What is PR?
PR (Public Relations) is a Subset of Marketing; It’s a Communications Channel That is Designed to Produce a Positive Image of an Individual or Organisation. PR Tools Can Include Media Releases, Events, Media Interviews, Webinars, Articles, Social Media, etc & Involve Journalists, Influencers, the Public and Others.
This probably sounds very complex and expensive. But it needn’t be. In fact, PR at its simplest could mean writing a Media Release and sending it out. This can be done in less than an hour and cost absolutely nothing. An example of this was when, early in my career, I sent a Press Release (we called them that before the Internet was invented and it became easy to contact all forms of media) to a number of papers and the COI (this was a government agency that acted as its marketing and communications agency .. i.e. it was there to promote UK Ltd).
The story was about the fact the Cambridge based agricultural college, where I was the marketing manager, had imported a French ram to help produce low-fat lamb. In a sense it was a non-story as 200 other farmers had also imported the same type of ram. But I was the only one that sent out a Press Release. So mine was the only story landing on the newsdesks of national and local papers, radio and TV stations. It had fluffy lambs and a background story where people were beginning to realise that low fat was important as a means to prevent obesity. So it had the main story with a sub-story running under it. Just like good stories on TV!
The result was a story that went international.
It was featured in national papers worldwide. From Jakarta to Harare and Lima to Sydney. Yes, we even had coverage of a sheep story in Australia where there are far more sheep than people!
We had coverage in 47 countries and I was interviewed on BBC World Services. The latter going out to 73 countries. Our simple “non-story” went viral before the term was coined.
And the important thing to remember is that the press release took me less than an hour to write and send … AND it cost nothing whatsoever!
The Cost of PR
The above story cost nothing. But PR can use both paid and unpaid forms of communication to get in front of the people it wants to influence. The aim is to get the audience to think positively of the organisation or individual they are representing. It’s about building positive relationships and hence reputations in a variety of situations. It doesn’t matter if you want to build a reputation locally or internationally, the process is much the same.
And even if you have no intention of trading globally, getting a story to run internationally does a huge amount of good locally. It makes you stand out amongst all the other local businesses. It gives your business the gravitas that your competitors can’t easily achieve. (Unless they read this post and act upon it!).
PR can work instantly but usually its the accumulated wealth of positive stories and engagements that build reputations. Though sadly, after spending years building a reputation it is easy to lose it all in a moment. For example, it took Gerald Ratner just 10 seconds to destroy the reputation of Ratners Jewellers when, in an unguarded moment, he said that when people ask, “How can you sell this for such a low price?”, I say, “because it’s total crap.”
The problem is Ratner said this in front of 6000 business people and journalists in a speech to the Institute of Directors.
PR: Getting in National Newspapers
In case you thought my Sheep story was a fluke let me give you another example of where I used similar tactics to get a story in a national newspaper. And, what do you know, it’s another sheep story.
Here’s a simple PR trick that works every winter. When the weather is really bad and people are wishing for warmer weather I like to give them hope with a story that gives them hope. The background to this story is that I was Director of Marketing at another agricultural college and we were lambing in mid-winter as it started to snow. So I phoned a local photographer that I knew sold images to a few national newspapers and invited him to take the photo of these three lambs and one of the students.
Setting Up the Photoshoot
People love cute lambs and we set them up in a row on a straw bale .. I’m behind the bale holding them so they don’t run away. And within a few hours, the image was in the Daily Mail with the caption, In the bleat midwinter. It’s a corny caption but it got us national coverage and a soft cuddly image with hundreds of thousands of readers. The cost was nil. Not a penny.
Ohhh and the following year we ran the same story again .. same story, different lambs, different girl!
Good stories can be resurrected again and again.
And if they can’t then we can use the same basic principle. Find something that is going to interest an editor and do something about it.
For example, instead of lambs, I could use a range of animals. All of which will promote the idea of a “fluffy” organisation. If I wanted to look like we had a strong reliable organisation I might have chosen a cart-horse. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’ve run that story as well. In that case, it was to promote forestry courses where horses were being used to pull timber from steep forests where tractors couldn’t operate.
Using PR to Promote a School
And when I was asked to promote a school I looked for something it had that its competitors didn’t. In this case, it was Bill. He wasn’t a brilliant teacher or even the Head Teacher. He was the caretaker.
But Bill was special. He was well over retirement age, had served in the arctic convoys during world war two and had been presented with medals by two world leaders; Breshnev and Blair.
This gave us a two-page spread that featured a photo of Bill and some children carefully staged in front of the school sign. It wasn’t possible to crop the image without making the photo look odd so the magazine left it exactly as I took it.
What is PR Consistency?
Consistency is all with PR. One story, on its own, makes a small ripple. But dozens of stories create waves that cannot be ignored. Be consistent and keep getting in front of people and your reputation grows and spreads. When I went to the college where we photographed the three lambs it was on its knees. A few years later, after consistent use of PR (we had an incredibly small budget) we had a national reputation. And soon became the venue for the Equine Paralympics.
And if you want real consistency then try this idea.
PR & Regular Columns
Regular columns are an excellent way to get in front of an audience time after time. It’s consistency at its best.
Here I negotiated a 12-month column with a glossy mag that was absolutely spot on when it came to my target audience.
Each month I wrote a two-page spread and a Garden Q&A page .. I set the questions and got an expert to answer them. Then I wrote them up into a column complete with images.
The first “story” could have been as dull as ditchwater if written badly. It was about Latin Pant Names. But if you can add a few nice pictures and keep the language reasonably easy to understand then anything is possible.
Topics ranged from penstemons and alpines to pruning and propagation.
The key to success is to write about what you know and write it for your audience.
Defending Reputations Using PR
PR isn’t only about managing or promoting the positive image of an individual or organisation. Sometimes it can be about saving them. PR Crisis Management is a subset of PR that is very frequently needed at very short notice. Though a response can be planned in the broadest of terms, by its very nature it cannot be planned in great details as it is largely unexpected.
However, a strategy and process can be planned. For example, the PR should have phone and email contact details of all key staff (and copies should be held by all key staff). Plus a planned process for handling PR crises should have been produced in advance and approved, and a spokesperson, who will be the only person speaking to the media, lined up in advance.
The PR should be able to add content to the website and social media at short notice. In most cases a short holding notice suffices, so they need authority to post at their discretion, after which detailed discussion and decisions can be made.
More detailed information on many of the topics mentioned above will be given in future posts.
A media release is a short document designed for communicating with the media. It will normally encapsulate a news story and cover the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How of the story and be sent to newsdesks as well as (possibly) added to the issuer’s website, social media accounts etc. Media Releases can then be turned into articles like the one in the image.
Before the advent of the internet, most news appeared in the printed press or on radio/TV. So we sent out Press Releases. The Internet has opened a whole host of other media we can send news to, from websites to individual influencers on social media. So we now send Media Releases, which can be the written word or in video ort audio format.