’s marketing department for clarification about the guidelines you should follow with the activity you plan to implement.
Douglas Wright is Managing Director of Wrights PR. He has worked locally and internationally in public relations and is a renowned expert in integrated communication, issues management and publicity.
Wrights PR is one of Australia’s leading independent PR agencies and a partner in the Worldcom Public Relations Group with a 24-year history of accelerating the business goals of its clients across a broad range of industries.
Wrights Melbourne – Lauren Zammit
Phone: 03 9690 9911
Wrights Sydney – Lauren Magid
Phone: 02 9253 4100