Public relations is a great way to score free marketing, but it takes work and effort to develop an effective PR message that sells your business. Start-ups and small business with limited budgets may want to put their money into product development and talent acquisition rather than hiring a PR firm.
Doing PR on your own is possible, but takes planning and knowledge. Here's what you should be thinking about when it comes to your business, and how to make the most of your DIY PR efforts.
PR is the Medium for Your Message
Strictly speaking, PR is not advertising. It’s positioning key messages about your company as news in the form of articles, blogs, videos or podcasts submitted to various print, broadcast, web and social media. Unlike advertising, you aren’t paying to “get press.” You are relying on intermediaries and key influencers to promote your PR message for you. This means you don’t have control over where, when and how often your message is displayed, or even if it is used at all.
So, how do you interest these intermediaries in promoting your particular message for free in a market that is already inundated with content? It begins with a good story.
What’s Your Story?
At its most basic (tactical) level, PR is news about your company—a new product announcement, the opening of an office location, the hire of a key executive. Effective (strategic) PR always reiterates your message:
- Who you are
- What you do
- How you do it
- What problem(s) you are solving
- What makes you different
Every story about your company should reinforce the larger story of what your company does and represents.
To figure out what your story is, First Round suggests following the approach of Brooke Hammerling of Brew Media Relations. Separate key members of the team, including investors, and ask them to tell the company’s story. Don’t be surprised if not everyone answers the same way. Meet as a group and try to sort out the differences. Even if there aren’t differences, someone may phrase a response better than others.
Define and Distill Your Message
As Forbes points out, you need to clearly define what your company does. Don’t dress it up industry jargon and the latest trendy lingo. A chicken processor is a chicken processor, not a provider of poultry-based solutions.
Saying something like your business is “like Twitter, but for dog-sitters” is a start, but you’ll need to agree on a more refined message, one that differentiates your company from others in the market without referring to those others. You don’t want people to think of you as a Twitter product, because you aren’t. Drawing analogies to Twitter only detracts from saying what your company actually is and how it is different.
For example, GroupMe determined it was a “messaging service” that worked on every device and platform that offered chat or text services. It also refrained from calling itself an app, even though it is an app, thus distinguishing it from all the other chat or text apps. Similarly, Uber calls itself a technology company that provides services to a community of independent contractors. This tells you exactly what it does in a way that “cab solutions provider” does not.
Also, if you can write your message in a single sentence, more power to you.
Launch and Lift-off
Every PR initiative aims to get attention. The question is, from whom?
- Potential customers
- Venture capital investors
- Potential partners
- Potential employees/leadership team members
- Industry in general
It could be all or just one or two of these, depending on what stage your company is at. If your start-up has literally just started, the focus might be on getting investors. Or maybe you’re just looking to create some initial buzz in your industry and recruit some needed talent. Those things determine which intermediaries to focus on. If you’re looking to hire programmers, you’d be doing placements in Reddit or Hacker News. If you’re looking for potential customers for a new product you’re rolling out, you’d look at PR feeds aimed specifically at your industry and product category.
Related Article: PR Suicide: Uber's Good Intentions, Bad Press & The Ugly Mess
Reach Out and Touch Someone
It’s not enough to submit articles and news announcements. You need to cultivate relationships with media companies and, perhaps more importantly, the reporters and bloggers who work for those companies. The more these people know you and your story, the more likely they are to publicize your story.
Without discounting the importance of intermediaries to promote your business, you also have a direct publicity line that costs you nothing (or close to it): social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, your own website and a blog all provide an effective, cost-free PR platform to communicate your message.
Paying for PR
Of course, critical to the success of any PR endeavor is the quality of the content. This is why companies hire PR firms. Even if you or someone in your company has writing skills, it’s probably not what they are in your company to do. Once you get more established, maybe you can hire someone to write your PR. In the meantime, there are freelancers and PR companies you can hire.
PR may be free, but good PR content is not. You can, however, make your PR efforts considerably less costly by taking the initial steps to hone a message, cultivate relationships with key intermediaries, and even do some of the outreach on your own.