Public relations has moved on a lot from its Mad Men days. As the media and business, in general, have evolved, modern public relations now more closely resembles a crossover between marketing and traditional PR, with some content marketing thrown in the mix.
What hasn’t changed, however, is that PR is a slow-burn, ongoing task that involves building relationships and then nurturing them. That doesn’t stop ambitious people from trying to growth-hack the process, but for most, following a solid, long-term public relations strategy is the most sustainable and productive way to build a PR portfolio your business can be proud of.
A PR campaign, much like an SEO or branding campaign, needs to be based on strategy, not crossed fingers. The first step in building this strategy is to understand what you’re hoping to achieve with your PR actions.
In general, most businesses are looking for an increase in backlinks, traffic, customers, or mentions. So, knowing which area you want to focus on will help you plan your campaigns appropriately; if you focus on none (or all), you’ll get none (or few).
One of the most valuable is press mentions. Here’s a look at what you need to know about how to secure them for your business.
Assessing the press release
If you’re new to public relations, the first strategy that probably comes to mind is sending out email blasts with press releases. They’re still used, and they’re still considered more or less effective.
But perhaps of even more interest than the press release is the growing intersection between PR and content marketing: inbound PR.
Inbound PR combines old school PR outreach and research with new content, with the goal of attracting mentions from journalists (rather than interrupting them with a press release and hoping for the best).
When you think about press mentions, ask yourself “What’s in it for the journalist?” That’s a critical question, as it’s one that they’re likely asking themselves, too. Press mentions are a reciprocal business, so if you make no effort, there’s no reason a journalist will either.
Think about a press mention like a business transaction―if they’re giving you journalistic real estate, you need to give them something in exchange. That could definitely be an excellent story, but it could also be some original data or a great graphic.
Note: In the case you’re worried about company size, don’t be. Remember, being small isn’t a barrier. Smaller businesses are often more interesting than larger ones because they have a greater capacity to be innovative and take risks, which often results in coming up with newsworthy stories.
Depending on the type of news outlet you’re approaching, try framing your content in the context of a story rather than a press release. If you have a truly worthy press release, great. If you don’t, remember that it’s not just about what you’re saying, it’s about what you’re saying in the context of what’s happening around it.
For example, say your company makes an innovative type of online form. That in and of itself isn’t particularly newsworthy. But let’s say you identify a journalist who is very interested in eliminating paper waste from within large administrative organizations. Instead of a press release to announce the existence of your product, you approach the journalist with a heart-warming story of how your company helped an entire Canadian town eliminate paper forms.
End result? The journalist gets an eco-friendly story (context), and your company gets a mention in the process.
Reaching your target
Timing your outreach
Timing is everything. Research shows that if you’re trying to connect with a journalist or editor, the best time to do it is on a Thursday before 2 pm when the average open rate jumps to over 26%.
Approaching your outreach
Another important task in the modern PR process is to build your outreach list. It doesn’t matter how you spin your content; if you’re not reaching the right people, it won’t even matter because it will never be seen.
Building your outreach list isn’t about adding people to an Excel spreadsheet. It takes specific research to identify the right people, track down their contact details, and connect with them appropriately. You can expedite this process with technology―for example, an email finder and an appropriate email platform will speed things up considerably.
Taking your first steps
Now that you’ve got the right journalist, reach out, remembering that a) You need to offer something in exchange for a press mention, and b) Me, me, me is an unpopular subject for an unsolicited email. By all means, begin your outreach, but do what you can to make sure it’s not 100% cold.
Warming up your press target
Unless you are already acquainted with the journalist, the only way to warm them up is to research them. You’ll want to check if your planned approach/content is likely to appeal to them.
Find out where they hang out (online or in person) and whether they have a blog or social media presence, etc. Hopefully, an opportunity to engage will emerge. Don’t be spammy or needy. Try interacting on a tweet or blog post, or strike up a conversation. Hopefully, it will lend your name an air of familiarity when you finally do make contact by email.
Extending your mentions
If you do manage to get some PR mentions from your stories and events, remember that your job doesn’t end with the mention itself. It’s really important to get maximum use from the mention once you’ve secured it.
At the bare minimum, you should:
- Write about the mention on your blog
- Share references to it on your social media accounts
- Make sure that all your employees know about it (and give them an easy way to share the news)
- Include it in your newsletter/podcast
- Listen carefully for repeat mentions
- Pass it on to your sales outreach team to use as a touchpoint
- Use it as a springboard for another mention
Media mentions are gold for many businesses. They bring new audiences, clicks, and visits to your website.
Unfortunately, they don’t happen without effort, so you’re going to have to approach the process strategically and imaginatively.
Keep in mind that although you might get one or two mentions with relatively little effort, getting consistent mentions from the kinds of outlets that will bring your business to the attention of the right people takes sustained effort. If you want consistent results, be prepared to invest a great deal of time and effort.
It’s critical to choose your targets carefully, nurture your relationships expertly, and, above all, get maximum use out of your mentions once you get them. Stay alert for the whole mention cycle, or you’ll be under-leveraging what you’ve worked so hard to create.