You put together a news release to tout the benefits of your company’s innovative new product and sent it out. As a result, you received a few mentions in the trade magazines that cover your industry. But you were hoping for better coverage…a cover story or at least a more prominent feature. At the same time, your competitors seem to get more than their share of coverage. How can you elevate your position with the media and increase the value associated with your efforts?
A well-planned, strategic public relations program can help you boost your company’s image so the next time your prospects are considering a purchase, you’ll be top of mind. It can also be used to generate leads and sell products, educate prospective customers, support your brand or influence opinion. Public relations is one of the most cost-effective tools for educating and influencing customers and potential customers. And, when measured and integrated with other tactics, it can be even more powerful.
So what is public relations anyway? Is it a news release announcing a new product? Is it a press conference or special event for customers at a trade show? Is it an interview on the evening news? Or is it your company video on YouTube? It can be all of these things and more.
Strategic planning leads to success
While product releases help tout important information about your company’s new or improved products to your target media and potential customers, a comprehensive public relations program can lead to even stronger media coverage of your company and its products. It’s not uncommon for public relations to generate 25-40 percent of leads.
One of the keys to success is thoughtful planning. Start by developing a written plan that outlines your objectives, target audiences, key messages, tactics and metrics along with a timeline. It will help keep your efforts on target and knowing your desired outcomes will enable you to prioritize task.
Clever new metrics
While some of the benefits of public relations such as increased brand or product awareness can be expensive and challenging to quantify, there are creative ways to build metrics into specific tactics to help you gauge effectiveness. If you consider this on the front end of your campaign, it will be easier to implement.
Think about how your company manages its sales leads. Is there a way to include mechanisms to determine what generated the lead? For example, directing readers or viewers to microsites with unique URLs, providing unique toll-free numbers or embedding links in news releases and pitch emails can help you track success.
Other more traditional measurement tactics include trade publication reader cards that link articles to specific information requests as well as news clipping reports. While there are varying opinions on the measurement value of clipping reports, they can be used to document media coverage and compare advertising values.
Targeted communication and customer-centric messages
Consistent, customer-focused messaging is important to the success of any communications effort. If there aren’t established key messages, then you’ll need to create them. Dig in and conduct thorough research to learn what the competition is up to and how they are positioning their companies and products. Talk to your company’s sales team to better understand the issues that your customers face and which product benefits will resonate with them.
Make sure you know your target audience and the media outlets that serve it. Consider trade and/or consumer publications, websites, podcasts, broadcast media and even social media such as blogs, message boards, Internet forums, or sites such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.
Familiarize yourself with the editorial content and also check if there are editorial rules and lead times that you should follow. Publication websites may include writers’ guidelines or the editor can provide this information. Review editorial calendars and develop a master calendar of potential story opportunities. You can then use the opportunities calendar to proactively seek out coverage on an ongoing basis. In most cases, opportunities aren’t limited to the editorial calendar, so if you can create reasons to contact editors and form relationships with them that will help you learn about more opportunities to be included in special sections or features.
Everyone loves a good story
There are few tools stronger than testimonials or case studies that chronicle how customers are using your products to create solutions. By quantifying results, such as efficiency, cost-savings or superior outcomes, you are providing proof to back your benefit claims. If your articles are researched and written well, some publications will print them verbatim. And if they don’t print contributed editorial, they may use your story as the basis for their own publication-authored piece.
Technical articles offer another opportunity to package more detailed information about your products or processes for readers. If innovation or leadership in research and development are important key messages for your company, technical articles will help underscore those messages. You may want to detail how specific technology helps solve a particular challenge, describe the evolution of the product design or explain specific features. Focus on the reader and how the technology benefits them – whether it’s cost savings, productivity or quality improvements.
Tips and trends are attractive
Articles that offer tips or “how to” information provide editors with “evergreen” content that can be used anytime. For example, you might provide maintenance information that helps readers keep equipment running efficiently. Not only are you building relationships with editors by providing pertinent content, you’re also positioning your company as a leader.
Forecasts or hot industry issues offer another avenue for developing bylined articles by company experts. Write a story that illustrates how your product fits into a trend or is on the cutting edge of technology. Or look beyond your products to the company as a whole. Are there best practices you can share in the area of quality programs or other management issues that will underscore your key messages and leadership position?
Letters to the editor or opinion pieces offer another opportunity to share your company’s position and increase visibility. Write about a current issue or comment on an article or topic the publication covered recently. Be concise and you’ll increase the chances that your entire letter will be published.
Create a unique experience to build media relationships
Still another opportunity for generating media coverage is hosting an event for media that provides a unique experience. For example, invite editors for a behind-the-scenes tour of one of your facilities to observe an innovative process. Or, let them test drive your equipment in a real life scenario, so that they can experience the product’s benefits first hand. Depending on the situation, you may want to target a single media outlet and offer them an exclusive, or you may be able to be more inclusive and invite multiple editors. Prepare detailed background to make writing features an easy next step for them.
Don’t overlook participation in trade shows as an opportunity for press coverage. Most trade publications cover shows and many will send editorial staff to attend. Contact editors before the show to promote your participation and to invite them to meet with you at the show. Focus on one or two key messages to attract media to your booth. Are you introducing a new product or demonstrating innovative technology? Can you offer an interview with company executives that can speak to future growth or other news about the company? Prepare product managers or others who will be interviewed with key messages and mock questions. After the show, follow up with media to provide additional background or photos.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Visually arresting images are an excellent complement to your stories. Good photography as well as diagrams and charts are helpful in communicating your messages and appreciated by the media. If you have an outstanding photo, it may be compelling enough to stand-alone as a cover shot or as a news item with a caption. Pitch your idea to the media to find out if they are interested in sending their own photographer or if they would prefer that you send professional photography.
Leverage coverage for stronger results
The media is driven by readers’ and viewers’ interests, so keep that in mind when developing any of these ideas. Once your idea is developed or your story is written, obtain all the necessary approvals, double check facts and figures for accuracy and respect publications’ deadlines. After you have placed your stories in magazines or on industry websites, consider other ways to use them. For example, self-publish case studies for use as promotional pieces, revise articles for inclusion in newsletters or repurpose information and use it on your own website.
Plan, execute, measure, analyze, plan…
The metrics that you have built into your program will help you to analyze results so you can determine which initiatives are the most effective. This will help you to adjust your program and continually improve. It will also enable you to demonstrate the power and value of public relations to your organization.