For those aiming to take control of their reputation and market their business using PR, Sharon Bannerton explains the key steps to getting started.
It sounds simple, but in planning PR, first deciding who you’re talking to, what the message is, and how to convey it makes the process a lot more effective.
Otherwise, in the rush to stand out or to find a clever stunt, you can undermine the basic foundations of great PR.
“Be clear on your PR objective and message. Is the focus company profile, brand awareness, sales, recruitment, reputation management or all of the above?”
When it comes to commercial engagement, do you want all consumers or maybe just an upmarket demographic? Female or male (who is the decision maker?), or do you need to reach kids and parents, the grey market, or teenagers and students?
Maybe the focus is a specialist or corporate market like the motor industry or property investors; almost every sector has its dedicated media and forums.
You know your business and market best, so specify to your PR provider what you want to achieve with your media engagement, or you may be disappointed.
Mass media, by its nature, reaches a broad cross section. The daily newspapers, TV and radio have large audiences, but you may also need to pinpoint specific papers, supplements or programming to talk to the market you need.
Not all PR is about pure sales. Communication to influence public representatives, financial markets and investors, the community or potential employees can also dictate PR strategy.
Link your audience to your media strategy
Having defined your market, establish what this audience reads, listens to, sees, logs onto, attends or tweets.
A PR or advertising agency will tell you, or you can do your own research, maybe checking out media where your competition or brands similar to yours are active.
While digital news sites respond to instant news, traditional newspaper supplements, magazines and trade press have longer ‘lead times’, with content planned well in advance. With features and profiles a staple PR platform, it is wise to plan this content well ahead if it is part of your ‘route to market’
And, don’t neglect regional media like local radio, papers and online community forums, especially if you have a local market or recruit locally. Our consumption of local media in this country is often on par with, or exceeds, national media.
Agree the message
Be clear on your PR objective and message. Is the focus company profile, brand awareness, sales, recruitment, reputation management or all of the above?
Agree the aim and then discuss how best to make the message newsworthy. You may need to adapt the message to various media and audiences. This simply means identifying what information is most significant to the audience you want to influence, whether a consumer, corporate or community group.
Media releases and feature copy are staple PR and, in this digital age, photos, videos, social media posts and vlogs work too.
You can communicate too by hosting media, staging events, a launch, an exhibition, facility tour, or demonstration of your product or experience.
Speeches at events and conference presentations are good PR, and digital and social media, as well as websites, podcasts and blogs are low-cost marketing options.
Traditional communication tools like brochures or newsletters inserted in print media or mailed directly, print or digital, are also used and suit an older demographic.
Employees are an under-used PR ‘vehicle’ too. If briefed on new campaigns and your market proposition, they’ll help sell it in the wider community!
Sponsorship is a PR tool for brand-building and corporate profile. It facilitates news, customer engagement, promotion, branding, events and merchandising.
Important to note: Sponsorship is a commercial agreement, not altruism. Always agree terms that provide the commercial or CSR (corporate social responsibility) advantage you’re after.
Select sponsorship according to the interests of the markets you want to reach. Choose an involvement that is in line with the attributes you associate your brand or company with; community, young, eco-aware, upmarket, social conscience etc
Although perceived as expensive there are sponsorships for all budgets; from the local tennis club or school play, to the UEFA Cup. Sponsorships have longevity and annual PR programmes can be built around them.
Remember, for true PR return, your ‘activation’ budget should at least match the sponsorship fee. If it’s costing €10,000, be prepared to spend something similar to realise commercial value.
Never just pay for a sponsorship and walk away, expecting the recipients to generate a return for you. Plan and manage how to promote and engage your market, from a release announcement, to an event, prize presentations, signage or branding, social media, competitions, a web-link or a display on your premises.
Why use a PR agency?
Many savvy business people will have a fair idea of how to craft and present a PR message. But PR is a specialist area, and using an independent consultant has advantages.
An agency gives honest, independent advice, not constrained by ‘being employed by the company’.
They have frequent media contact, credibility and influence; also the creativity and media awareness to come up with the unusual angles and news hooks to appeal to editors and producers.
Although PR in the wider sense involves all forms of communication, from speechwriting to sponsorship, trusted media connections and the ability to shape and best present their news is what most companies want for their brands or business.
Available at short notice and out-of-hours, a consultant is cheaper and more efficient than in-house PR for small companies.
If working with an agency, however, someone in-house and ideally a senior figure must ‘own’ PR, and commit to planning and contributing to campaigns.
Ideally, look for an agency with a strong understanding of traditional media (print and broadcast) combined with the ability to create digital and social media content too.
As well as monthly fees, which can vary from €1,000 to €5,000, depending on workload, you also should budget for third party expenses like photography, print, sampling and events.
Most consultants also offer once-off project work at a fixed fee, from a single press release to sponsorship negotiation, so check what is possible based on your budget and objectives.
Owner and Managing Director at Bannerton PR, Sharon Bannerton heads a team of experienced communications and media professionals, delivering impactful PR, media profile and events for consumer and corporate brands, trade organisations and public sector bodies.
Published: 13 April 2021