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At one of my PR seminars a while ago, I asked how many people had used or were using a PR agency. Half the audience put their hand up.

When I asked them to keep their hand up if they were satisfied with the results, I wasn’t surprised when most people lowered them again.

Some PR agencies are their own worst enemies. They fail to set clear expectations for their clients, they don’t keep them fully up-to-date with developments or provide regular written reports on actions and outcomes.

There is a perception that buying PR is a risk, but it doesn’t have to be that way, if you pick the right agency. Here are five signs that you might be better advised to find a new PR agency.

1 It’s staffed by PR ‘luvvies’ rather than former journalists. I may be a PR person now, but I was a journalist for 13 years. I get really annoyed when I meet PRs who don’t understand what it’s really like to run a business or what stories appeal to journalists. Effective PRs are results driven, they’re focused people. They understand what your business needs to achieve and what role they need play to aid your success. That’s why I prefer PRs who are former journalists. They understand what journalists really want and cut through the waffle that PR luvvies frequently add in.

2 It charges lots of expensive add-ons. If you ask for something unusual that costs your agency money, then fair enough, but doing day-to-day PR for your business shouldn’t create exceptional costs, certainly not without prior agreement. Basics such as media monitoring should be included in a pre-agreed fixed fee, not charged for as expensive extras.

3 It doesn’t understand there must a direct link between your PR and revenue – or how to put it in place: The most effective PR is direct response PR. That’s where you have a system to turn media attention into leads and those leads into sales. Without a system like this, you’re wasting your time. Most PR agencies claim there’s no direct link between PR and revenue. They’re so wrong it hurts.

4 It claims it’s all about contacts and press releases. Total nonsense. You don’t necessarily need a book full of media contacts or expertly crafted press releases to get coverage. Often you just need a good story and some basic knowledge about how best to bring it to the attention of the right editor.

5 It’s stuck in the past. I interviewed a potential employee recently who said the PR agency at which he worked focused only on getting clients into the newspapers. Still a powerful way for many businesses to get good publicity, agreed, but if you’re going to do direct response PR, you must also secure online coverage. In the modern world, for many businesses, it’s crucial. Many PR agencies talk about online PR, but don’t really understand what it is or how to do it effectively.

Paul Green, Publicity Heaven

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If your well-crafted and targeted press release hits the spot, soon you can expect journalists to contact you for more information or an interview. Usually, for newspapers and magazines, these take place over the phone in a few minutes.

Don’t panic – tough questioning by journalists is usually reserved for politicians. Instead, journalists will simply be seeking to add a little colour to the story by way of a few well-chosen quotes or sound bites.

Here are a few basic tips to ensure you come across well.

Be prepared. Re-read your press release (or story suggestion) and make sure you have swotted up on the subject. If you have a couple of updated or additional interesting facts to throw into the conversation – all well and good – but don’t go over the top, because the journalists will only be able to write about so much.

Anticipate likely additional questions and have your responses prepared in advance. Practice your responses with someone you trust.

When doing the actual interview, use notes as a prompt. Don’t read verbatim from a script because it could be interpreted as lacking confidence or knowledge (or worse still – having something to hide). Be warm, human and friendly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest enough to say so. If necessary, offer to find out the information and forward it on to the journalist as soon as you can.

Knowing what you are talking about will help you to sound more confident, which will make you come across as more credible. Avoid jargon at all times – it only confuses people. Use simple language to explain key points.

  • The first 500 Start Up Donut Blog readers can get a free copy of Paul Green’s book – PR Success Made Easyhere.

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While I was a journalist, I saw many business owners make the same three basic PR mistakes time and time again. When it comes to trying to secure free publicity for your new business, the following mistakes should be avoided…

1 Trying to push dull, irrelevant or non-stories

Sorry, in truth, journalists don’t really care about you or your business. They only care about stories that are of interest to their audience. It can be very dull being a journalist, having to wade through the same old marketing guff being sent to you day in, day out. So when something special comes along, naturally, you jump on it. As a business owner, that’s your opportunity. If you are to engage journalists and their readers, you must have a compelling story to tell.

2 Giving up after one failed press release

If you send out 100 direct mail letters and then stop because “direct mail doesn’t work for you”, you could be missing out on a huge opportunity. It’s not necessarily that direct mail doesn’t work for you, you might not be sending your communications to the right people, you might not be writing about the right product or service or you might simply not be communicating your key messages effectively. Sometimes the timing isn’t right or your success is hampered by external factors.

The same can be said about PR. There is no way that each and every press release you ever send will lead to coverage, no matter how good your story, media release or how well you know the journalist. Effective PR requires a long-term commitment.

3 Having unrealistic expectations

PR is not really meant as a direct lead-generation tool (although it can work that way if you are fortunate). It can certainly be used to raise awareness and enhance the credibility of your business and support the rest of your marketing activity.

Your goal should be to encourage and make it really easy for interested readers, listeners or viewers to find you (or more usually, find out from your website how your products or services can benefit them). Don’t expect overnight success either, raising awareness, securing sales and ensuring customer loyalty usually takes a lot of time, effort and investment.

  • The first 500 Start Up Donut Blog readers can get a free copy of Paul Green’s book – PR Success Made Easyhere.

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Some ideas are so powerful they generate publicity year after year after year. In my 13-year career in the media, I’ve seen variations of these come up time and time again, resulting in free publicity for the businesses behind the story. The following might encourage journalist to cover your business.

1 Be the first, newest, oldest, biggest, smallest, etc. Journalists get sent a constant stream of ‘average’ all day long – make sure you’re superior.

2 Introduce something new or improved. Make it clear why it’s better and focus on key benefits or problems it solves.

3 Mark the passage of time. Being in business for ten years (quite an achievement), for example, can be enough to secure media coverage, especially if you are organising newsworthy celebratory events.

4 Announce a new member of your team. Doesn’t have to be anyone senior, although the more senior the better. Why are they special? Pinpoint the thing that made them the right person for the job and publicise that. Draw attention to noteworthy aspects of their career.

5 Win an award. It’s why many businesses enter them in the first place. Find out what trade, local, regional or national awards your business can enter and get your entry forms in. You’ve got to be in it to win it.

6 Attract a new major client – the bigger the better. And don’t shy away from boasting about it; get quotes from them if possible. News of big contracts can help to attract others.

7 React to a current event. Give your opinion on something happening in the news nationally or locally that’s relevant to you and your business. Spotting a trend and commenting on it is highly recommended.

8 Provide good comment. Years of experience in your industry could make you an expert. Journalists and readers appreciate experts’ opinion. Be available to comment when journalists need good quotes.

9 Give away freebies. If you have a product, give it away (providing that is cost-effective, of course). Use it to drive traffic from the newspaper, magazine or website to your website. Arranging an exclusive deal with one media outlet might get you more coverage over a longer period.

10 Write articles for free. Share your expertise and help a newspaper or magazine fill column inches with thought-provoking new content. Don’t agonise too much about making sure the copy is grammatically perfect, sub-editors will usually sort our any errors. But make sure you provide insight and engage with interesting facts.

11 Survey your customers. Find out what they think about specific issues. Ask enough people about an interesting enough topic and the media won’t be able to resist. Polls are always popular with journalists and their readers.

12 Get involved with a charity. Don’t just give cash, either – it’s dull and predictable (cheque presentation photos in particular are a relic of the 1980s). Instead, give your time or products. Better still – use your staff and resources to do something that will aid a worthy cause.

13 Do something differently. Journalists love to write about pioneers. That’s why entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, Stelios and James Dyson have become household names. Break the mould and lead the way, but make sure you provide customers with additional value and benefits they cannot access elsewhere.

14 Stage a publicity stunt. It’s a tried and tested method, but your idea must be fresh, fun, exciting and highly visual (as well as legal and proper, of course) otherwise you won’t get the publicity you seek.

  • The first 500 Start Up Donut Blog readers can get a free copy of Paul Green’s book – PR Success Made Easy – here.

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